Healthy eating plays a huge role in weight loss, but choosing the right diet can be a daunting task. After all, there are thousands of diets out there, and they all claim to be the one magical diet that will blast belly fat and melt away pounds.
When you want to lose weight fast, those promises can sound pretty appealing. Even if a diet plan for weight loss sounds like complete torture (only cabbage soup, anyone?) you might figure you can tough it out for a week or two — just long enough to kick-start your weight loss journey or lose those last few stubborn pounds.
But chances are, the real-life results won’t live up to the lofty claims — and all those restrictions just mean you’ll be counting the minutes until you’re done. That’s why most people end up quitting their diets before they ever see the results they wanted.
The only way to break that cycle is by committing to a healthier lifestyle, not just a short-term diet plan.
“What’s the point in following a plan, only to return to your old habits — and most likely your old weight — when the diet is over?” says Krista Haynes, R.D., Openfit nutrition manager. “It’s important to choose a healthy, balanced eating plan so you can reach your weight-loss goal and stay there instead of yo-yo dieting your whole life.”
How Can I Find a Diet Plan for Weight Loss That Works?
Trying to find a “quick fix” will usually backfire. If you want to see results, you need to make a long-term commitment to healthy eating — which means you need to find a diet you can actually stick with.
The good news is that “healthy eating” doesn’t mean banning everything that tastes good or cutting out entire food groups. Although, if you have a food intolerance, or you find it easier to control your sugar cravings if you go cold turkey, that’s fine — it’s all about making things easier on yourself.
In fact, your diet should leave room for the occasional cheat meal. “Willpower is like a muscle that can become fatigued over time,” Haynes says. “Setting yourself up for success could simply be allowing yourself to say ‘yes’ every now and then so your ‘willpower muscle’ can relax a bit.”
So how can you decide which diet will work for you?
How to Choose the Right Diet Plan for Weight Loss
Losing weight takes commitment — and no one wants to waste their time and energy on a diet that’s not going to get results. Here are a few strategies that can help you find the best healthy eating plan for your weight-loss goals.
1. Find a diet you can live with
Most diets focus on what you can’t have, which loses its appeal quickly (usually before you even start). You may be willing to give up certain foods for a little while, but the truth is, you’re not going to get your ideal body in two weeks on any diet — and when you don’t see the results you want as quickly as you expected, you’re not going to feel terribly motivated to stay on a diet you hate. So it’s pretty important to not hate your diet.
That means choosing a nutrition plan you can sustain for the long haul. “We tend to seek out pleasure in life, so if there’s no satisfaction in your diet, then it most likely won’t last long,” Haynes says.
For example, cutting back on junk food is always a good idea, but if you have a sweet tooth, you’re probably not going to stick with a diet that eliminates all sugar. Your diet should be flexible enough to allow for the occasional brownie or bowl of ice cream — otherwise, you probably won’t be able commit to it long term.
2. Focus on eating to fuel your body
When you’re starting a healthy eating plan, cutting back on calories may seem like the obvious first step — you know you need to burn more than you eat in order to lose weight.
So how many calories should you eat each day? That depends on a few factors — like your current weight, your activity level, height, age, and your weight-loss goals. And as you lose more weight (or build more muscle, or work out more often) those needs can change, so it’s important to find a diet you can easily adapt to meet your nutritional needs.
For a diet to have staying power, you need to focus on fueling your body — not just on staying within a strict daily calorie budget.
“Sometimes people can become overly fixated on the numbers without thinking about food quality,” Haynes says. “For example, an avocado may have more calories than a handful of pretzels, but it’s far more nutrient-dense.”
If you’re getting the nutrients your body needs, you won’t feel famished all the time, even if you’re eating fewer calories than you’re used to.
What should you be eating to fuel your body? An ideal balance for weight loss is around 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent healthy fats.
Our mindless eating habits tend to get in the way of our weight-loss goals. For example, a cup of pasta has around 200 calories, but when you fill a large plate with pasta out of habit, you could easily triple or quadruple that number of calories.
Using smaller plates may help you shrink your portions. One study found that diners at a buffet ate 45 percent more when they were given larger plates. But, that doesn’t mean the smaller-plate group didn’t fill those plates with not-so-healthy options like deep-fried, sugary orange chicken and greasy lo mein.
Again, the long-term ideals for both a diet plan for weight loss and a healthy eating plan for life should focus on fueling your body optimally.
4. Consume low-calorie, filling foods
Losing weight and feeling satisfied can make for a narrow dietary tightrope. One of the surest ways to get where you’re going without slipping is by eating foods that fill you up while contributing as little as possible to overall calorie consumption.
Low-calorie, filling foods like high-protein lean meats, high-fiber legumes, and high-volume vegetables help stem cravings while counting less toward your calorie count than fatty, carby, energy-dense foods, like French fries and mozzarella sticks. A recent study in the International Journal of Obesity found that increasing the amount of low-energy-dense foods positively affected weight-loss outcomes.
Try to emphasize lean meats like fish and poultry (skinless, white meat), high-fiber foods like navy beans and whole-grain bran flakes, and high-volume vegetables like salad greens and broccoli.
5. Aim to eat clean 80 percent of the time
Super-restrictive diets can mess with your mindset. If you’re trying to adhere to a set of rigid rules, any little slip-up can leave you feeling discouraged — and tempted to just chalk up the whole day as a loss. (Went a little overboard at breakfast? Might as well order the double-decker grilled cheese for lunch and start over tomorrow!)
But an all-or-nothing mindset can sabotage your weight-loss goals. That’s why OpenFit takes an 80/20 approach — as long as you’re eating clean 80 percent of the time, it’s OK if you cut yourself a little slack the other 20 percent.
Giving yourself that wiggle room can also take the power away from your biggest cravings. “We always want what we can’t have, so when we take the restriction away, the draw to have it doesn’t seem so strong,” Haynes says.
The Only Diet That Works
Bottom line: The most effective diet is the one you’ll actually stick with. If counting calories, cutting out dairy, or intermittent fasting works with your lifestyle, by all means, do it. If not, keep tinkering until you find a healthy eating plan that does make sense for you.
Starting a weight-loss journey can be overwhelming, and it’s tempting to try whichever fad diet promises the fastest weight loss, or whatever diet worked for your bestie. But if a diet is too rigid, it won’t last — and if you’re not eating enough calories, your metabolism will adapt and potentially make losing weight more difficult.
The best diet plan for weight loss will help you reset your body and teach you how to make healthy eating a part of your lifestyle. Nutrition programs can help you learn what balanced meals and healthy portions look like — and how snacks and treats fit into the plan. Instead of giving you a set of rigid rules you can’t wait to break, the right diet gives you the tools you need to eat healthy and actually enjoy it — not just for a few days or a few weeks, but for life.