As the saying goes, perfection is overrated-especially when it comes to your diet. Think about it: Setting up tons of rules or following a set plan down to the very last carbohydrate and calorie is complicated, frustrating, and, frankly, a recipe for diet disaster.
The reason: Being a perfectionist dieter is "the all-or-nothing mentality," says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and the author of The Flexitarian Diet. "Real life is just not conducive to this perfect-eating attitude."
Whenever you start a new weight loss program, it's normal to want to follow the rules exactly-you want results. Try these "anti-rules" instead:
Shrink your belly with food
1. Never start on Monday
According to a study conducted by Brian Wansink, PhD, the author of Mindless Eating, 46% of people said their last attempt to start a weight loss program began on a Monday morning. His study found that by Tuesday night, 31% of those dieters had already given up on their plan.
Beginning a diet on a Monday makes you feel like the weekend is your "last meal," says Alyse Levine, RD. You're telling yourself, I can eat whatever I want because it's the last time I'm going to eat those foods. On Monday, I'll be strict again.
But if your new eating plan isn't satisfying, hunger and willpower might do you in quickly, causing you to cave by, say, Tuesday afternoon, when a PMS or stress-induced craving hits and you cave.
Avoid weekend diet traps
2. Don't be a hunger martyr
Do you associate a growling stomach, irritability, and daily deprivation with weight loss?" A red flag that a diet won't work is if it feels difficult to maintain," says Blatner. "Ideally, the way you're eating to lose weight should be how you eat for the rest of your life."Blatner suggests you rate how difficult your eating plan feels on a scale of 1 to 10. She says you should feel like you're at a 7, which takes effort, consciousness, and planning, but not a 9 or 10, which you know you can't keep up forever.
The perfect day of eating
3. Love brick oven pizza? Then eat it
The best way to keep cravings under control is to give yourself permission to have things you really like on occasion, without guilt, as part of your weight loss program.
"We make hundreds of decisions about eating each day, and we can't make them all perfectly," says Blatner. "You have to give yourself wiggle room."
To minimize the risk of overeating, she suggests enjoying indulgent foods in social situations rather than when alone. If you're craving pizza and know it'll be difficult to stop at one slice , share with friends. Indulgences can be part of your regular eating program if done in moderation, says Blatner. She tells clients that eating just one pizza slice balanced out with a big salad is better than avoiding pizza altogether. "If you love a certain food, having controlled portions won't derail you; rather, it helps you stick closer to your plan on other days," she says.
Fun ways to fry 200 calories
4. Give up ghosts of diets past
It's easy to feel guilt and shame about weight loss strategies you've tried and abandoned in the past before achieving your hoped-for results.
Levine suggests that before embarking on a new, healthy eating plan, dieters take time to reflect on the reasons earlier attempts didn't work. "Most dieters blame their weight gain on eating certain foods," she says. "But if they really thought about how they ate those foods, I bet they would realize that most meals and snacks were eaten with guilt and shoveled quickly into their mouths. Or they ate mindlessly when feeling stressed, tired, bored, anxious, or lonely."
A starting point for any perfectionist dieter is to focus on eating all meals and snacks mindfully; that is, sit down at the table and enjoy your food without any distractions, such as watching a favorite TV show, reading the paper, or checking e-mail. "This will help you to really taste the food and be in touch with your hunger and satiety level so you can stop when satisfied," says Levine.
And if you find yourself slipping back into that all-or-nothing thinking again, take a deep breath and repeat this phrase from Blatner: "The key to optimal physical health and mental wellness is progress, not perfection."
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