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By Lisa D’Agrosa, M.S., R.D., EatingWell.com

All too often, when starting a diet, we start out with grand intentions (“I’m going to lose weight and eat better! This time will be different, I swear!”) only to revert to our old eating habits within a week or two. So how can you give your desire to eat healthy and lose weight some sticking power?

Try these five techniques to help turn your weight-loss plan into a strategy for healthy eating over the long haul:

1. Don’t give up your favorite foods.

You shouldn’t have to say goodbye to your favorite foods. In fact, having a small treat may help you stick to your diet. Research in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that a small daily treat didn’t sabotage weight-loss efforts.

Your favorite foods can fit into any diet if you find clever ways to incorporate them. Make lower-calorie versions of foods like french fries and brownies. Be mindful of serving sizes when it comes to more indulgent foods. Love pasta? Try adding vegetables to bulk up your serving instead of doubling up on pasta.

Of course, your diet should be full of mostly healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains, but make room for some of your favorite, more indulgent foods, too.

2. Eat foods that keep you satisfied.

If you feel hungry all the time, it’s going to be hard to stick with a healthy-eating plan. Research shows that when you’re hungrier, you’re more likely to eat too fast at your next meal. Eating too quickly can lead to consuming extra calories because your body doesn’t have time to register feeling full.

While portion control is super-important for losing weight (and keeping it off), you shouldn’t hear your tummy grumbling all day long. Two nutrients can help keep you full: protein and fiber. Good protein sources include plain Greek yogurt, chicken breast, tuna, tofu, and almonds.

To get more fiber, munch on whole fruits and vegetables. Not only is produce high in fiber, but it’s also generally low in calories. That makes it both filling and diet-friendly.

3. Start with small changes.

There’s no need for dramatic shake-ups, like eliminating whole food groups. It’s better to start with tiny diet tweaks if you want them to become permanent changes. According to Brian Wansink, Ph.D., EatingWell advisor and professor of marketing at Cornell University, “making small, consistent changes fits more easily into people’s routines (than radically altering your diet).”

Think of doable things, like packing a wholesome afternoon snack, such as carrots and hummus or an apple, instead of hitting the vending machine. Small changes add up and can help you make healthier eating a way of life, rather than relying on short-term crash dieting.

4. Don’t try to be perfect.

We often have grand ideas about implementing a new diet–like the promises you make yourself about eliminating sugar, never taking anything from the breadbasket or always having vegetables at dinner. Instead of trying to be perfect, be realistic. Make your eating plan one that you can actually stick to.

You don’t have to eat perfectly to lose weight; you just have to eat well. Set a goal for the week, like adding a serving of vegetables at dinner, or packing a healthy lunch one or two days–and go easy on yourself if you slip up. Eating indulgences are bound to happen. And when they do…

5. Get right back on track.

If you have a diet slip-up and go overboard on chocolate or pizza, don’t beat yourself up. Just get back on track again as quickly as possible. Remember that one meal doesn’t undo all of your healthy efforts, but when you give up your diet entirely because of one slip-up, that’s when the weight can start to creep back on. If you have a minor setback, understand that it’s one small blip on the radar along your track to long-term success.

(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)

Image: Michael Fludkov, Flickr

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