After helping thousands of people lose weight over the last 25 years, I’ve determined the best diet for losing weight is… Don’t go on a diet.
A ‘diet’ is a temporary thing. A shtick. Something you try for a while until you can’t stand it any more, then “go back to normal” because it’s your normal eating patterns that need to improve. When you start formulating the habits of healthy eating you’ll find your mind, body and spirit not craving the bad but rather enjoying the good, sustainable, healthy eating habits that you’ve developed and then, and only then, will the weight come off and stay off.
Every year or two a new “best diet” becomes all the rage. But if you’re trying an eating method that you can’t see yourself doing five years from now, it is not a sustainable plan. The truth is, dieters try to “stick to a diet” until either they can’t stand the diet anymore or they lose some weight then go back to what they used to eat.
And that, my friend, is what got you into trouble in the first place.
The end result of dieting is that when you’re done with whatever it is—even if it’s a reasonable one—you have no other choice but to go back to your old ways and ultimately you haven’t really changed anything. It’s a vicious cycle.
When I work with clients, the #1 thing I hear up front is “I just need a plan to follow.” True, you do need a plan, but not like you’re thinking. What you don’t need is a plan that tells you exactly what to eat every single moment of every single day. Because what happens when you go off the plan? You also don’t need a plan that restricts you with “NO THIS” and “NO THAT” and “For God’s sake NEVER AGAIN THOSE.” These are not sustainable plans. If you’re on a ‘Forbidden Food Plan’ and sneak that one cookie or that piece of bread, you’ve “failed,” and guess what? You’re “off the plan.” Now what?
Enter the meal plan—a diet in disguise.
When developing a meal plan that does help you lose weight and be healthy, you want to make sure that it incorporates the following elements:
- Flexibility: A good meal plan is flexible, not restrictive. In fact, you probably wouldn’t even consider it a ‘meal plan.’ A useful plan will have options for you—ways for you to make smart nutrition work in your real life. You should still be able to eat foods that you love.
- Realistic and Sustainable: A useful nutrition plan is based on healthy nutrition principles that are going to help you reach your goals in a realistic way (see below). Any diet or meal plan that takes you through complicated “phases,” or completely forbids certain kinds of food, is doomed to fail.
- No Overhaul: One of the biggest mistakes most motivated dieters make is diving into a complete diet and lifestyle overhaul. They try to change every single thing in their life all at once and it becomes impossible to stick to.
- Easy: A good meal plan will give you food options that are readily available and that won’t break the bank. You don’t have to go broke eating healthy. If your diet forces you to buy a bunch of ‘special’ food from a company, it won’t last.
And to help you make your meal plan really work for you, here are six simple guidelines that will help you make healthier choices without feeling restricted:
- Drink mostly water—avoid sweetened drinks.
- Include a protein source every time you eat.
- Include a vegetable or fruit every time you eat.
- Eat healthy fats like oils, nuts, and fish oil.
- Learn about your triggers to avoid stress eating and reactive food behavior.
- Aim for good decisions 80% of the time.
Remember, that all-or-nothing mindset keeps you on the lose-weight-gain-it-back roller coaster. Instead, focus on creating a plan that gives you freedom and doesn’t get you caught up in a vicious emotional and eating cycle. Simply put, don’t aim for perfection because you can’t eat perfectly. And you don’t have to.
Dan DeFigio is a well-known nutrition expert who has been featured on CNN’s Fit Nation, The Dr. Phil Show, SELF Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Shape Magazine, Readers Digest, and a host of other media outlets and author of Beating Sugar Addiction For Dummies.