With so many fad diets and gimmicks readily available, it can be confusing to figure out how to maintain a healthy long-term diet. But we are here to help dieters navigate the confusing and overwhelming diet world.
So if ready to make lasting changes, these tips for successful dieting are not only tried and true, but practical for keeping the weight off once and for all.
How to Maintain a Healthy, Long-Term Diet
1. Set SMART Goals
It is not all too uncommon to set goals that may be admirable, but are likewise unrealistic. Not reaching these goals, especially in a hoped short timeframe, can be mentally destructing and lead to yo-yo dieting.
However, setting small, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely (SMART) goals has been a proven concept to increase compliance and ensure results.
For instance, instead of simply stating, "I want to lose 50 pounds," reframe into a SMART goal by perhaps indicating, "I will lose an average of one to two pounds each week by cooking at home and exercising for 30 minutes daily."
2. Make Sure to Eat Enough
While it may seem logical to withhold calories in hopes to accelerate weight loss, not eating enough can actually stall weight loss results. Unless under the direction of a medical professional, do not restrict calories under 1,200 calories daily.
Going under 1,200 calories can cause your body to go into "starvation" mode, slow down metabolism, and make it difficult to lose the weight. The restriction also makes it difficult to ensure the body is receiving adequate nutrients.
However, having "enough" is also dependent on gender, age, activity level, and other factors. A Registered Dietitian can help determine a personalized target and plan to meet individual needs and goals.
3. Recognize Portion Sizes
Unless filled with culinary experience, knowing what half a cup of pasta looks like without a measuring cup is slightly impractical.
For this reason, try to compare serving sizes to everyday objects and sizes. Common like objects include:
• 1 cup of rice: tennis ball
• 3 ounces of lean chicken: deck of cards
• 1 cup of salad greens: baseball
• 1 baked potato: computer mouse
• 1 ounce of cheese: pair of dice
• 1 tablespoon of peanut butter: thumb tip
• 1 slice of toast: cassette tape
• 3 ounces of fish: checkbook
• 1 ounce of nuts: small palmful
• 1 pancake: CD disc
• 1 pat of butter: postage stamp
4. Balance the Diet
Meals should be balanced with whole foods that are rich in nutrients, including with whole grains, lean and plant-based proteins, fruits and veggies, and healthy fat sources.
As a general reference, fill at least half the plate with veggies, a quarter with a lean or plant-based protein, and complementing with a whole grain and healthy fat source. To illustrate, an example meal plate may include a steamed veggie blend, 4 ounces of baked chicken, ½ cup brown rice, and light drizzle of olive oil.
Balancing the day with portioned breakfast, lunch, and dinner and two or a few snacks can also help sustain weight loss and maintenance. Eating every three to four hours can help control hunger and lessen the risk of overeating.
5. Allow Mindful Indulgences
Food is meant to nourish the body, yes, but it should also be enjoyed. Besides, consistently depriving yourself from life’s pleasures can actually create more harm than good, as food avoidance can paint a damaging picture.
So allow occasional indulgences and do so mindfully. The practice of mindful eating promotes the notion of “all foods fit,” stripping down the stigma of “unhealthy” or “bad” foods and incorporating all foods within the diet.
Tips to be a more mindful eater include:
• Eating at a designated area
• Turning off the television when eating
• Recognizing the smells, flavors, and textures of foods at hand
• Eating slowly and chewing thoroughly
• Tuning into hunger and satiety cues, particularly eating when hungry and stopping when full
• Being aware of thoughts and emotions when eating
• Appreciating how food nourishes the body
6. Make a Game Plan
Going into a diet without any direction opens the door for overeating and overindulging on convenience foods. But making a game plan can be a solid foundation for sustaining healthy eating patterns and weight loss.
So take a little time and preparation to not only make a plan, but implement it. Tips to plan ahead for healthy eating include:
• Taking one day out of the week to meal prep nutritious breakfast, lunch, and dinner options to last throughout the busy workweek
• Keeping healthy snacks on hand, including chopped veggies, fresh fruit, beef jerky, hardboiled eggs, and proportioned Greek yogurt containers
• Viewing the menu and choosing a healthy entrée before going to the restaurant
• Ordering from meal delivery service for nutritious, quick, and convenient meals
7. Be Consistent, Committed, and Confident
Consistency truly is key with weight loss, as ebbing and flowing in and out of healthy eating practices can lead to weight fluctuations and frustrations.
Besides, it takes time to build a habit. Committing to a healthy, sustainable diet will naturally cultivate habits, and a healthy weight, that can last a lifetime.
Ultimately, be consistent, committed, and confident in not only the process, but with yourself.
Additional Tips for Keeping the Weight Off Long-Term
Beyond maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, there are additional lifestyle factors that can either synergize or impede results, including sufficient exercise, hydration, sleep, stress management, and support or lack thereof.
With such a strong connection between obesity and sedentary lifestyles, exercise can lead to long-term, sustainable weight loss.
But how much is enough? The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity), which breaks down to 30 minutes a day, five times a week.
Also include at least two to three times of resistance training sessions each week, focusing on the major muscle groups, including of the back, chest, core, arms, and legs.
But remember, weight loss occurs 90 percent of the time in the kitchen and you cannot outrun a poor diet!
Hydration is key for sustaining weight loss and a healthy body, as water is required to fuel metabolic pathways and even slight dehydration can slow down metabolism.
Filling up on water before and with meals can also help naturally control portion and serving sizes. What’s more, thirst is often mistaken for hunger. So rather than heading for a snack first, drink a glass of water.
As a general rule, adult males need 3.7 liters of fluid per day, while adult women need 2.7 liters. While coffee, tea, and other beverages can count towards these requirements, fluid needs are primarily encouraged to come from water.
Also gauge hydration status urine color: a pale to light yellow color visually represents adequate hydration.
Get Enough Sleep
While physical activity is important for weight loss and maintenance, so is providing the body with adequate rest.
Not only does sleeping the recommended seven to nine hours each night enhances concentration, mood, and energy, but regulate hunger hormones to keep appetite at ease and fight pesky and unnecessary cravings.
Tips to ensure adequate sleep each night include:
• Staying consistent with sleep and wake times
• Creating an environment conducive to sleep, including with a cooler air climate and comfortable, yet supportive mattress and pillow
• Limiting caffeine and alcohol intake
• Avoiding naps throughout the day
• Exercising regularly, especially before the night hours
• Straying away from TV time right before sleep, and exercising in the afternoon
• Consulting with a sleep specialist if home remedies are not sufficing
While experiencing time-to-time stress is a normal feeling, and can even be motivating, too much of it can wreak havoc on the body and even cause weight gain.
Allowing stress to build increases cortisol, also known as the "stress hormone" known to heighten cravings, stores fuel and energy as fat, and slow down the metabolism. What’s more, stress can also lead to emotional eating, which tends to be towards foods that are laden in fat and sugar.
So rather than negatively feeding into or avoiding stress, identify and implement positive coping strategies, including exercising, meditating, listening to music, or calling a friend.
Confide in Support
Time after time and study after study, the value of support in various facets of life never falls short. And truly, support is one of the largest influencers of weight loss, as having a strong network of supporters synergizes accountability and motivation.
Support can come from numerable sources, including family members, friends, neighbors, healthcare providers, and even strangers. Also meet new and motivated people in workout classes, local support groups, and online communities.