Going on a "diet" is so impractical and just sets us up for failure. Some people can go on a diet and lose a ton of weight and that is GREAT, don't get me wrong. And some people can do all that AND still keep it off, which is GREAT too! But for most people I know, a "diet" is something they start and then give up on after a couple of weeks; it's temporary. But, in order to lose weight, keep it off, and stay healthy, you have to do something you can maintain permanently! Hence why I throw a fit when people ask me if I'm on a diet. Yes, I'm watching what I eat, but it's not a temporary diet--it's a permanent lifestyle!
Here is my friendly advice to those who want to get started with making a lifestyle change:
1. Educate yourself. Get the curiosity flowing! Become knowledgeable about what goes into your body. Start asking questions. Why is too much sodium a bad thing? What's the big deal about gluten? How does "losing weight" even happen!? What is a calorie? How many do I need? Etc.
2. Keep a food diary. I encourage using MyFitnessPal (it's free!), but there are other great tools out there you can use too, such as MyFoodDiary, MyPlate by Livestrong, and even WeightWatchers. A food diary will force you to face reality: you've probably been consuming way too many calories for way too long! It will also guide you in how many calories you should be consuming which varies from person to person. For example, I'm female, 25 years old, 5'4". To maintain a weight of 125 lbs I would need to consume roughly 1,600 net calories per day. If I wanted to gain weight, I would need to consume more than that; to lose, consume less. A food diary will also track sugar, sodium, protein, etc. All of these things are important.
3. Start exercising. I know, I know, I hated it too. Find something that you like to do and start doing more of it, and stop making the excuse that you don't have time. Make time! Personally I'm a runner, but I used to hate it! Read about that more here. The thing is... you can lose weight without exercise, but exercise isn't just for shedding pounds, it's for your overall health. I know it can be intimidating (trust me...) but when you conquer something you've never done before you will feel like a total beast! Don't let fear keep you from reaching your goals.
4. Set small goals. It's good to have a big "end" goal (i.e. lose x-number of pounds), but also set small goals, too. For example: "Today I'm not going to eat any dessert." "This week, I'm not going to eat fast food." "This month I'm going to [insert chosen exercise here] 3 days a week." When you've reached a goal, reward yourself, but NOT WITH FOOD! Get a pedicure, your hair done, or, if you're like me, buy a new book ;)
5. Start cooking. It's so much easier and faster to eat out, and sometimes it can even be cheaper (a burger for a dollar, really McDonalds?), but trust me, you'll appreciate your food more if you've prepared it yourself! Look up recipes and try new things--you might even like something you thought you would hate! Personally I've always thought Brussels sprouts would be gross, and they've turned out to be my favorite thing! Don't judge a book by its cover :)
6. Find a buddy. If you can find a person who wants to join you in your journey, fantastic! Having a partner allows you to keep each other accountable. I personally don't have a fitness buddy (sad day!); I watch what I eat by myself, I go to the gym by myself, I run by myself... but I try to connect with people who share my interests, even if we don't necessarily do things together. Some of the people I work with love to run, too, and when we get to talking about races and training... it's hard to get any work done! The biggest thing it does, though, is keeps me motivated.
7. Don't even buy the junk! I've learned that if there is an open bag of chips in my kitchen, I will eat them. If there is cake-mix in the pantry, I will bake cupcakes, and I will eat them. Because of this I try not to buy that stuff at all. This can be hard, especially when your husband (significant other, parents, kids, etc.) eats all that stuff. If you must have junk food in the house, at least put it somewhere you don't see every time you enter the kitchen. Personally I've started using the, "Oh no, I forgot to buy the chips again!" excuse. It's okay to fake some memory loss--I do it all the time.
8. Plan your response. What I mean by this is that you need to prepare what you're going to say the next time someone offers you a donut, asks you why you ordered the nasty low-calorie meal, or refers to your lunch as rabbit food, etc. What are you going to say the next time someone asks, "Are you on a diet?" (Besides punch them in the face, of course). People ask me this all the time and usually follow it with, "You're already small, it won't kill you to eat a little more." I usually respond by saying something like, "I have a race coming up," or "It will tear my stomach up," or "I'm allergic." Sometimes it's a lie but it makes my life easier!
9. Think ahead. Try to plan your meals in advance. If you're going out to eat, look up the menu online and figure out what you're going to order before you get there.
10. Don't quit. I know this is easier said than done but, trust me, it gets easier! Your body will eventually crave nutrient-rich foods. Sometimes I seriously just want to eat vegetables. Me, the girl who used to eat chips for breakfast and a fried chili cheese burrito for dinner, eating vegetables!? No way! But it happens! I seriously believe that the more you learn about your own body and the food you put into it, the more likely you are to make better choices.
"Everything you put into your body is either contributing to your health, or taking away from it."