Many of us struggle with finding the right diet. Whether it's because we want to lose weight or because we want to improve our wellbeing, finding a good diet that we can stick to seems like a never-ending journey. And when two thirds of dieters end up regaining more weight than they had lost, maybe we should reshape the way we view dieting as a whole.
The problem isn't usually getting yourself to eat healthily. It's more about maintaining your new healthy habits in the long run. And in order to do that, our best advice is to try to enjoy your diet as much as you can.
Here are some of our top tips on how to diet in a realistic and sustainable way:
1. Accept that it takes time to see results
One of the biggest obstacles of a diet is feeling like a failure. In our fast-paced society, we expect everything to come as easily as the click of a finger. Unfortunately, sustainable diets don't work like that.
Try to remind yourself that even though you may not see or feel the results after day 2 (or even day 30) your body is working behind the scenes and appreciating your new way of life. It's thanking you now, and you'll thank it later. Just be patient.
2. Understand there's no 'one-size-fits-all' when it comes to diets
Your best friend swears by the paleo diet. Your colleague is trying to convert you to veganism. And you mum can't stop talking about how much slimmer she got with the help of her low-carb diet.
But you've tried all of them, and none of them seem to be doing anything for you. That doesn't mean you're doomed - it means that you just haven't found the right diet for you yet. Trial and error is the name of the game. Try different types of diets until you find one that you enjoy.
3. Endorse cheat days
Although there are many ways to spice up a healthy diet, sometimes we just crave something slightly less nutritious. If you set a time when you completely ignore your diet guidelines - or a 'cheat day' - it's much easier to stick to your regular diet: Whenever you crave some fried chicken, you will remember that you can have some on Friday. This way, instead of breaking and stuffing your face (and then feeling terribly guilty) - you have some rules on how and when you can stray.
If you're struggling to decide how often you should have a cheeky cheat day, try the 80/20 rule - be good 80% of the time and let your hair down for the remainder 20%. Easy.
4. Choose a few healthy habits and stick to them
Our motivation tends to fluctuate, so it's always good to keep some ground rules. Instead of trying to do everything all the time, pick 2-3 healthy eating habits that you can consistently manage, and anything on top of that is just a bonus. Remember - it's always better to successfully stick to a few habits than try to do everything and fail.
5. Avoid feeling hungry
The hungrier we are, the less likely we are to stick to our diet. So by making sure you're regularly eating and never getting to the point when you just have to eat something right now, you're more likely to succeed in your diet.
Our best tips for this are to always have a healthy snack at hand, and to have a protein-packed breakfast with healthy fats.
6. Say goodbye to calorie counting
It's fair to say that calorie counting doesn't work. First of all, science shows that not all calories are treated equally by our bodies (consuming 200 calories of crisps is not the same as 200 calories of avocado). But even if they did, it's time consuming and difficult to accurately keep track of your calories.
Instead, we suggest you keep track of the quality of the food that you're eating (try to consume more protein and fibre, for example), and try to avoid processed foods as much as you can. This will help your overall wellbeing, because you won't need to obsess over the weight and size of every single thing you eat!
7. Find healthy foods you like, and incorporate them into your diet
Healthy food might not be known for its taste, but frankly, quite a lot of it is delicious. Try different types of vegetable, fruits, nuts and legumes and find the ones you think are great. Then make sure every meal you have has something that excites you. If you really like squash, add some baked squash to your salad. If chickpeas are your best friends, add a dollop of hummus next to your veg.
It doesn't have to be extremely healthy - feta cheese or halloumi can be great, joyful additions to otherwise boring dishes. You don't have to let go of all the ingredients you love, just find balanced ways to incorporate them into your meals.
8. Accept that sometimes you're going to indulge
Even though you should aspire to keep your indulgence within the constraints of your cheat day, nobody's perfect. Sometimes you'll just stray, but that doesn't mean falling off the wagon completely.
The main issue is that when we break, a lot of us feel like 'the day is ruined' and there's nothing we can do to turn back the wheel. So if you broke and had an Egg McMuffin for breakfast (but please don't, okay?), you may be more likely to keep eating unhealthy meals for the rest of the day. Instead, try to balance it out! Eat really healthy meals for lunch and dinner, and then your temporary slip won't be as noticeable.
9. Find healthy snack alternatives
As we already mentioned, when we get hungry we're hard to stop. The advice is generally to reduce snacking as much as possible, but sometimes you feel a little peckish without the option to have a full meal, and you just want - no, need - a snack. This is when you're likely to go for easy snacks from the vending machine.
Instead, try to make sure you're always carrying a healthy snack with you. Nuts, fruit and veg are always brilliant options, but you can also leave a pack of oatcakes or rice cakes at your desk and nibble on them whenever hunger strikes. If you're buying any cereal bars or processed healthy snacks, make sure to read the labels (remember that the first ingredients are the main ones).
10. Make food in advance, but ditch restrictive meal plans
It's much easier to eat healthy when you don't have to constantly be thinking about what you're going to eat. By making sure you know exactly what you have in your pantry and your fridge (and stuffing them with fresh produce and healthy options), cooking in larger amounts so you can freeze food, and making easy meals that you can just pull out of the fridge without any fuss in advance, you'll have all the healthy food you need at hand.
Some people really like to meal plan, and feel that it can really take their mind off food. If that's who you are, that's great! But if not, just by making sure you have the options in the first place, you'll be eating healthier without the feeling of restriction that meal plans can often induce.
11. Ditch the scales
If you want to lose weight, the most obvious goal is to reach a certain weight. But our suggestion is to first of all think of your diet as a journey to eat healthier. Your weight doesn't necessarily indicate your level of health, and it ignores important factors such as your fat/muscle ratio. So instead of going on the scales every morning and gasping, try to appreciate your body, listen to it and respect it. Weight can fluctuate, but it doesn't mean your health is.
12. Don't obsess about food
It's very easy to spiral out of control when you're trying to change your diet. Because eating is such a big, important part of our lives, changing it can take us out of our comfort zone to unknown realms. So although being conscious of what you eat is key to improving your behaviour, it shouldn't always be on your mind.
This is one of the reasons why we suggest to leave calorie-counting and daily weighing out of the equation. But even without them, it's easy to obsess. Try to find balance between enjoying your new diet and being conscious of your habits. Remember - food is fun, and should stay fun, even when you make some compromises. It's just as unhealthy to be obsessive about healthy eating, as it is to eat unhealthy.
13. Surround yourself with people who want you to succeed
Whether they're joining you on your quest for healthy eating or they're just cheering you on from the sidelines, you want to hang around people who appreciate the changes you're trying to make and respect them. If people around you make you feel incompetent and silly, and your efforts unimportant or frustrating, you probably don't need them in your life. By having support from the people around you, you will be much more likely to see your new healthy diet as an opportunity rather than a holdback.