If you're trying to change your eating habits for the better, and improve your diet to get healthy, lose weight, or just maintain the weight you're at now, one thing is for sure: You need a can-do attitude. Visualize a picture of yourself as healthy as you want to be, and at a weight you are comfortable with, and then believe in that picture, hold on to it, and use it for motivation.
Diet is simply a word that means how and what you eat, as in eating a healthful diet, or following a vegetarian diet. But some people spell the word diet d-e-p-r-i-v-a-t-i-o-n and that's one of the many reasons why "going on a diet" doesn't work for most people. The truth is, while food addicts and compulsive overeaters probably have to make big, permanent changes in their eating habits, most healthy people don't have to deprive themselves completely of any of the foods they like to eat. What many people have to do, however, is change their food attitude from one of self-deprivation to one of self-control. Here are a couple of examples from my book that illustrate the difference:
I can never eat chocolate vs. I can eat a little chocolate once in a while.
I can never eat at my favorite restaurant again vs. I will eat smaller portions when I eat out.
I have to stop snacking vs. I have to plan my snacks more carefully.
I have to eat boring meals vs. I have to eat more balanced meals.
I can't eat dessert vs. A small dessert is part of a balanced meal.
Self-control is a little bit like willpower, only it's more about establishing a set of personal rules to live by, so it can actually be a long-term solution. It is the power you have over your own behavior, such as your own eating habits. Willpower is more of a tool we tend to call on in the moment. Neither is about punishing yourself or preventing yourself from living well; rather, both serve to help you keep the bigger picture, and your long-term plan for healthy weight control, in mind. The more you practice acts of self-control, the sooner they become a permanent part of your lifestyle.
If you are someone who can't be satisfied with a single scoop of frozen dessert or a small piece of cake, then you might have to expand your definition of dessert and your food repertoire to include a variety of fruit dishes. Then, exercise your new-found self-control by choosing healthier desserts. This way you never have to deprive yourself of dessert. Same goes for snacks. If you can't stop yourself from eating an entire large bag of potato chips or the whole box of crackers, expand your definition of snack foods to include healthier foods like fresh fruit with yogurt and cut-up veggies with salsa or hummus dip. Then use your self-control to make smarter choices when you eat on the run or between meals.
The more you practice thinking positively about following a healthful diet, the sooner you'll adopt a more positive attitude toward food. And as a result, your relationship with food will improve immensely.
Susan McQuillan is the author of Low-Calorie Dieting for Dummies.