Losing weight is easy. We've all done it half a dozen times. Problem is, it's usually the same kilos we're peeling off and packing back on.
Research shows that about 80 per cent of people who drop 10 per cent of their body weight aren't able to maintain that weight loss for a year.
So ask yourself this: will you be able to follow your special diet not only today but also every day this week?
"Transitioning from 'anything goes' eating habits to a strict diet is like going from a bicycle in the country to a stick-shift Ferrari on the Autobahn," says Dr Krista Scott-Dixon of Precision Nutrition. "You might manage for a while, but eventually you'll crash." So instead of aiming for a lofty target, set this manageable goal right now: I will lose a kilo.
Choose just one healthy habit from the options on these pages and practice it for two weeks. That's the amount of time people need to implement a new behaviour into their lifestyle, says Scott-Dixon, and for the behavior to lose its stress factor. After two weeks, the behavior often becomes automatic. From there, maintain the initial healthy habit and adopt another for the next two weeks. Repeat until your partner has trouble recognising you.
1. Put the Fork Down
Start with something simple. Research consistently shows that being mindful at meals helps you eat less. Dietitian Brian St. Pierre, usually starts his clients off with this advice: put your fork down after every bite and consciously chew slower. With something like chicken, aim for 20 chews; for an apple, do 10. Over the course of a day you'll take in about 1000 fewer kilojoules, St. Pierre says. That may not seem like much, but it adds up over time and helps you shed fat while still feeling full and satisfied.
2. Move Every Day
Of course, you need to exercise more too. According to data from the US National Weight Control Registry, nearly 90 per cent of people who lost weight and kept it off did so by combining diet and exercise. Remember, small steps: aim to walk, run or lift three days a week for 30 minutes. The form of exercise you pick doesn't matter, as long as it's the one you know you'll do most often. Find an activity you enjoy and do it as consistently as you can. As a benchmark, 30 minutes of calisthenics burns about 1380kJ; running cuts 1600, and plain old walking eliminates 730. Hell, even gardening burns 650kJ in a half hour.
3. Join the 30-30-30 Club
As in 30 grams of protein at every meal. A pork chop, a salmon fillet, or 1 1/2 cups of cottage cheese has at least that much. Protein not only helps you build and maintain muscle but also keeps your appetite in check. People who eat high-protein meals feel fuller for longer than those who eat low-protein meals, according to a Purdue University review. So if you stock up on protein at lunch, you're less likely to tear open a 1200kJ muesli bar at 3pm. Here's an easy trick for visualising 30 grams: if the serving of meat or seafood in question is slightly larger than the palm of your hand, you'll likely hit the mark.
4. Sleep Your Belly Off
Sleep is as important as diet and exercise when it comes to how you look, feel and perform, St. Pierre says. In a small pilot study, overweight people who restricted the window during which they allowed themselves to eat (from 14-plus hours to 10-12) ate less, lost weight and slept better. Your hunger hormone levels rise when you're fatigued, which means you're more likely to make poor food choices throughout the day. In fact, in a French study, people consumed 2340kJ the day after just one night of poor sleep (four hours) than they did after sleeping eight hours. So set a curfew and stick to it – no matter what's next on Netflix.
5. Prioritise Produce
Have vegetables and fruit at every meal; they're loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Plus, they're low in kilojoules and help you feel full because of their water and fibre content. Here's another way to think about the power of produce: vegetables elbow out the more kilojoule-laden foods that tend to crowd your plate. If you pile on sweet potato, you won't have room for pasta. People in a University of Warwick study who increased their fruit and vegetable intake reported improvements in overall life satisfaction. Shoot for two fist-size portions of produce at each meal, says St. Pierre.
6. Increase Your Liquidity
Hydrate and you'll lose weight. Starting when you wake up, set your phone timer countdown to two hours. Drink a glass of water before the time runs out. Then reset it as long as you're awake. By drinking this much water, you flush away the temptation to guzzle kilojoule-laden juices and soft drinks, which tend to total around 800kJ a serving. While you're thinking about drinks, cut kilojoules from your coffee by trimming adjectives from your order. A double caramel mocha frappe isn't coffee – it's a caffeinated dessert. Try adding just whole milk to black coffee. Later, cut out the milk. If the flavour's still too strong, add cinnamon.
7. Forgive Yourself
Most crash diets force you to live in a black-and-white reality where some foods are bad and others are good, says Scott-Dixon. But a guy on a crash diet might take one bite of a food that doesn't fit into the diet's "rules" and decide that his entire diet is ruined, says weight-loss researcher Dr Graham Thomas. This could then lead him to ditch the diet, a phenomenon known as "abstinence violation effect". Soon he's back at his starting weight. To avoid this trap, follow the 80-20 rule: if the vast majority of what you eat is smart, the other 20 per cent is for whatever you want. Yep, even that carbonara.
8. De-Stress to Deflate
When stressors arise, crash dieters burn. So have two go-to comfort meals on deck for whenever you're under the pump, suggests St. Pierre. One could be a giant bowl of chicken soup with two eggs and a handful of spinach. Or make a burger: in a hot, oiled pan, sear a seasoned beef patty. Slide the patty into a whole wheat pita with tomato and lettuce. That's 1200kJ, 22 grams of protein, 18 grams of carbs and 3 grams of fibre. Serve it with a tall glass of milk to hit that 30 grams of protein. To fight flavour fatigue, use the same recipe but with ground turkey or chicken or a salmon fillet.
9. Take Breaks
Manage your anxiety and you might not even find yourself turning to food. "Stress is a killer," says St. Pierre. "It stores fat, eats muscle, ruins health and crushes fitness performance." In fact, people in an Ohio State study who were under stress burned an average of 435 fewer kilojoules in the six hours following a meal than those who had lower stress levels. That's why taking just 20 minutes a day to unplug can improve your physique and help you make better food decisions. Try meditating, walking your dog or reading. Anything that takes your mind off your aggravation may also help you take off the weight.
10. Pick Up a Pan
In a Johns Hopkins University study, people living in households where they ate six or seven home-cooked dinners a week consumed 572kJ fewer a day than those in homes where hardly any cooking took place at all. Cook daily for 20 days and you've cut 11,440kJ. More good news: people in a 2016 Harvard study who regularly cooked at home had a lower diabetes risk than those who never fired up the stove.