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Everyone wants a plan that guarantees successful and long term weight loss, and millions of people continue their ongoing quest to find the perfect plan. Why the struggle? For many, it’s not choosing a realistic plan, suited to your personal eating style and preferences.
The diet plan that works best is the one you can stick with over time.
The first step to making the right choice is to be honest with yourself: What are you willing and able to do to lose weight in your real world? Be honest with yourself. Choose a plan that “speaks” to you.
All plans work over the short term for the same reason: calorie intake is reduced.
Biologically, there is a wide range of “adequacy” for protein, carbohydrates, and fats — and there’s a lot of wiggle room when it comes to choosing a healthy eating plan for long-term weight loss.
If you struggle with portion control
Try a meal-replacement plan to help you adapt to calorie-controlled balanced meals. It’s important to visualize what a serving looks like. Portions are supersized everywhere. Standard servings just look too small.
Ready-to-eat meal plans include:
- Jenny Craig
- HMR (Hackley Health Management)
You can re-use the containers after you’ve stopped the service to keep your portions in check.
Keep bags of fresh and frozen vegetables on hand to boost the portion size at any meal.
If you have emotional issues with food
Try a balanced plan that includes in-person meetings and/or online support. Constant support is a key to success for those who are eating for many more reasons than to satisfy hunger.
We often “feed the hungry heart”, and turn to food to soothe.
Support-based plans that can help your eating keep on track and meet your emotional needs include:
- Weight Watchers
- TOPS Club
- Overeaters Anonymous
While a friend or family member can also be a strong support for many people, creating regular structured support, particularly at an in-person meeting, can make a big difference.
If you love to cook
A Mediterranean-style plan or the DASH eating plan encourage shopping for and cooking a variety of fresh, unprocessed foods.
Both of these plans incorporate lots of fruits and vegetables (fresh or frozen), low and non-fat dairy products, lean meat/fish/chicken, nuts/seeds/beans and heart healthy oils.
Added sugars and processed/packaged foods are discouraged, which is an automatic boost to trimming excess calories. There’s no calorie counting, but portion control and recommended serving sizes should be followed for consistent weight loss.
Try one of the meal preparation services that deliver convenient, ready-to-prepare meals, like:
- Blue Apron
- Martha & Marley Spoon
With step by step directions, and controlled amounts of each ingredient to serve two or four, there’s no ingredient waste or leftovers.
If you’re a mindless eater
Look for a plan that support structured eating and provides reminders to keep you on track.
There are many options for mindless eaters. Apps like Lose It and My Fitness Pal can help promote hour to hour engagement. Meal replacements can also be effective, as can the power of group support like Weight Watchers. The important factor here is to pre-plan your eating — both for time of meals and snacks, and the specific foods.
Chewing sugarless gum or sugarless mints can help boost mindfulness and keep your mouth busy without food.
ALL of these plans can promote long term weight loss, so there’s no right or wrong answer.
Once you’ve identified these major eating preferences, you can further tailor your eating to work for, not against, your natural habits. Consider these additional factors to help identify your own eating style, to adjust your food intake accordingly.
No matter the diet plan, moderate physical activity is always part of the weight loss equation. Aim for a 30-minute daily walk, add other cardio, strength training, and stretching activities that you enjoy.
Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D is NBC News Health and Nutrition Editor. Follow her on Twitter.