Why are Americans (including myself) so concerned about their weight? I studied this question for six years and in 2008 received a Ph.D. in sociology with a specific focus on body weight perceptions. Though that gave me a comprehensive understanding of why Americans care about weight, it did very little to keep me from fretting over the scale. Although I've never been seriously overweight, I worry every day--at least a little bit--that I'll gain weight and become vulnerable to the self esteem issues and knee aches that have accompanied my past weight gains. So I stress about things like the extra cookie I ate, or the day's missed run, or whether tomorrow is the day I should start a diet.
One thing I learned from my long years of research is that the best time to start a diet is when it feels right for you. That was a common theme among all of the successful dieters I interviewed for my dissertation. The dieting attempts that came after an "aha" moment were their most successful: they lost the most weight and kept it off the longest.
These aha moments are the times when losing weight moves from simply holding a spot on your wish list to a top priority, and something clicks in to make dieting easier. For some, the aha can be triggered by something as simple as not being able to find clothes that fit. For others, it can be a medical scare, or a nagging chronic problem like knee pain. As one man put it, he reached a point where his desire to lose weight was stronger than almost anything else, so it was a lot easier to eat well, resist cravings, and find time to exercise.
No matter what your motivation, one thing that never works is being defeated before you start. So embark on a diet when you're genuinely ready to lose weight--when you're losing it because you want to or need to, not because it's what you think others want. And know what problems are likely to crop up and what you plan to do about them.
Our recent survey of 9,376 Consumer Reports subscribers who have dieted in the past three years told us a lot about the type of barriers people face in tying to meet and maintain their weight-loss goals. The three main barriers were:
• Lack of willpower or discipline to resist cravings
• Lack of time or motivation to exercise
• Work or travel schedules that disrupt healthy eating
Here are some tips for dealing. If you have a craving, before you reach for that food, pause. Go for a brief walk or spend a few moments remembering why you want to lose weight. If after five minutes you still want the treat, go for it.
But if you do give in, keep track of it. Write down what, how much, and how often you ate in a food diary. Or enter it into an online app, such as Myfitnesspal, which was one of Consumer Reports' highest rated diet plans. Not only can you enter your daily eats on the go, but it provides motivation to exercise. The more you exercise, the more calories it allots you.
And find a diet plan - or combination of plans - that works for you. Whether you're leaning toward joining a commerical program or toward a diet book's do-it-yourself plan, see our ratings of 13 popular diets.
--Karen Jaffe, Ph.D.