Health & Wellness

'Your journey never stops': The 11 things to know before starting a diet

When it comes to weight loss, most experts agree a healthy diet is more effective than exercise. People often work out more and more, desperately hoping they can eat whatever they want. But it’s a balanced diet that makes the real difference with your waistline.

That’s why people who successfully lose weight — and keep it off — adopt lifelong, healthy eating habits.

“I wish I hadn’t tried all the gimmicks and spent thousands of dollars on fad diets that never worked,” Heather Crockett Oram told TODAY, via email. Oram lost 82 pounds by changing her eating and exercise habits. “I wish someone would have told me it’s not an all-or-nothing type of thing.”

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10 women on what it's like to start a weight-loss journey

Play Video - 1:09

10 women on what it's like to start a weight-loss journey

Play Video - 1:09

Oram and nine other women share what they wished they knew before changing their diets.

1. It’s OK to fail.

When people first adopt healthy eating habits, they sometimes think they can never eat a slice of cake or a piece of pizza. Then when they do, they feel like failures. But people who succeed know one mistake isn’t the end of the world.

“The times when … my treat day turned into a treat month, I wish I had someone to tell me that it is OK and just get back on track,” Patricia Wilson told TODAY. Wilson lost 100 pounds.

Courtesy of Patricia Wilson
After losing 100 pounds, Patricia Wilson feels healthier and happier.

Amy-Jo Reid, who lost 95 pounds, agreed.

“It is OK to fail," she said via email. "As long as you fail forward — don’t give up, keep pushing through.”

2. Eating healthy saves money.

LeAnne Manuel thought buying healthy foods cost more money. That was one of her excuses to eat processed and junk foods. But soon after changing her eating habits, she learned she was saving dollars.

“We actually spend a lot less now. For one, the amount of ingredients has cut back. I eat about half the volume that I used to eat,” said Manuel, who lost 165 pounds.

Courtesy of LeAnna Manuel
LeAnne Manuel lost 165 pounds.

3. Making small changes has a big impact.

In the past when Jenna Winchester tried losing weight, she cut all bad foods from her diet at once. This made weight loss challenging because she craved so many unhealthy foods at the same time and felt overwhelmed.

But when she started on her recent successful weight-loss journey, which led to a 210-pound loss, she did it with little changes.

“Start out small. Don't go crazy and cut out every single bad food all at once. Start out by cutting one thing out, like soda or sweets, and then slowly add on to that,” Winchester said.

Courtesy Jenna Winchester
After years of her father making fun of her weight, Jenna Winchester felt depressed and gained almost 100 pounds.

4. You feel the changes immediately.

After exercising with a trainer for a month and losing 17 pounds, Lydia Dziubanek decided to introduce lean protein, fruits and vegetables into her diet. She began losing weight quicker, but she also was shocked by how she felt.

“Changing my diet brought many surprises, but most significant was the realization of how much better I felt once initial headaches went away from my body breaking free of the sugar cravings. I felt lighter and more energetic,” she told TODAY.

Courtesy Lydia Dziubanek
After thinking of killing herself, Lydia Dziubanek found herself at a gym and started exercising. This gave her the mental strength to turn her life around.

5. Healthy diets include adding not just subtracting.

When Jordan Kohanim once thought of diets, she thought she had to restrict what she ate. During her 70-pound weight loss, she realized she could add foods and still lose weight.

“I added more fruits and veggies,” she said. “Make yourself eat two cups of veggies before you eat that sandwich.”

Courtesy Jordan Kohanim
After struggling with her weight all her life, Jordan Kohanim started tracking what she ate and exercising, starting with 15 minutes at a time. In two years, she lost 70 pounds.

When she added more nutritious foods, she found her cravings for unhealthy foods disappeared.

6. Food is fuel.

When Amy-Jo Reid first started losing weight, she thought she could only have protein shakes or chicken breast. But then someone gave her some advice and eating became more exciting — and fulfilling.

“Someone told me to start looking at food as ‘fuel for my body.’ That was a huge help,” she said. “Mix it up and try new foods. You will be surprised.”

Courtesy of Amy-Jo Reid
After her doctor told her that she was likely to become pre-diabetic and have a fatty liver, Amy-Jo Reid lost 104 pounds but also gained three friends who helped her maintain her weight loss.

7. Pay attention to emotional changes.

Like many people, Dziubanek ate when her moods shifted. It took a while for her to realize that she used food to soothe her emotions.

“Focus on changing your eating habits when you get stressed, angry, or celebrating,” she said. “We all struggle with food.”

8. Healthy food is actually tasty.

After years of noshing on fatty and sugary foods, Brittany Horton thought changing her diet would mean she could only eat bland, boring foods again and again. But Horton, who lost 208 pounds, learned she was wrong.

“Healthy food actually tasted good,” she said. "I thoroughly enjoy the variety of it all."

Courtesy of Brittany Horton
After Brittany Horton was denied health insurance because she was "too big," she started her weight-loss journey and lost 208 pounds in three years.

Quasheena Young, who lost 108 pounds, agreed.

“I started off on a 1,500-calorie diet and it was very surprising what you could actually consume versus eating junk food,” she said.

9. Portion size matters.

When Manuel started looking at her portion sizes, she realized she was eating two or three times what she should be. Measuring her meals helped her shed pounds.

“There is no guessing with portion size, so buy a food scale to help you reach your goals,” she said. “Even now, nearly three years into my journey, my guesses are off when it comes to portion size.”

10. Be creative!

Like Reid, Young quickly became bored with eating the same thing for every meal. That’s when she realized she needed to expand her go-to recipes.

“Make sure that you have a variety of recipes because eating the same thing prepared the same way can get boring,” she said. “Pintrest works for me.”

Courtesy of Quasheena Young
Quasheena Young lost 108 pounds and feels healthier and stronger. When her friends mentioned the Tough Mudder, she agreed to participate and had no idea what she was getting into.

11. It’s not a diet

“Diets are meant to end and even after you lose the weight, your journey never stops,” said Reid. "The struggle never stops."

For more real weight-loss inspiration, check out our My Weight-Loss Journey page.