Until . . . you cheated on your diet.
Maybe it snuck up on you. That little piece of chocolate turned into two or three bigger pieces every day. Perhaps it was more sudden, like pigging out during a big birthday or holiday feast. In either case, now you're feeling guilty (and maybe bloated and groggy, too), and you don't know what to do about it.
First off, please don't feel bad. Almost all of us fall off the diet band wagon now and then. It's normal behavior. Accept it, forgive yourself and let me help you get back to the basic steps of a healthy diet with these tips:
Don't skip meals. It's tempting to skip meals because you want to cut back on the calories. The problem with skipping meals is that by not eating now, you're going to be hungrier later, and that increases the chances you'll overeat at your next meal.
Keep track of something and reset your goals. People who keep track of calories in a food diary tend to be more successful with weight loss. Maybe you need to keep track of your sodium, fats or carbohydrates. You can join Calorie Count and use your computer or smart phone to monitor your food intake and the number of calories you burn with physical activity. You might want to check out how many calories you need per day with my calorie calculator, too.
Plan your meals based on your daily calorie, carb, fat or sodium count. Choose breakfast foods that are good for you, like a high-fiber cereal or oatmeal, berries or fruit and milk. Make (or order) a green salad with lots of vegetables for lunch, but go easy on the dressing. Your dinner can include a low-fat protein source like baked fish or a lean chicken breast with lots of green and colorful vegetables (broccoli, carrots, squash or green beans, for example). Need help? I've got menus for 1,200 calorie per day, 1,500 calorie per day, and 1,700 calorie per day diets.
Give your body a break from highly processed and junk foods. Fast foods and processed convenience foods are usually high in calories from fats and carbohydrates, and low in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Opt for fresh (or frozen) fruits and vegetables, and choose fresh, lean poultry, fish and meat instead of processed sausage, hot dogs and lunch meats.
Dump the sugary soft drinks. Sweet drinks give you calories but no other nutritional benefit. Check your alcohol intake. Alcohol adds calories, plus sweet mixers can add even more. Drink plain or sparkling water, which can replenish your body's need for fluids without adding calories. Add a slice of lemon, lime or cucumber for a touch of flavor. Low-fat milk and 100% fruit or vegetable juices are healthy beverages, too. Don't forget to keep track of the calories or sodium.
Get active again. Did you give up on your workouts? You may give your diet a little boost by hitting the gym (or the street if you're a walker or a runner) again. Exercise aids weight loss by burning extra calories, and it can improve your mood, which may help you deal with cravings.
Leave yourself a little wiggle room for a treat now and then. Diets are by nature restrictive; just the thought of saying no to ice cream or cookies can make you feel grouchy. Allocate 100 to 150 calories per day for treats or snacks. You'll have to watch your portion sizes - a typical candy bar has 250 to 400 calories, and a bag of chips may have up to 200 calories.
If you're heading back out to the diners and restaurants, be sure to take a look at my tips for finding healthful foods on a restaurant menu.