If you are determined to adopt some healthier eating strategies and lose weight in 2016, you may need some inspiration and workable ideas. Loading your fridge with nothing but fat-free items and celery and carrot sticks is neither enjoyable nor sustainable. So, how to proceed?  

Get Ready for Weight Loss

1. Talk to an expert. Begin by having a conversation with your doctor about your weight, nutrition, and fitness wishes, says Andrea Spivack, a registered dietitian (R.D.) with the Stunkard Weight Management Program at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. And consider making an appointment with a registered dietitian for a personalized assessment of your nutrition needs and habits.

2. Change the way you think about weight loss. Instead of thinking of yourself as someone who is dieting, consider yourself a “weight manager,” Spivack advises. A pedometer or activity tracker and a calorie-counting app to help you develop a daily calorie budget and keep on top of food intake can be valuable tools. “By looking at the data (calories consumed and calories burned from exercise) you can become more objective about the process,” Spivack says.

3. Set reasonable weight loss targets. Just as it takes time to put on extra pounds, it takes time to lose them. Gradual, steady weight loss of one to two pounds a week is associated with more success at maintaining that loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. Your doctor and an R.D. can help you develop appropriate and attainable weight loss goals.

Start Slow and Plan Ahead

4. Make changes gradually. “Changing habits is not easy, so start slowly and have realistic expectations,” says Maxine Siegel, a registered dietitian and manager of food testing at Consumer Reports. You might try adding just a couple of healthier habits to your life, such as resolving to eat fruits and vegetables at every meal or to swap green tea for sugary drinks. Or, strive to eliminate the worst health offenders in your diet—for example, skipping your morning donut routine.

5. Understand how to put together a healthy plate of food. For a sufficient volume of food to keep you satisfied, as well as for a well-balanced diet, try to make your plates 50 percent produce, 25 percent whole-grains such as brown rice and whole-wheat pasta, and 25 percent lean protein such as grilled chicken or fish. Add in a serving of low-fat or fat-free dairy such as 8 ounces of skim or 1 percent milk or a cup of Greek yogurt. If you have a hard time determining proper portion size, buy picnic-style plates that are separated into sections. For more specifics on ideal portions for you, visit choosemyplate.gov.

6. Plan ahead. Try tracking your food intake before meals (include drinks, dressings, and condiments), because the simple act of considering what you will eat can help you make better choices. “Like any budget, you have to see what fits into your calorie budget, what is worth it, and what is negotiable,” Spivack says.

7. Be ready for challenges. Use a month-at-a-glance calendar to denote social events for the month ahead. This will give you perspective on how many meals and situations may test your willpower. Strive to stay on track the rest of the time. For example, if you have a breakfast and dinner out on the same day, make sure to eat healthily at lunch. Note when you plan to exercise on the calendar as well.

Help Yourself Make Healthier Food Choices

8. Cook more at home so you know precisely what you’re eating, says Siegel. In fact, a study of almost 100,000 people, presented at the American Heart Association’s recent Scientific Sessons, found that those who ate 11 or more homemade lunches and dinners a week had a 12 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who ate six or fewer home-prepared meals a week. (And being overweight or obese increases your risk for type 2 diabetes.) Home-cooked meals may help because they’re usually lower in calories, fat, and sodium, and contain more nutrient- and fiber-rich produce than restaurant fare, fast food, and takeout meals. Siegel suggests pairing up with a friend to make cooking more enjoyable and easier.

9. Choose less processed foods when you can. “Cut down on packaged foods with lots of ingredients,” says Siegel. “Eat whole foods, and think variety and freshness.”  

10. Adopt some simple tricks to help you control cravings. For example, if it’s pasta you want, says Spivack, an inexpensive vegetable spiralizer can help you transform veggies like zucchini into surprisingly tasty low-calorie "spaghetti." (You can also mix the zucchini pasta half and half with whole grain spaghetti.) Powdered peanut butter is much lower in fat and calories than traditional peanut butter and can be spread on fruit, added to oatmeal, or used in a stir-fry or salad dressing mixed with low-sodium soy. And if you must have French fries or other crispy foods, consider an air fryer. Keep a bowl of apples or other fruit on your desk or countertop, so when hunger strikes, you can grab a piece instead of something less nutritious.

11. Be on the lookout for added sugars. Scan ingredients lists for the names of products you may not think of as sugars, such as agave, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, fructose, and malt syrup. Know that some packaged foods contain multiple types of added sugars, so you'll have to read the entire list.

Adopt These 4 Habits to Help You Succeed

12. Remind yourself to eat more slowly, says Siegel. Try putting your fork down between each bite; this gives your brain more time to receive the message that you’re full—before you spring for second helpings.

13. Shorten your eating hours. Some people prefer grazing (eating small amounts spread out over the course of the day) to the traditional three larger meals. But if you love a late night snack, keep in mind that keeping your nibbling to a smaller chunk of the day could aid weight loss. At California’s Salk Institute, when 156 people snapped photos of everything they ate for three weeks, half grazed for 15 hours or more most days. But when eight overweight study subjects contained their grazing to 10 to 11 hours per day, they lost an average of 7 pounds in 16 weeks.

14. Weigh yourself daily. The most current studies suggest a daily weigh-in, because it can motivate you to make changes in your diet or level of physical activity. Try weighing yourself at the same time every day (morning is best) and under the same conditions. (See our reviews of the best scales).

15. Be kind to yourself. You’re seeking improvement, not perfection. “One meal out with dessert does not mean the whole weekend has to spiral out of control,” says Spivack.

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