The number of fad diets is virtually endless, but they're not usually a good way to lose weight and keep it off over the long term. Before you try to find the latest quick fix, follow these four tips from Atlanta dietitians that will help you lose weight in a healthy way and be much more likely to keep it off over time:
Learn to identify true hunger
Although food is meant to fuel our bodies, we often use it to relieve boredom, stress or depression.
"People quite often try to use food as an emotional cure," according to Tracy Stark, registered dietitian at WellStar Community Education & Outreach in Atlanta. "That can lead to weight gain and often does."
Learning to recognize the symptoms of physical hunger – such as a growling stomach and lack of energy – can help you realize when it's really food that you need, Stark said. If you're not truly hungry, try to come up with good cures for what you're feeling, such as going for a walk or reading a good book.
Give yourself some time
Instead of turning to a diet that promises quick results, give yourself some time to lose the weight.
"Give yourself a year," Stark recommended. That way, your goal is manageable instead of overwhelming, she said.
Instead of a diet, think of a long-term eating plan, Lee Kuebler, clinical dietitian at Emory Johns Creek Hospital, said in an e-mail.
"Diets are often not successful because they are thought of as short-term eating habits to induce weight loss quickly. Individuals may initially be successful at losing weight from diets but often gain the weight back, if not more, once they begin their normal eating habits again," she said.
Track your food and beverage intake
When Stark first meets with a patient, she suggests that they keep a food and beverage diary for a few days. People often aren't aware of what they're consuming, she said, and a diary can help you figure out where you can improve. For example, you may be eating too much refined sugar, skipping meals or eating out a lot.
Stark said she once had a patient who didn't realize he was regularly consuming about 2,500 calories in sweet tea. Making some very minor changes in his diet, including switching to unsweetened tea, resulted in a 40-pound weight loss.
It can also help to use a food-tracking app such as My Fitness Pal, she said. It's user-friendly and can give you valuable information that can lead to making better choices.
Make small, sensible changes
Start small, and once the new habit becomes a part of your routine, add another change, Kuebler recommended.
"For example, someone may set a weekly goal to have a piece of fruit as a snack instead of potato chips and replace their nightly bowl of ice cream with yogurt and berries to decrease fat and calorie intake," Kuebler said.