PHOTOGRAPH BY SHUTTERSTOCK
But just like finding the perfect pair of high-waisted workout pants, finding the right eating plan generally requires some trial and error. And the key to achieving your weight-loss goals ASAP is minimizing the whole “error” side of things.
We’ve got simple, expert-approved questions that will help decipher whether your current plan is going to get you the results you want.
Restrictive diets that keep you in a constant state of hunger can wreck your metabolism, lead to overeating later, and hurt your relationship with your body and food.
Whether you’re counting calories, tracking macros, or trying to reign in your portion sizes, listening to your body’s hunger cues is still the best way to fuel weight loss, says dietitian nutritionist Tori Holthaus, R.D.N., founder of YES! Nutrition, LLC.
The combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fat can provide the quick energy you need, thanks to carbs, and sustained satiety from the protein, fat, and fiber, Holthaus says.
Watch out for diets that involve drastically reducing your intake of any macro, be it carbs, protein, or fat. You need all three to be your best and lose weight in a healthy way. (Kick off your weight-loss journey with Women’s Health’s Look Better Naked DVD.)
If you’re drinking any of your meals, pay attention to what you’re sipping, says Holthaus. If it’s sweetened or loaded with fruit juice, beware. Those drinks are sure to spike your blood sugar and leave your hungrier than before. If your drink consists of mostly vegetables, has a balance of carbs, protein, and healthy fats, and contains the calories you need, you should be in good shape.
But remember: While a meal-replacement shake or smoothie every now and then is fine, living on a liquid diet is not a good long-term weight loss plan—and can actually hinder your efforts, says Holthaus.
“A restrictive mentality is generally not sustainable,” Holthaus says. So if you aren’t ‘allowed’ to eat out or it’s a struggle to find anything on the menu that suits your diet, that’s a problem, she says.
Your eating plan has to fit your lifestyle in order to result in long-term weight loss. The best thing to do at a restaurant is to choose nutrient-dense foods, like lean protein and steamed vegetables, and watch your portion sizes, says Holthaus
If you feel energized, focused, satisfied, and all around awesome a few weeks into your new eating plan, you’re on the right track, says Holthaus.
After all, how you feel is an indicator of every single thing happening in your body at a given moment—and good diets result in good vibes, she says.
If you’re feeling tired, hungry, irritable, or have serious FOMO, you probably need to make a change, says Holthaus.
Even plans that put the kibosh on unhealthy foods like chips and cookies are probably not realistic, she says.
If your diet’s going to work for you, the way you shop, cook, eat, and generally relate to food should be maintainable over the long term, Holthaus says. Remember: The right diet isn’t something that you follow for a few weeks or months.
Processed foods, even ones marketed as being healthy or promoting weight loss often confuse low-cal with high-nutrition, says NYC-based registered dietitianRachel Stahl, R.D.
“Just because a food is low in calories, it doesn’t mean that it’s healthy and satisfying, which is important for sustained weight loss,” she says. The densest (read: most filling) foods are whole and unprocessed like produce, whole grains, and lean meat.
Oftentimes people keep making the same mistakes with their weight-loss strategies, Holthaus says. For example, if counting calories or cutting carbshasn’t been sustainable for you in the past, there’s no reason to start it up again now.
“Unless significant things have changed in your life, strategies that didn’t work the first time around won’t work the second time around,” she says.
Your diet is on point: The hard work is done! You’ve found an eating strategy that’s right for you. The only thing that’s left is to stick with it, says Holthaus. With the right motivation and support, like enlisting a friend or partner as an accountability buddy or joining healthy weight-loss groups on social media, you’ll crush your goals. And if in a few weeks, months, or even years from now, you find that a part of your diet that used to be great isn’t doing it for you anymore, don’t be afraid to change things up, she says.
Your diet is a work in progress: You have two options: You can quit this diet and look for a new approach, or you can tweak your current plan so it’s a better fit for you, says Holthaus. The right course of action depends on how far your diet is from being healthy, effective, and sustainable. But whatever you choose, don’t be afraid to take charge of your nutrition. It doesn’t matter if your eating plan doesn’t follow any specific diet, as long as it works for you.