Seeing the words “diet” and “fun” in the same sentence might seem like an oxymoron. When we decide to lose weight, ideas of deprivation, boredom, sacrifice and even misery usually come to mind. But they don’t have to. Weight loss CAN be fun and enjoyable—if you have the right attitude and set out on your journey with the right tools—and rules—for long-term success.
Research shows that what we tell ourselves is a predictor of results. A positive mindset greatly increases one’s chances of success, and when we make the journey towards any goal enjoyable, we achieve it with greater speed and stick with it for the long haul.
So throw out the “dieting” rules that make you feel deprived and bored. To start, follow these rules of weight loss that not only work—but actually make the process more fun! And whatever you do, focus on enjoying the journey, not just reaching your destination.
1. Eat more often. Out-of-control hunger is a common predictor of overeating—and giving up on any diet. When you go too long without food, your blood sugar drops, your mood and focus plummet, and you often grab the easiest thing you can, which usually isn’t healthy. Instead of skipping meals and starving yourself, don’t go more than 3-4 hours without eating. This will keep your hunger monster at bay and keep you happy and satisfied on your program.
2. Treat yourself. When you decide that a particular food (or even an entire food group), is off limits for your diet, research shows that we focus on that one food even more than if we simply allowed ourselves permission to eat it from time to time. If you told me I could never eat cookies again, I probably wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about how much I like cookies and would feel miserable that I couldn’t have them. Since willpower is in such short supply in humans, there’s a really good chance that anyone would cave in eventually—and likely go overboard. So give yourself permission—and make a plan—to make room in your diet for your favorite treats.
3. Stop searching for the best workout. What’s the ideal workout for weight loss? The workout you’ll actually do—not the one that worked for your friend, or that you heard burned the most calories. Research shows that if you can match the exercise plan to your preference and personality, you’ll be more consistent. If you pick what works for others or what you perceive is best despite not enjoying it, you’re setting yourself up for failure. When you find something that is fun, who cares how many calories it burns. In the end you’ll burn the most calories when you stop making excuses to avoid a workout and actually want to do an activity!
4. Love what you eat. When you eat or drink anything, do so slowly, mindfully and without distraction. By doing so, you’ll increase your enjoyment and slow down your eating which will allow you the time to notice when you’ve had enough. And if it’s a treat you’re having, you’ll feel so much more satisfied even if eating less because you’ll have relished every bite, guilt free.
5. Lie around and do nothing. If you’ve ever stayed awake burning the midnight oil, here’s your excuse to shut off the lights: Getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night is essential for weight loss. Individuals who are sleep deprived have higher levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and lower levels of the fullness hormone leptin, which causes them to eat more calories. Perhaps we should rename beauty sleep to slimming sleep!
6. Don’t skip breakfast. Think you’ll be saving calories by skipping your morning meal? Think again. After an all-night fast, the best way to jump-start your metabolism is to eat within the first hour of waking. Studies have shown individuals who skip breakfast tend to over-consume at lunchtime or later in the day, offsetting all the calories they saved by skipping breakfast. Even if it’s something small, try a quick and healthy morning meal to help set you up for success later in the day.
7. Dig into carbohydrates! Lately, carbs have gotten a bad rap. But not all carbs are created equal. We’d all be better off skimping on the sweets, processed foods and refined flours that make up so many snack foods. Leave those on the grocery shelf! But there’s no reason to give up all carbs, especially the whole sources you’ll get in healthful fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grains are dairy products.
8. Go out to eat. One of the first things people are told when losing weight is to cook more at home and stop eating out. This is good advice in general—but you don’t have to give up on a fast takeout meal or your favorite restaurant in order to slim down—especially these days when restaurants are creating healthier, lighter fare than ever before, and sharing those nutrition facts on menu boards and their websites. There are loads of ways to enjoy eating out without blowing your diet. Many menus offer lighter options, and good chefs are more than willing to accommodate special requests. Because restaurant portions do tend to be larger than normal, bring a friend. Split an entree to save calories and money. Or, order an appetizer as your main course.
9. Indulge in gourmet delights. If you eat foods you don’t enjoy, you’ll feel dissatisfied and find yourself searching for more food, even if you aren’t hungry. While budgetary constraints are real and you shouldn’t spend above your means, you might find that occasionally splurging on high-quality foods (even if the portions are smaller) can really make your food fun and enjoyable. My favorite low-calorie luxury is lobster or Alaskan king crab legs. Or sometimes I opt for the small 4-ounce prime cut of beef because it tastes so much better than 8 ounces of a tougher, inexpensive cut. A few more budget-friendly luxuries might be gourmet coffee and tea or a small bar of rich, dark chocolate. Seek pleasure from your foods as much as your budget allows.
10. Keep your workouts short. If time or boredom are a problem and you find yourself skipping exercise because you just don’t have an hour to spare, no worries! Short bouts, as little as 10 minutes at a time, done several times over the course of the day, have similar calorie burning and health benefits as long, sustained sessions. What’s more, surveys of the most motivated and successful SparkPeople members found that those who exercised less than 30 minutes a day got better weight loss results than those whose exercise plans called for an hour or more a day. Here’s why.
11. Hang with your friends. Having support and camaraderie is a huge help while working on healthy lifestyle changes. Make weight loss a team effort by asking friends with similar goals to work out with you. Rather than go out for meals, cook healthy potluck dinners together. Join a bowling league. Participate in weight-loss forums such as the ones on SparkPeople. You can swap healthy recipes, share success stories and disappointments, and have friends to whom you are accountable and who are also there to cheer you on.
12. Go shopping! If you love to shop or hunt for bargains, then you’ll have fun scoring deals on all the gadgets and gear you need to change your lifestyle. If part of your plan is to cook at home more, shop for the kitchen tools you’ll need (think slow cooker, griddle pan or blender), fun storage containers, plus an insulated bag for your snacks and lunch. To make your workouts more enjoyable and effective, you can buy some low-cost equipment to help you reach your goals. As you lose weight, you’ll notice your clothing getting a bit baggy. Ignite your workout by dressing in great fitting exercise apparel, and show off your toned body in smaller sized clothing. Weight loss isn’t a big industry for nothing. If you love to shop, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to shop for a good reason.
13. Don’t diet. This may be the most important rule of all. “Going on a diet” implies a start and a stop, but that’s not how sustainable weight loss is achieved. Diets often slow down your metabolism due to the drastic cut back in calories your body is used to, and many diets that are advertised today are just plain unhealthy. Following rigid plans requires constant willpower, something we know humans have only a short supply of! Change and adjust your lifestyle habits a little at a time and you will lose excess pounds and achieve and maintain the healthy body weight that is right for you. From now on, define the word “diet” as the food plan you use to maintain a healthy body weight, supply you the energy to support your busy lifestyle and keep you well.