How can I truly get back on the health wagon, once and for all?
May 25, 2010 11:17 AM   Subscribe

What tips and tricks do you use to avoid falling off the diet wagon?

It's been a hard go. I set myself a goal on Jan 1 this year to lose 100lbs by Dec 31st. I made a plan, and I added exercise, and in the first month, I dropped an initial 28lbs. Another month went by, and I lost another (much more normal) 6 lbs. Since then however I completely stalled out, and have now even put about 10 lbs of it back on.

I try cooking at home, I try making smart decisions, but it's been really hard, and I think I have a weakness for bad food and thinking "there's always tomorrow".

So I'm now 5 months in, and am flailing. It's frustrating, because even when I tell myself that its for my health, and that I need to smarten up, I still just make the bad choices.
posted by sonician to Health & Fitness (52 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Instead of "exercise" could you take up a sport? Masters swimming, a rowing club, train for a 10K? Seeing yourself as an athlete will make a big difference. I know this from experience.
posted by jgirl at 11:20 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you write down everything you eat? That is the only way I lose. You can track online at or The Daily Plate, or you can join Weight Watchers. Either way, you see exactly what you put in your body and how quickly the extra calories add up.
posted by something something at 11:23 AM on May 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

It sounds like a dumb trick, and I am far from a dieting guru, but I find that impulsive decisions made when super hungry are the worst ones for me. Visualising (or just thinking in advance about) the specifics about what I'm going to eat often helps me stay on the bandwagon, rather than digging ravenously through the contents of my pantry for something I'll regret.
posted by Lisitasan at 11:23 AM on May 25, 2010

P.S. congratulations on the progress you've already made!
posted by Lisitasan at 11:24 AM on May 25, 2010

Response by poster: I am purchasing a bike soon, and hope that will help, I just need to get motivated to use it I guess.
I was writing everything down, but stopped a while back. I agree that would definitely help, but when you are consciously choosing the Big Mac over the salad, there's a switch in my head that says "Why bother?"
posted by sonician at 11:25 AM on May 25, 2010

When you're on the health wagon do you allow yourself cheat meals? You could allow yourself one day, or a few "bad" meals a week without killing your overall progress. Being able to enjoy "bad" food from time to time might make all of the days of eating "good" a little easier.
posted by ghharr at 11:27 AM on May 25, 2010

Write everything down. Make a realistic calorie budget per day. Find tools that remove rather than create impediments. My mantra to keep to my goal was "eyes on the prize" where the prize = feeling better, looking better, being happier.
posted by plinth at 11:28 AM on May 25, 2010

I was writing everything down, but stopped a while back. I agree that would definitely help, but when you are consciously choosing the Big Mac over the salad, there's a switch in my head that says "Why bother?"

Even so, keep at it. When you make bad choices, write them down anyway. It's a way of taking responsibility, and (one would hope) will eventually start you down the path of changing the choices you make.

And really, you just have to quit going places where a Big Mac is an option. If fast food seems like a necessity for you, do some menu investigating, make a list of acceptable places you can eat, and don't waver from it. Don't keep unhealthy foods in the house. When you buy groceries, portion snacks out immediately into single-serving baggies. I firmly believe weight loss is more about habit than will power. You've gotten out of the habit recently, but you have proof that you know how to do it; you just need to get back into the habit.
posted by something something at 11:32 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

My advice is don't worry about falling off the wagon, concentrate on getting back on straight away afterwards. My biggest problem is that if I've broken my diet (for whatever reason - stress/lack of sleep/special occasion) I fall into the pattern of 'well I've already had a doughnut so I might as well get a take away, I'll start again on Monday' which is faulty reasoning.

Fall off the wagon, everyone does but forget about the bad thing you ate and move on immediately. if you want the big mac, have the big mac but don't use it as an excuse not to go to the gym or eat healthily the rest of the day. You can eat the 'bad' foods and still lose weight (so long as it isn't every meal, every day)

I know its hard, I'm still working on it myself, but I just have to keep reminding myself that exercise and healthy eating aren't invalidated for a period of time just because I had a treat that wasnt in my plan.
posted by missmagenta at 11:35 AM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have two tricks: FIrst: every day is a celan slate. If you mess up, you don't "make up" for it the next day, you simplyu forgive yourself and keep on your usual regime.

Next: You don't diet, you cange your lifestyle. Of course you can have the odd hamburger, but mainly, no. Count your calories and make sure you are eating enough.

Also, IANA nutritionist, but 100 pounds in 48 weeks is an average of 2 pounds per week. This means you would have to have a weekly calorie deficit of about 7000 calories. that means a calorie deficit of 1000 calories per day. This may be a bit too much. Experts recommend 1.5 pounds of loss per week as a maximum (also, it is proven that the longer you take to lose weight, the higher the possibilities of keeping it off)

If you burn (on average) an added 200 cals per day, that means you could be burning more or less 2300 cals if you are a woman, 2600 cals if you are a man (mind you, your initial weight, your height and your age play important factors in this), this means that to lose 1.5 pounds per week, you would have to eat 1500 aprox. if you are a woman, and 1800 if you are a guy.

If you are (truly, it's very easy to underestimate our calorie intake and overestimate our calorie output) not losing weight while following a healthy lifestyle, then you may have reached a plateau, or you may be actually undernourishing your body, whcih would cause enough stress that it will lower metabolic rates and learn to live with a lower energy input. Thus, you may diet but not lose weight, and even worse, you could gain very quickly.

I have some recommended reading:

How can I raise my metabolic rate?
And to count your calories and for loads of info, you can join caloriecount, for free, of course.
posted by Tarumba at 11:36 AM on May 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

I usually start slow then work my way up. Meaning small steps in the beginning then gradually add more (more exercise, less bad food/more good food). My thought process is, "well I'm already doing all this, adding ________ is a small sacrifice." That way it's easier not to fall off the bandwagon since it doesn't seem like THAT great a sacrifice. And when you do fall off the wagon, get right back up. One slip does NOT equal falling permanently.
posted by Neekee at 11:37 AM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

there's a switch in my head that says "Why bother?"

Interesting. I have this switch too. Logging all my calories (in and out, on gave me a pretty big "oh that's why". I've lost 21 pounds since mid-March. Tracking my calories and knowing how little I had to eat or how much I had to exercise to reach my desired deficit has been a huge part of that. It's a real eye opener, and I think is leading to the kinds of lifestyle changes that need to happen to keep the weight off.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:37 AM on May 25, 2010

Mantra -- thought not politically correct: "This will not taste as good as skinny will feel."

Avoidance: Stay away from places that will remind you of something tasty.

Lie: Tell people you spend a lot of time with that you are allergic to ______________. (I fill in chocolate.) You will be embarrassed if they catch you with (chocolate) all over your face & hands, while you stagger around in a candy coma.

Shop: don't wait to drop two sizes to shop! I sold my 12s and bought 10s as soon as I could!

Good luck!
posted by kidelo at 11:37 AM on May 25, 2010

Figuring out how many calories I can eat, then finding food I'm interested in eating. This week at work for lunch, for example, I have good cheese, crackers, and dark chocolate for lunch. I know how much of those things to eat to cover the number of calories I've mentally allocated for lunch, but it doesn't feel "diety". It just feels like me eating a lunch that's not going to lead me down a road of incremental increases in pants size.

Basically -- knowing how many calories are in things, how many calories I've eaten, and positioning myself to eat the kind of food I'll feel okay about eating. I'd never eat apples if I didn't bring a couple into the office and have them on my desk. I eat them because they're there. If I had powdered sugar doughnuts on my desk, I'd eat those. So: capitalizing on my own laziness.

So that, and making plans to get my cravings taken care of when it comes up. I have chicken wings scheduled for Thursday. If I didn't do that, and just didn't eat them, ever, I'd feel depressed and deprived and wind up eating something I wanted less to make up for feeling that way.

And I want good beer, so I'll have a salad for dinner now and then so I can enjoy beer I like drinking.

There's really no substitute for doing the math. It's sort of like if you don't pay attention to how much money is in your bank account, you're not going to stick to a budget. Find out how many calories you can eat in a day, brainstorm what you'll feel happy about eating, and plan.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:39 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

You don't have the willpower for a year long goal.

Don't worry, it's okay! Here is what I want you to do: create two new goals. One goal is going to be internal and one external.

The internal goal is a contest with yourself. You are the only participate and winning this contest relies completely on your own willpower. That year long goal? That's like trying to run a marathon without even owning a pair of running shoes. Too much for you right now, what I want you to do is run a 5k. In four weeks, I want you to lose 6lbs of fat. Easy, right? Every time you want a slice of pizza I want you to remember that in four weeks you have to weigh and measure yourself. That is soon! You can easily wait that long.

I was writing everything down, but stopped a while back. I agree that would definitely help, but when you are consciously choosing the Big Mac over the salad, there's a switch in my head that says "Why bother?"

Why bother? You've got a contest to win, son!

The external goal is a contest with other people. A race between friends, an actual 5k, a contest at work or hell, even a contest between people on your favorite website (*cough* Search MeTa *cough*). Again, make it short term. Anything from four to eight weeks out is good. Now you are a competitor, an athlete. You aren't working out anymore, you are TRAINING. Don't want to go to the gym? What about your contest? Athletes don't quit and neither will you. Think about how great it will be when the contest is over and you didn't just finished but you finished strong. The people around you may have given up or slacked off in their training but you didn't. Fuck, it doesn't matter if you win. No one wins their first time out. All you need to do is make a strong showing, to prove to yourself that your training paid off.

You can finish reading this comment after your four weeks are up.



You're back! Great! How'd it go? Fucking nailed it, right? Good man. You are itching for another contest, another goal, right? Good. You've got a 10k now. Twelve pounds in eight weeks. You've got this. It's two 5ks and you just finished your first one with flying fucking colors. Eight weeks is easy. Whenever you go for that Big Mac just remember your goal, your contest. You aren't dieting and working out anymore. You are refueling and training. You made a lifestyle change after you hit your first goal. Four weeks to start, eight weeks next... it's going to keep going and soon enough it'll be Christmas and you will be in better shape than you have ever been. That's secondary, though. You spent the year learning how to harness your willpower and applying it to get what you want. Time to start thinking big.
posted by Loto at 11:45 AM on May 25, 2010 [12 favorites]

I'd like to chime in and say that planning is key to sticking to a diet. I do my grocery shopping about once a week and I plan for my meals before I go shopping. I get the things I need and I make the food on the days I plan them. That way, you don't have the excuse of, "Oh shit, I ran out of ________ so now I have to go out to eat." Going out is going to be more caloric than eating at home.
posted by too bad you're not me at 11:49 AM on May 25, 2010

Congratulations on the progress you've made so far!

I would suggest that you talk about your goal to your friends and family, especially to the most important people in your life. YMMV but for some people it's easier keep yourself honest if you have some "audience expectations" to live up to.

My partner currently has a goal of losing 65 pounds this year. He and a good friend have a bit of a bet going. If he doesn't lose the weight on schedule, he has to buy her the video game console of her choice. If she doesn't meet her goal, she has to do the same for him. If they both miss their targets, the money goes to charity. This has been an extremely good motivator for both of them, and he's about halfway to his goal already. It's not just about the competitiveness, though - it's definitely helpful that he has someone there for moral support/commiseration.

Are the people in your life supportive? D (my partner) has found that he has more success when the people around him are not encouraging or enabling his bad eating and exercise habits. It's a challenge to eat healthier and exercise if the people around you are eating junk food and lounging on the couch. This is not an excuse for giving up, but more of an acknowledgement that weight loss involves more than just calorie counting.
posted by papaver at 11:49 AM on May 25, 2010

I had extremely good luck with Sparkpeople, particularly their iphone app -- it made it extremely easy to track my calories and exercise, and harder to make excuses or rationalize bad food decisions. There was some wiggle room, and there were a few days when eating out with friends put me right on the upper edge of what I was budgeted for. But I told myself there were no exceptions, no days that were "special occasions" -- if I was going to eat something bad for me at on a given day, I put it into Sparkpeople ahead of time, and then structured the rest of my meals to make room for it.

Sparkpeople also allows you to switch over to a "maintenance" diet once you've reached your goal weight, to help you keep from falling off the horse and gaining back what you've lost.

I'd avoided counting calories for years, largely because the idea made me incredibly anxious even to think about. But once I started, I was surprised at how much LESS anxious I felt. There wasn't any guilt, no staring at a piece of cake and wondering if I could have some, if I could have seconds at dinner, if it was really okay to drink a glass of wine. I always KNEW exactly what was and wasn't okay to eat -- I could check ahead of time how many calories something contained, and then decide whether or not it would fit. No guesswork, no worrying, no guilt. Just numbers, and a tool that made those numbers very easy to keep track of.

Of course, everyone's different, and what worked for me may not work for you. But that's my two cents.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:50 AM on May 25, 2010

Heya. I'm in a very similar place - I've been on a diet for about 9 months now, and I've had some of the same issues.

I know you mentioned writing things down, and falling off that particular wagon. Were you sharing the logs with anyone else? I've found that sending my log to a friend or two who are also dieting (and vice versa) helps keep all of us on track.

If you're not tracking calories, I'd also reccommend that. I use for that, and they offer clients for both Android and iPhone. The client is really helpful because it lets me track the calories on the fly. (Also, it's nice to use to find a treat now and then that isn't that bad on the calories. My current cure for a sweet tooth has been a package of Jello sugar free tapioca pudding cups, and taking one to work with me for lunch every few days.)

I know it's a demand in time and money, but cooking for yourself is also a big help - I don't always have time to cook during the week, so I like to make dishes that can be split up into portions for lunches or dinners later in the week on the weekends, and it's amazing how much neat stuff you can find if you're willing to explore a farmer's market or two in your free time.

Lastly, on the matter of exercise, I've tried a lot of things and what finally worked is a mix of activities I enjoy (Wii fit/Wii Sports, playing drumset, curling), walking, and pushing myself to do household chores that will burn calories. Cutting my grass with a push mower burns a hell of a lot of calories. So does vacuuming the house or cleaning up my kitchen and bathrooms and mopping the floors.
posted by BZArcher at 11:52 AM on May 25, 2010

I've found that the only way I keep going is to count calories and track exercise. And I've done this numerous times, started then stopped -- for the same reasons you cite: I don't see any results, why bother, I like food too much, what is life worth if I have to eat salad all the time, ad nauseum. I've also started and stopped after achieving some results -- usually after I've gotten about halfway to my goal and my clothes are starting to fit a little better and I wonder if I can just stop trying so hard to lose weight.

I think everyone's answer for how they power through that complacent period is different. For me, I just try to power through it by refusing to give up my routine of writing everything down, good or bad. When I plateau, I try to find new ways of motivating myself, like, finding new foods that I like or new substitutes for foods I love. (Like, I allowed myself mayonnaise when I first started my latest round of calorie counting, because I like mayo on my sandwiches. But then I plateaued. So I stopped giving myself mayo and started using dijon mustard, which I also like. Is it AS good? No, but it's better than no mayo, no mustard, because a dry sandwich just makes me want to go get a huge plate of pad thai and gorge.)
posted by devinemissk at 11:59 AM on May 25, 2010

I think it helps to figure out what things you can sacrifice without caring too much about; for instance, I have never been a breakfast person. I couldn't care less what I put in my mouth at 7am as long as it sticks to my ribs, so I pretty much eat the same 250ish calorie breakfast every day with very rare exception. This means I have an automated start to my day that won't wreck my diet, and I don't even feel like it's a sacrifice. On the other hand, I am crazy about dinner, and I HATE HATE HATE eating something cold and/or meager like salad for dinner. I can try to eat a salad, but I will inevitably end up ordering a pizza or going out for a milkshake or something because I am so dissatisfied. So, I save myself a lot of calories for dinner (which isn't hard to do, since I am so careful about my breakfast expenditure).
I was also raised in a family where we had some sort of dessert after dinner, and I find it very hard to go without this. Someday, I would like to be able to skip it; however, right now I am still losing weight while having my dessert, and it makes me happy. Still, I treat this a bit like breakfast in that I carefully plan what I will eat and how many calories it will be. To that end, I have found the single serving ice cream cartons at the grocery store very helpful. Also, products made by Skinny Cow taste fantastic and really feel like a treat.
I have also been using the site every day since I started dieting. At the beginning, I wrote down some of my goals - especially those that went beyond just the weight I want to reach. For instance, I haven't been swimming in a few years because I am so uncomfortable with my body. I have a young daughter now and I really want to splash around unselfconsciously with her this summer. Whenever I am feeling a bit off track, I write about goals like this and other things related to food and body image and happiness and so on - I do this instead of poking around the fridge or pantry. It has helped a lot, because of course so much of this has nothing to do with hunger and everything to do with a mental game. Good luck to you!
posted by katie at 11:59 AM on May 25, 2010

These are tips that helped me lose 50 pounds in 2007, and I'm utilizing now as I get back on the bandwagon and continue to lose:

Stop thinking of food as "good" or "bad." Think of it as food. Dissociating food from morality was the best thing I ever did - because when I beat myself up for "being bad" from eating something high-calorie, it made it that much easier to think "I suck at this anyway, might as well go on and eat [blah]" where [blah] was something else high-calorie. Now, when I end up indulging in something that I didn't plan to? I enjoy it! And the next meal, I go back to eating the way I planned.

Also: plan your meals in advance. You don't need to do it in great detail or anything, just think "For breakfast I'll grab two pieces of toast, some jam, and a cup of coffee. At lunch I'll go by such-and-such restaurant and order the fish. For dinner, I think I'll make chalupas." What this does is provide a fallback option - if you wait until you're hungry before you eat, your blood glucose levels are low and it makes it that much easier for your self-control to break down and order the option full of fat and soaked in butter. (one study on the subject) I've found that if I've already made a decision, it's more likely that I'll go for the healthier option when I get there, even if I'm starving and have almost no willpower left.

Don't forget to include your favorite foods in your eating plan. Feeling deprived is a sure diet-killer. So have fun. You stuffed your face with chocolate eclairs today? No prob! You will lose slightly less weight this week than you did last week. Big deal. (The problem is when you start stuffing your face like that frequently.)

And nthing writing ALL your food intake down, even if you don't count calories: just the act of writing it down will cause you to make slightly better food choices, and in a few weeks you can go back and look at the data and see where your problems lie. Keep in mind that most people underestimate how large a portion is- you might want to invest in a food scale and use it until you get a better idea of how big a particular piece of food is.

Most chain restaurants now have nutrition information on the Web, though you may have to search to find it on their sites. Look it over before you go out to eat, and you'll have a better idea of what the good choices on the menu are.
posted by telophase at 12:00 PM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

Oh, and nthign SparkPeople. I've used a lot of different online calorie calculators, and theirs is one of the easiest/best. And if you need accountability, there's a very large community of active users. (NB: I don't use the community features.)
posted by devinemissk at 12:01 PM on May 25, 2010

I only have one trick and that is I allow myself a small dessert every single evening. I mean *small*, like half a candy bar (pre-cut, so I am not tempted to eat the whole damned thing). But definitely a decadent thing, not some bullshit diet dessert. Because I have it factored into my days calories I can pass up temptation knowing that I have a dessert planned, and I must eat it! Sometimes I eat it even when I dont' feel like it, because I need to play mind games with myself.
posted by gaspode at 12:04 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

it's really hard to make good meal choices when you're hungry - make it a littkle easier on yourself by arranging things so that there is always a healthy snack that's easy and quick to get to. Have a bowl of washed berries in the fridge, or a ziplock bag of veggies on your desk at all times. Also, I get sweet cravings, so sugar free candies (werthers or campino are the best) really help with those

congrats on the progress you've already made!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:06 PM on May 25, 2010

Ditto the advice about tracking ALL your food, good or bad. Things that have helped me:

1. Don't let one bad choice turn into a bad day. Even if you mess up for one meal, it doesn't mean the entire day is ruined.

2. Plan & cook your meals. Packing my breakfast & lunch and taking it to work has not only saved me lots of $$$, but makes it a non-issue come mealtime. Every Sunday, I make a big pot of something, enough to eat for lunch for the week so I don't have to worry about it.

3. Add some strength training of some sort, even if it is pushups and situps.

4. Measure/track BF% not just weight, especially if you strength train.

5. Find a way to be accountable to someone else. For me, this meant getting a personal trainer, for you, it could be a buddy or friend. I'm more inclined to let myself down than someone else, even if I am paying them.

6. Little things count too. Take the stairs. Walk instead of drive. If you do drive, park further away and walk. Drink diet instead of regular soda.

7. Learn to love diet soda. Okay, maybe not the healthiest thing in the world BUT if you are drinking a lot of full sugar beverages, my personal opinion is that diet sodas are far less detrimental than chugging sugar water all day. Either cut all sugary drinks out and drink water only, or learn to love diet drinks. Again, the ultimate goal is to drink water only, but in the meantime, diet drinks will do.

Good luck!
posted by SoulOnIce at 12:08 PM on May 25, 2010

Look at each decision on its own. "Just this one time, I will choose the salad over the Big Mac. Not every time for the rest of my life. Just this one time." Do that with every decision, and it won't be so overwhelming.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:09 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I hate writing things down so that food diary and me? We're not friends. But I'm up on what foods work ok for me and what foods don't. I'm also aware of portion sizes. Which I think is pretty key.

Previously I'd lost 60lbs+ doing a reduced carb diet and I kept it off for 2-3 years without much problem. Then I moved around and started traveling for work a ton. Eating in restaurants is a diet killer as far as I'm concerned. But there are smart ways to do so. I try to eat more fish and lean proteins. Less red meat and fatty things than I ordinarily would while at home. Salads can be very yummy too.

But the thing that finally started working for me? Working out with a trainer. While I may not have dropped a ton of weight since starting (7 pounds, regaining 3-4 while on a trip last week where it was all restaurants all the time) three weeks ago - I feel GREAT. MY clothes are fitting better every day. I can feel the muscles building and I know that when I make a bad choice I have options for counter acting that choice.

But here's the *trick* I can offer you: Cravings do you in. I crave ice cream. All. The. Time. It's a weakness. I never have it in the house. But I will walk to the ice cream shop once or twice a week as long as I've been good about going for a bike ride or something that day. I had a craving for pretzels (which I love but are a carb trigger for me) so I bought a brand that I know I don't LOVE so I could get a little good crunch in without indulging in the whole bag.

Understand that the foods you love don't have to be off limits but you need to discover the goodness that is moderation. It's one of the hardest skills you'll ever develop but it's oh so worth it if it means that you can have that scoop of Milk Chocolate Guinness ice cream from Sweet Action.

Great. Now I want ice cream.
posted by FlamingBore at 12:18 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Since you've already made considerable progress, I'm guessing you know what works for you, and along the way you got tired of it, or frustrated, or otherwise found a reason to go temporarily off course. The longer you're off course, the harder it is to get back on.

Whatever else you were doing that worked for you, here are two thoughts to defuse that "fuck it, I've messed up today, I'll be better tomorrow" attitude:

Anything that will tempt you today will tempt you tomorrow.

Anything you can start tomorrow you can start today.

I used to struggle with binge eating, and I'm all too familiar with the cycle of impulsively eating something unhealthy, feeling guilty, and promising myself a fresh start... later.

When you fall into this cycle, the junk food becomes the immediate concern, the thing that must be dealt with, and your hard work and commitment to health become distant and theoretical. The trick is to switch this around and let your health become the right-now thing, and turn the food into something you'll deal with in the future. You're switching from an immediate impulse and potential commitment to an immediate commitment and a potential impulse.

It might sound discouraging at first to hear that the unhealthy food is waiting for you in the future, as if you're going to have to constantly fight the impulse to eat it. I find it's the opposite: if you really need it at any point in the future, it will be there. McDonald's will always make Big Macs. There are entire conveyor belts' worth of candy and doughnuts to eat if you are so inclined. Once you realize you don't have to eat them today, they lose the immediate allure that's so hard to fight.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:44 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Background: I was in decent shape (cycling to work most days, tennis once a week), but not truly fit. Then I started a 3 month style cross fit program.

I'm about 2 months in, and I'm definitely in better shape than I've been for quite some time. I don't think about my diet at all. The whole point to all this is to have more energy, so that I could actually be fully present for my life (kid, wife, free time) outside of the daily workaday grind. Consequently, I'm much less willing to eat food that's just not good for me (over processed, delivered in plastic or cardboard, etc.), or to overeat. I know 30 minutes of busting my tail is about 300 calories, give or take. 1 hour everyday gets me an additional to 3000-4000 calories to play with each week. That's really not that much. So what I do eat should be good for me, pleasurable to eat, and worth the later work.

I don't count calories. I don't starve myself. I don't neglect the fuel. There are decent choices at almost every fast food chain, if you must. I do keep all that hard work in mind, and how much it's positively affected my lifestyle so far - and that's what's keeps me on the wagon. I feel better now. Period.

Do you feel better now, compared to when you were heavier? Maybe the problem is you've got the wrong goal. It's not necessarily about a number on a scale - is your quality of life better now? If yes, keep on keeping on - don't squander what you've already put in. If no, you've got the wrong goal . Live better, not just lighter.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 1:15 PM on May 25, 2010

Also, Loto's right on with the contest idea. Being better than the other guy is a great motivator. Used to take lessons from a tennis pro, and if I was ever caught lagging or flat footed, he'd remind me there's someone out there working harder than me, getting better, right now. Do I want to beat that guy, or not? Instant speed boost.

Put your pride on the line. Some days you won't have it, and that's ok. You can rest or skip or eat that or whatever. But that's with the knowledge that you're going to bring it the next day. Refuse to have streaks of bad days and you're on your way.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 1:21 PM on May 25, 2010

It's probably a good idea to not be so hard on yourself. You've accomplished a lot. I'm guilty of the same thing. I hit the gym 4 days a week, and try and run another two or three days a week. I know this is way more than probably 95% of the people out there, but I still feel like I could be working harder. It's madness. You've lost a significant amount of weight in a short amount of time. Why be down on yourself for losing 25lbs in 5 months?

The real trick is just to eat clean. Keep on hand an assortment of guilt-free foods that you actually enjoy. For me, it's things like pickles and olives which provide a strong taste punch, but don't count too much calorie-wise. I also try and keep a lot of fruit on hand. I buy my own groceries, so I make an effort to not buy certain foods - anything too sugary, or pre-packaged meals just don't get purchased. Once in a while a bag of potato chips calls out to me, and I indulge - and I feel guilty, but I'm still eating much better than the majority of people out there.

Cheat once in a while, but the next day eat even cleaner. Try equating the number of calories in what you're going to eat to actual exercise. One hamburger = running for an hour, etc. Makes it easier for me to avoid those foods. Go back to tracking your calories. It is the best way to ensure you're on the right track.
posted by backwards guitar at 1:43 PM on May 25, 2010

I suck at this. I'm sucking at it at this very moment, in fact. But here's what has worked for me when I have managed to stay on top of the things I know I'm supposed to be doing:

Break things down into small, controllable steps. Lost X pounds a week is an admirable goal, but it's not actually something that you directly control. You can want to do it, you can take steps towards it, but you don't have the ability to snap your thumbs and have it be. So instead of tracking the goal, track the steps. I set up small tasks that I could actually do -- eat no more than 2000 calories a day, go to the gym, drink 1.5 liters of water per day, go to bed by midnight. Each of those were things that I could do and measure.

Track everything. I used a combination of Joe's Goals, Remember the Milk, a blog, Daily Plate, etc, to track everything I was supposed to be doing. Marking off the 'Drink a glass of water' reminder may seem silly and trivial, but by having it on a list of things to do, there was no danger of me forgetting or not bothering. The act of tracking it is what made it happen.

Every day habits mean every day. That means, for example, that three times a week visits to the gym didn't work for me, because they didn't become part of my routine. I needed to go every day, or at least every week day, so it became just this thing I did. It also meant that just because I ate like crap today didn't mean I didn't write down the crap on DailyPlate.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:46 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I lost 30 lbs about three years ago and have kept it off. For me, this is due to two things: portion control and mind set.

Portion Control: Initially, in order to limit myself to a reasonable number of calories, I kept no food in the house apart from Lean Cuisine meals. Over time, I found that I got full with a lot less food than previously. And once the meal is gone, it's gone.

Mind Set: This is a little trickier, admittedly, but the point is that you are not on a diet, you are changing your eating habits for life. If you are overweight, you are ingesting more calories (and probably fat) than your body needs. You need to get out of the mind set that you are denying yourself and into the mind set of, "I have eaten sufficiently, so I don't really need anything more." Also, I paid attention to what my "hunger triggers" are (e.g. watching television and seeing a Burger King commercial) and developed strategies for avoiding same (e.g. I no longer watch television). Finally, I taught myself to thwart cravings and/or feelings of hunger by doing something different the minute I felt them, typically by taking a walk outside or breathing deeply for 60 seconds, etc.). Lean into your cravings, feel them, but also understand that they are not what you want for yourself. One example: I often get up at 5am; if and when my stomach rumbles for some breakfast, I subdue it by drinking half a liter of spring water. The rumble does go away.

The great thing about this approach is that I can still indulge myself from time to time. My body has a new norm, and a binge or two makes no difference, apart from maybe a pound or three, such as during the holidays.

Good luck!
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:02 PM on May 25, 2010

First, congrats for possessing the DESIRE to be healthy - that puts you ahead of most people already!
Re: SparkPeople. I did this for a while, but I made the huge mistake of NOT opting out of all of the community and push email functions. I was receiving 4-10 emails day from the site or fellow sparkers. Even after I removed myself, I still got "Please come back" emails.
I found that the iPhone app LoseIt is much more efficient. Just tracks calories and exercise, goals and progress. I've lost 12% of my body weight in 5 months at healthy, well-monitored rate with LoseIt.
Nthing the planning of meals. Really gets you through the afternoon cravings to know you have a yummy meal waiting.
posted by memewit at 5:08 PM on May 25, 2010

Keep sugar-free gum around. When you get a craving chew some gum.

Also, is there anything- like an article you saw in the paper, or a picture of someone who lost a lot of weight (a before and after picture) - that might inspire you? Put it in your bag/wallet/etc and look at it or read it when you need to. Maybe you could print out this thread or something similar and read it when you're about to break, to re-focus your mind and remind yourself why you are doing this.
posted by carmel at 5:44 PM on May 25, 2010

I try and keep it simple. I have literally the same breakfast and lunch every day. This is boring, but makes it pretty hard to cheat. For dinner, I can have anything I want, but I generally don't eat red meat. It really does help to have an event or something that you are looking forward to. Another thing that helps me is to weigh myself every day. This makes you think about your weight and track it.
posted by xammerboy at 7:11 PM on May 25, 2010

Weight training can help you increase your resting metabolic rate and burn more calories, if you can get in to it. People around here really like Starting Strength, for good reason, but the truth is that for beginners the best program is the one that actually gets you in the gym and sweating 3-5 times per week. Or maybe you could start biking to work?

On the calorie intake side, I've found the admittedly creepy and possibly pro-ana saying, "Nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels," to be useful in moments of great temptation. Obviously it can be taken too far, but thinking about how proud you'll be to be a healthy weight vs. the pleasure from eating that brownie can be useful at times. Again, I try not to take it too seriously and agree with the above posters who said that moralizing food is a bad idea.
posted by Aizkolari at 8:48 PM on May 25, 2010

My tricks:
- Same low calorie breakfast every weekday. Weekend rules are looser, just for fun
- Rules on lunch during the workweek (unless I am called to a social lunch outing, not more than once per month). No red meat. Nothing fried. No chips. No sweets. Reasonable portion size. Make a healthful choice. There is a wide range that you can eat here, from quite large salads to grilled chicken burgers, turkey sandwiches, soups, stirfry, vegeterian chili, ... Again on weekends, the rules are looser, just for fun
- Homemade dinner most nights, pre-planned. Avoid red meat. Plan at least one vegeterian meal a week, if not two. Watch serving size, smaller portions help.
- No sweets in the house/workplace, no junk food in the house/workplace unless we are throwing a party.
- Avoid alcohol, but drinking occasionally socially sometimes is fine (usually once a week or so)
- At restaurants/while out and about, no junk unless it is high quality junk that makes for a very satisfying treat. That Big Mac? Forget it. Your favourite high class burger joint with homemade patties and fresh cut fries? Yes, absolutely, every once in a while. Soft serve ice cream? Hell no. Ice cream cone from local creamery with handmade ice cream from grass fed cows? Bring it on. The advantage of high quality is that it's harder to get, so you'll get it less frequently but enjoy it more when you have it.
- Every day, start fresh. Forget about yesterday.
- Realize that sub-optimal food choices are part of life (and an enjoyable one at that). Adjust goals to accommodate
- As you go down in clothing sizes, buy new clothes. Donate your old ones. You don't need them any more. This costs me $$$ but is worth it. Once I bought all new clothes I started getting all kinds of compliments from folks that made success self-sustaining.

I didn't bother with calorie counting for food tracking or anything that seemed too oppressive, this is a lifestyle change. Sure it took me a long time to lose weight - 50 lbs took 1.5 years. Having mid-range goals (change of clothing size) and rewards (flattering clothing!) really helped in keeping on track. And the rules I have above? They're actually pretty simple and easy to live by. Having wiggle room built-in makes it easier to stay on track, since being off track sometimes is part of the plan.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:57 PM on May 25, 2010

Response by poster: Just wanted to thank everyone for all their wonderful ideas and positive comments. I think I'm like half-on, half-off the wagon (with my feet dragging behind the stagecoach).

Every morning, I'm now in the habit of making a nice smoothie for breakfast, and only having that. 4oz Acai juice, 4oz Soy Milk, 4oz frozen banana, 4oz frozen strawberries, 4oz frozen pineapple and 4oz frozen blueberries. It's quick to assemble the night before, and then I can blend it up in the morning. This was an easy step to accomplish, and it ensures a proper start to my day.

Lunch seems ok too. I usually bring a salad, or soup, or a sandwich, and have water with it.

Dinner seems my downfall. Despite the desire to cook dinner meals, and the ability to do so, when I get home from work, I am tired, and just want to veg. My job can be stressful at times, and it really makes me not want to do anything after 6pm. Not exercise, not cook, just decompress in front of the TV. So, some days I get takeout on the way home, or drive-thru, or whatever. I don't seem to be able to (consistently) force myself to make smart choices in the evenings. Between 6pm and when I go to bed is when I feel like I break down any progress of the day.

So I'm going to try with smaller goals. Today, I aim to have 6 -8oz glasses of water, and use the stairs at my office every time, rather than the elevator.
I'm not a gym guy, a workout guy. I do enjoy swimming, but the closest pool is about 5 miles away. (and into the worst traffic in the city). I enjoy biking, and geocaching, so I'll focus on those for now.

One day at a time.

Thanks again for all the kind words. I really, sincerely, appreciate them.
posted by sonician at 4:54 AM on May 26, 2010

Sonician, one meal I used to make for myself that might work for you was this: Take a fozen fish fillet (easy to keep these on hand in the freezer) place it on a sheet of tin foil, toss chopped tomato and chopped onion on it, then some broccoli spears or asparagus, squeeze some lemon, some salt and pepper, fold it up into a packet and stick it into the oven at 375 and go flop on the couch for 25 minutes or so til it's done. This takes, no kidding, three minutes to assemble, and it beats the heck out of take out in so many ways.

The changes you've made so far sound great - the breakfast, the lunch, the stairs (brilliant!) the biking. If you make good evening choices even some of the time you're still much farther ahead than you were. You're still 24lb down. You're doing a-okay!
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:22 AM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

You need to think about how you can fix dinner. Here are some ideas:
- Eat more at lunch (add a fruit) and/or have an afternoon snack (carrots, olives, etc) - then you will not be dying at 6 pm of hunger and you may make better choices.
- Grocery shop once per week, affix meal plan to the fridge. No thinking about what to eat at dinner each night, simply execute on the plan.
- Maintain a stocked pantry that you can use to make simple dishes. As you use up items, write them on the list and refill on next shopping day.
- Batch cook healthy dinners on the weekend, heat and serve on work days. This is on your meal plan.
- Buy a crockpot, prep the crockpot in the morning before work (wake up earlier), come home to cooked dinner.
- For foods in meal plan not suited to cooking in advance, prep the food in advance on the weekend. Chop everything up, pre-cook meats and tofu, put in fridge. Can you manage to make something fresher one day a week? If so, try this as a way to make it easier.
- Invite people over to eat with you, yes on a weekday. Then you will be forced to prepare a healthy dinner. The only reason I cook a healthy dinner every night is because my husband and daughter go hungry if I do not. It is much tougher to cook if you live/eat alone.
- Buy lower sodium, lower calorie frozen dinners. Eat with a side of nuked frozen vegetables. This is now a household staple you keep on hand at all times. Note: this does not belong on your meal plan. This is a fallback option for high stress days.
- Write down a list of healthier pre-packed or takeout choices, leave this list in your car. For example, buy hot roast chicken at grocery store, eat with bagged salad with cherry tomatoes (pre-washed). If you have Whole Foods or similar, you can visit their takeout section and carefully construct something lower calorie (eg, their dinner bar composed of veggie side dishes, hot bar that is mostly veg with a side of beans and small piece of chicken/tofu, etc). On your way home from work, purchase from list. Note: this does not belong on your meal plan. This is a fallback option for high stress days.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:37 AM on May 26, 2010

For what it's worth, everyone's metabolism seems to be different, but if I ate the breakfast you're describing it would be like I woke up and ate three Snickers bars. I'd be ready to nom my arm off by 10:00---so, just a data point.

End of day exhaustion is one of those things you can plan for. You can do a lot on the weekend, cook a chicken, cut up some vegetables, bake a couple of potatoes, cook soem greens, that can make it easier to get dinner together when you get home. It's very hard to live with the guilt of throwing that stuff out, so you feel pretty compelled to eat what's there.

I also can't recommend par-baked pizza crusts enough. You make pizza dough, divide it into six crusts and bake them for five minutes, then freeze. Pizza any night you want! The recipe I use winds up creating six crusts at about 230 calories each, so even after adding cheese it's a perfectly reasonable dinner that requires very little from you if you make a sauce on the weekend and keep cut up vegetables around. If you have that and a salad and wine it's easy as well as calorically and nutritionally sound.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:45 AM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I came back to say pretty much exactly what A Terrible Llama is saying. I read your breakfast and was agog. Sugar/carbs are not only my weakness they are my triggers.

The breakfast you describe is heavily carb laden - 92 to 120g depending on whether your frozen fruits are sweetened. That's more carbs than I usually eat in an entire day. If I were to have that for breakfast I would find myself snacking all day AND as an extra bonus I wouldn't want to do crap after work either.

You may want to look into integrating a bit more protein into your morning and less carbs/sugar as that much sugar may be creating a problem for you. Maybe do a little research on how sugar spikes impact blood sugar and energy levels.
posted by FlamingBore at 7:59 AM on May 26, 2010

Just reading this and realizing -- a key thing for me in the morning is fat. I ate cream cheese on rye bread for breakfast for ages. Now I'm going through a smoked salmon spread on crackers phase. But I think fat is really underrated in terms of its satiating effect. I've always liked peanut butter (and butter!) on toast for breakfast, too.

You could try something like that. I'm not sure but I think your smoothie concoction is running you around 600 calories, and if you drink coffee with cream and sugar that's 700 calories just for breakfast.

I would go for fewer calories, more fat, as Flaming says -- more protein also -- and treat fruit like the sugary treat that it is. It's a better choice than a Snickers bar nutritionally obviously, but as far as blood sugar goes my body doesn't really seem to know the difference.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:35 AM on May 26, 2010

ATL - True. I can even do quite well on a Wasa Crisp w/ neufchatel/cream cheese. Heck, I've been known to drop five pounds in a week even when I'm eating eggs and bacon for breakfast as long as I'm forgoing the toast, etc.
posted by FlamingBore at 8:43 AM on May 26, 2010

Sonician - dinner is my downfall, too! And your behavior is perfectly normal, as well: I posted a link above to a study that suggests when our blood glucose levels are low, our self-control goes out the window.

Try having some already-prepared healthy snacks, like baby carrots or a piece of fruit or something like that, waiting in the fridge when you get home from work. Promise yourself, "I can eat as much of ANYTHING I want tonight, as long as I eat this now." And eat some of it. Chances are, within a few minutes your blood glucose level will rise, and you'll be in a better place to make better choices. And even if it doesn't, you've already filled up some of your stomach with the healthy stuff so you probably won't eat as much of the unhealthy stuff.

Also, try cooking a meal on the weekend that produces lots of leftovers so that once you get home, the easiest, simplest thing to do is open the tupperware and nuke what's inside.
posted by telophase at 2:42 PM on May 26, 2010

Some kind of dairy during the day, and some kind of exercise, nothing serious, just walking around the block will seriously help. Dairy is a superfood. A little bit of walking can change your whole life perspective.

Dinner.... bring a snack of some kind to work. An apple would be perfect. Eat that after work. When you get home either have a slowcooker dinner ready or microwave a burrito or healthy tv dinner.

If you ever get hungry after that make popcorn. Your go to snack should always be popcorn. Another cheat is diet soda or some kind of zero calorie drink, like tea. Even juice is loaded with calories.
posted by xammerboy at 11:00 PM on May 26, 2010

Also, your breakfast is lacking fiber. Fiber is your friend. Big time. Your breakfast should be half a smoothie and half steel cut oats. Your breakfast currently is mostly sugar! Try an all steel cut oats breakfast topped with some fruit. For lunch, have two apples. For dinner, have a chicken breast with a load of rice and salad. At night, have a big bowl of popcorn (there are infinite recipes on metafilter) and water.

Stock your fridge with premade dinners, but also plan on some kind of grilled meat and salad you cook every night. The premade dinners are a last resort. Have pasta twice a week.
posted by xammerboy at 11:08 PM on May 26, 2010

Oh and weight training is unfortunately the only way to ever keep weight off entirely. Muscle burns weight and as you get older more and more of your muscle automatically turns to fat. Google it.

A great book is Mexican Everyday for totally delicious recipes that are lowfat.
posted by xammerboy at 11:09 PM on May 26, 2010

100 lbs in a year is an insanely high goal. This probably took you years to put on; try to pick reasonable goals that won't leave you dejected.

The initial weight loss will include a huge amount of water weight. Despite the results of shows like the biggest loser, 0.5 to 1 pound a week is a pretty normal rate. If you have time to exercise 4 to 8 hours a day, and have a well tuned diet of around 1200 calories of really, really healthy, filling foods, *and* you have an incredible amount of willpower, you can probably hit 100 lbs in a year.

The trick is making changes to your life you're happy sticking with for the rest of your life, and waiting until those slow changes pile up.
posted by talldean at 4:19 AM on June 9, 2010

I read an article in a fitness magazine with one tip that really helped me - it basically suggested you mourn the loss of the foods you love that you are no longer able to eat. Allowing myself to spend some time grieving over the loss of mac and cheese and french fries was really helpful. It frames it asa permanent change like death and allows you feelings that I think a lot of diet help stuff doesn't acknowledge - that a lot of unhealthy foods taste good and are pleasurable to eat, and it's sucky to stop eating them in the beginning. Yeah yeah, fruits and veggies taste good too - but it's different! And it's ok to be sad about it for a while. It may help.

In the moment, if I want to eat something bad, I tell myself - I want to lose weight more than I want this bacon triple houseboat cheeseburger. Imagine yourself hitting your goal - imagine how great you'd feel, how life changing and freeing not having the extra weight will be. A few seconds of that and suddenly some lean protein, whole grains and vegetables will probably look a lot tastier.
posted by amycup at 5:03 PM on July 9, 2010

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