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Pick Your Eating Plan

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The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans and U.S. News Best Diets of 2016 may drive you to start thinking about your weight goals, eating habits and food choices. Many people go on diets in January only to discard them by February and feel frustrated, angry and hesitant to try again.

As a registered dietitian who has worked with thousands of clients over the past 30 years, I do think there’s something to be said for the effort that goes into the diet selection process predicting the staying power and success over the long run. If you have perused the Best Diets list and are gearing up to try yet again, I’m going to suggest a slightly different approach. How about choosing your diet like buying a car?

That might sound strange, but a lot of the steps you go through to purchase or lease an automobile are applicable to making decisions about what goes on your plate.

The first decision should be to do your homework. When buying a car, you may look online to view different models, dealerships in your area and consumer ratings. If you are thinking about a new diet, don’t you do the same? You may go look at what’s new, or perhaps peruse a chapter or two of a diet book and look at comments online from those who have tried it. If you’re thinking about joining a program like Weight Watchers or a support group like Overeaters Anonymous, you’re more likely to attend if the meeting is in close proximity to work or home. The car that seemed like such a great deal may not be when you factor in the time it takes for you to get it serviced. Convenience is also an important when finding a support group, supermarket or working with a registered dietitian. If it takes too much time out of your day or seriously comprises your schedule, you’re less likely to continue with the program.

Although buying a Maserati or Jaguar might be nice, those cars may be out of your price range. So, part of the search will involve finding an automobile within your salary cap. The same is true for an eating plan. It’s essential to take a look at the foods recommended to make sure you like them, you can find them and they fit within your budget.

You may be drawn to a red convertible or a beige sedan, or your car choice may be decided by its use. Do you routinely transport kids or gear? If so, a two-door Mini may not suit your needs. Similarly, as you think about your diet, think about what specifically fits you and works with your life circumstances. Does an eating plan meet your needs in terms of food preparation time, flexibility and suggestions foreating out, or is it conducive to traveling if that’s part of your job? If not, you may want to look for another option.

Also, beware of shady salespeople pushing unproven diets, just as you would of car salesperson trying to sell you a lemon. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. What’s in the contract’s fine print? If you’re surfing the Internet looking for a diet plan, beware of words like “quick,” “easy,” “miracle” and “overnight.” There’s no diet that results in 10 pounds of fat lost while you sleep. Weight loss isn’t easy, nor is it quick. You are making a commitment to yourself and an investment in your health.

Finally, think durability, safety and efficiency. You want a car that can withstand tough roads, handles well in inclement weather and gets good gas mileage. Consider taking your eating plan for a test drive as well to find out if it meets all your needs. The plan you choose is one you should be able to maintain, without any adverse health consequences, and it shouldn’t require drastic changes in lifestyle or be a significant drain on your budget or time.

That being said, you should be willing to try out your new plan for several months to see if it’s a good fit, what needs to be tweaked and how the plan needs to change as you lose weight to keep you engaged. With any plan, the goal isn’t to eat perfectly – it’s OK to occasionally stray. But if you find that the plan you choose doesn’t have staying power –you can only stay on it for a few weeks – it may be time to shelve it and try something else.

This doesn’t mean you have failed. Think about what you learned and what you can apply going forward, and do some searching for another plan that may be a better fit. Or you can combine programs to find your best fit. When you buy a car, you customize it with wheels, colors, sunroof and other features. With an eating plan, you may find something that meets you base needs and then customize it by swapping beans for meat at a few meals, adding in more leafy greens or changing the type of fat you use for cooking.

So put your shopping skills to the test to find the plan that provides some visual thrills and frills – such as faro, an ancient grain with a nutty taste, blood orange olive oil, colorful plates, flavorful spices or cool  gadgets like spiralizers that allow you to make noodles out of zucchini, squash, carrots and beets. And may 2016 be the year you’re driven to become a new and healthier you.

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