DEAR FFG: I have been battling my weight for years. I don't know what diet plan to follow. Any suggestions? What plan did you use to lose your weight? — Savannah
DEAR SAVANNAH: I know it can be completely confusing to find a good plan, “good” meaning one you can stick with! One of the key things I did was focus on exercise first, without changing my diet. I think it was really important for me to build that habit and start to see myself as someone who could be active, who could exercise, who could make fitness a natural part of my life. Focusing on fitness first helped me stay positive and open my mind to the idea that maybe I could really change.
I eventually did go on Weight Watchers, which I think is a really sensible plan. It is different now than it was back in the dark ages when I did it, but the concept is still the same: It emphasizes portion control and eating a wide variety of foods. I really learned what a serving is (ie., that I was eating enough pasta in one serving to feed a family of four!), and began to see my daily food intake as a kind of budget—that I had a set amount of servings (I guess they are points now) to "spend" over the course of a day. I still, 20 years later, use this strategy to stay on track. I treasure my lifetime membership!
Weight Watchers is (of course) not the only sensible, effective plan out there. But it takes a bit of work to weed out the wackier approaches. Here are a few questions to ask to guide your search:
- What elements seemed to work for you in your previous dieting attempts—and what didn’t? If you’ve been working on your weight for years, you’ve probably had some experience with diets, both good and bad. Did you have an easier time with very structured approaches, or did you want more flexibility? What foods did you have the hardest (or easiest) time giving up? Is there a fitness plan that completely turned you off? Make a list of the pros and cons of diets-gone-by, and use that to help you evaluate potential new plans.
- How “livable” is the plan you’re considering? Does it allow for you to eat out, if that’s important to you? Does it require you to cook too much—or not enough?
- Does the diet cut out entire food groups—carbs, dairy, foods starting with the letter “b”? This can be a red flag that the diet will be too difficult to stick with.
- Is exercise an important part of the plan? Exercise is crucial in maintaining weight loss long-term.
- Is the plan focused on “real” food? Sure, you can lose weight eating bars and sipping shakes. But if that’s all you’re eating, chances are you’ll rebel, dial the Domino’s guy, and lose it on a Meat Lover’s special (I speak from experience). I think bars and shakes can be good solutions in a pinch—when you’re traveling or otherwise eating on the run. But a real, balanced meal is better for your body and is probably, in the end, more spiritually satisfying.
You can always consult a dietitian for advice, if you have the time and money (it won’t be wasted). A good plan is key, but what's going on in your head and how you handle yourself in life is just as important on your journey to a healthy weight. Best of luck to you–there are a lot of us out there cheering you on!
Lisa Delaney is editor of Spry magazine and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl. To submit a question, visit spryliving.com/experts.