First, I need to call out the fact that the title of this blog post is not about "successful dieting". This is a click bait title. This post is going to be about what you need to think about and do to make sustainable changes to influence your weight goals.
The biggest mistake that people make is they go on a diet for a period of time to lose a defined amount of weight and then they make the mistake of going back to how they ate before. The problem here is that how you ate before the (insert name of diet here) diet, is what lead to the weight gain to begin with.
As an example, everyone seems to be jumping on the Keto diet or a gluten free diet. First, I will say that most people that are jumping on the keto or gluten free diet bandwagon are doing it for the wrong reasons. Neither of these diets are designed to be a weight loss diet and neither are about weight loss. They are diets that are generally targeting specific health conditions. I myself follow a strict gluten free diet for health reasons and let me say that if I didn't watch what I ate, I could easily pack on the pounds. I'm not going to go into detail on why this is the case, because it is irrelevant to the point of this post.
Coaching in a CrossFit gym and meeting and talking with every single member that walks through the door, I hear a lot of misconceptions and beliefs about diet and lifestyle - I've heard them all. I've also discovered what an emotional topic diet / food is. I'm going to pick 5 things (in random order) I think represent what those "successful dieters" do on a routine basis. These are not inclusive, nor are they necessarily the top 5 habits of highly effective "dieters". I say that because I think where people are starting from matters and their health, beliefs, situations, etc also matter.
Here they are.... 5 Habits of Successful Dieters:
1. They plan meals.
You know the saying, "failing to plan, is planning to fail".
This is true, you experience it all the time. You come home from work, you have a 30 minute window of time to make a meal, feed the family or yourself and you have: zero leftovers, and no quick fix meal. So what do you do? Maybe you get fast food, maybe you eat a pizza or a hotdog, or mac and cheese. Maybe you eat a granola bar and later when you get home you attack the chips, cookies, cake or whatever is available because you are so hungry. Or maybe you get something to prepare, but before you sit down to eat dinner, you eat 1/2 bag of chips and dip because you are so hungry. Or, you go to work without a lunch and you go out to eat or grab something from the vending machine.
Planning meals doesn't have to be hard. A successful planner will do this:
Plan 3-4 meals for the week. They will plan enough for leftovers to eat for lunch and / or breakfast as well. This generally is centered around the main protein dish. In this example, lets say the protein plan for the week includes ground chicken (taco bowl), salmon, and pork chops.
Go grocery shopping. They will buy enough meat for multiple meals and buy the ingredients to go with it if needed (spices, etc). Then, they will buy side dishes to include carbs such as the starch and veggie. In my example meal, they might make a rice dish and broccoli to accompany the salmon and maybe a baked potato and green beans to go with the pork chops.
Plan the day or the nights they can make a fresh meal. For example, they prepare the meats on Sunday and the side dishes during the week, or some of the meals on Sunday and others during the week. This all depends upon your personal schedule and how much time you have.
Planning and preparing meals helps you stick with healthy eating. If you don't have a lot of time during the week, planning is a necessity.
2. They eat until they are 80% full.
This is something I learned to do naturally over time after I stopped eating hyperpalatable foods on a routine basis. Hyperpalatable foods are those delicious foods that are loaded with fat, sugar, and salt leading you to want to overeat because they are so good. These foods are going to be different for everyone as we all have our own foods we love and crave (think Nachos, pizza, etc). When you make simpler meals (I think if this as fewer ingredient foods, that aren't dripping in gravy or sauce) you are going to tend to crave it less and be less likely to overeat. Broccoli? Sure I can overeat broccoli, but I'm pretty sure the broccoli is not going to be what causes me to gain weight.
3. They are learned portion sizes appropriate for their goals, activity level, and size/gender.
A portion size for a 6'2 man weighing 200 lbs is not the same for a female 5'5, 140 lbs.
I think a great eye opening experience is to track your caloric intake in MyFitness Pal or other program following your normal diet for 4 days to include two typical weekend days and two weekdays (ex: Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday). While you might not know exactly how many calories you should be consuming to meet your goals (this is why you would benefit from working with a health/nutrition coach such as myself), this is a great eye opening experience. For example, say you are a sedentary 5'5 female wondering why you are gaining weight over time. You track your foods and find you are eating an average of 2500 calories per day, you will know that you are overeating on a daily basis. Once you track calories for a few days, this may influence your eating habits naturally towards foods that are more nutrient dense and less caloric. Why? Because you learn the value of food rather than blindly eating and fooling yourself into thinking you aren't eating that much.
Once you understand how much (or little) you are eating, only then can you successfully make changes that are meaningful. Now you don't have to electronically track foods for any period of time to sustainably lose weight, but I promise you this is very eye opening and educational. Learning this helps you stay on track for the long hall by changing your habits.
4. They know that exercising doesn't give them permission to eat whatever they want.
People make the mistake of thinking because they worked out, they "earned" the (insert food here). You might be surprised to know that you don't burn as many calories as you thought you did in your workout. We will often overestimate the amount of calories burned and then make up for it by overeating later. Successful dieters will know how much to eat on workout days and non workout days. Depending upon what you do for exercise, how often you exercise, how active you are in the remaining hours of the day, etc will account for how many calories you should be eating. Those that lift weights can generally eat more - they need to eat more protein in order sustain muscle/growth. That's why those that love to eat, like to lift weights.
5. They don't drink their calories.
Drinking lattes, full calorie soda, juices, alcohol, and sugary beverages can really pack on the calories. This is an easy way to over consume calories.
While losing weight and keeping it off in the simplest of models involves eating a maintenance level of calories (to maintain your desired weight) or less calories than you burn (for fat loss), we as humans tend to really complicate the issue. Food is emotional. Your culture and traditions influence the foods you eat. For example, if you go to your grandparents every week for dinner, maybe you are expected (or just feel expected) to eat everything including the desserts, whether or not you want them. Food is love. Same with alcohol. Perhaps you go out with your friends on a weekly basis and you feel peer pressured / obligated to keep up with everyone else and you drink a ton of calories. All of this is a topic for another day. Bottom line, when thinking of the calories in vs calories out model, you can do great during the week and over eat/drink on the weekend that it ends up causing weight gain over time.
The topic of nutrition now-a-days is so confusing and people tend to focus on the wrong things when wanting to lose weight.
Working with a health / nutrition coach can help you obtain your health and weight goals by helping you create healthy / sustainable habits for life. A good coach will not make you do what they want you to do and you don't have to work to please your coach. I work with people to help them change what they are willing to change and take this journey one step at a time so that they can be proud of themselves and continue to be motivated to carry this over into their everyday lives.