Psychology Of Dieting
Margaret E. Woltjer, Ph.D. | September 2004

People diet and try to lose weight for all kinds of reasons, but, from what I have seen, there are aspects of the process that are difficult for most people. Namely, getting started, staying on the diet long enough for it to make a difference, and then following through so that they get to enjoy the fruits of their efforts. I know of what I speak because I’ve been there myself many times. My latest efforts have paid off, so I would like to share with you what I have learned.

Nearly any strategy can benefit you in the short run but if you intend to keep weight off, you will need to have a plan that works for the long haul. As you have noticed, there are many plans available these days from which to choose. Based on my own experience and that of several of my clients, here is a list of some questions you should consider before choosing any diet plan.

Am I physically in good enough health to even have a choice in diet plans?
If you have a medical condition which already requires special dietary needs and/or medical interventions, always consult with your physician first. Then, if you begin a diet, plan with your doctor how often you should check in so your progress and medical status can be monitored. Quite often, medication dosages need to be changed as weight is lost.

Can I afford the cost of the diet plan I’m considering?
Your preferred choice may cost you more than you would ordinarily spend on food and become prohibitive for your budget and lifestyle. Consider those plans that are affordable and be aware of hidden costs that may later cause you to abandon your plan.

How long do I want to diet?
Most diets out there today may give you satisfactory results if all you need to do is lose enough for that special event or to fit into that snazzy outfit. Those diets work well for getting off those few pounds in a hurry, but are not intended for individuals who need to lose so much weight that a long-term, calculated plan is necessary.

How long do I want to keep the weight off?
There are diets and then there are diet plans. Diet plans as I think of them are not meant to be temporary; they are useful to you largely because you can and do stay on them once you reach your goal weight. Of course, modifications can be made along the way because your needs change as your physiology changes. Diet plans address the need for lifestyle changes.

Could I start with one of those popular diets and then switch to a diet plan?
Of course you can. But here again, be aware of potential costs to your health. For someone needing to lose enough weight that their doctor is part of the decision, you would probably be better off with a diet plan. Crash-dieting and fad dieting are not geared for individuals who need to stay on a diet for months or for life. In other words, crash-dieting can lead to paying for it on the front end and again at the back end with potential medical problems developing and requiring yet another special diet to address these new health problems.

What should I look for in selecting a diet plan?
Simply put, always look for a diet plan that contains a solid, basic foundation of nutrition that would fit with changes in your lifestyle, daily routine, and weight loss. If the diet you are following doesn’t address your changing needs as you lose weight, it is probably not meant to be a lifestyle change and would probably more accurately be termed a short-term diet.

Is it really necessary to exercise while I diet?
I know that some of the diets out there promise weight loss without having to exercise. I consider those to be fad diets because they really don’t address your overall health needs. If you are considering a goal of keeping your weight off, I believe that exercise needs to be a part of your daily routine. Besides the obvious benefits of firming and toning your muscles, increasing your energy level, improving your cardio-vascular system, and stimulating your metabolism, it creates a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and well-being that is hard to match through any other means.

Should I tell my family/co-workers/friends that I’m planning to start on a new diet plan?
Yes. Once you get the approval to begin from your physician, let people know that you are serious about your plan and that you would like their help and encouragement. These people are in the best position to support you, urge you to stay on the diet when you want to quit (or if you slip off temporarily), and remind you of your ultimate goal when you hit a plateau and feel discouraged. If they don’t give you regular feedback, remind them that you need it and appreciate it when they do. If someone does the opposite of what you ask, go find your support from someone else. Some people like getting their support in a support group and some diet plans make these available to you. Other people prefer to get their support from a few individuals close to them. That works, too. I find that the act of stating our intention and goal to someone else makes us more likely to follow through with our plan. Plus, it’s always great to be reminded that someone is rooting for us.

Should I wait to begin until I feel ready?
No! I’ve seen more people wait for that magical, illusive moment and find that they have missed it. There is seldom a time that we feel a surge of motivation or experience that definitive moment and recognize it as the “go ahead”. The right moment is now and it begins with fixing that first nutritious meal or with going out on that first walk around the block. Don’t think about it first and see if you can detect that feeling of “readiness”. If you are asking the question regarding your readiness, I’d say that you are ready to begin.

Now, just do it.
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