When you arrive at a party and see all the great food, it can be tempting to load up your plate right away. Allow yourself to take stock of the situation. "Look at everything and ask yourself, What will I enjoy having the most? and have that," says Nicole Patience, RD, a dietitian at Temple University. "It’s not necessarily about denying yourself those wings or meatballs but about figuring out which foods will bring you the most satisfaction."
Study after study confirms that we eat less over the course of the day if we start with a good breakfast, says , a certified wellness coach and nutrition educator. And the one component that’s often missing is fiber. Try to include a complex carbohydrate, such as whole-grain toast, or a high-fiber fruit or vegetable, such as raspberries, in your morning meal. It will help fill you up, making you less likely to graze the rest of the day.
When you’ve spent a week working overtime or have stuck to your workout goals for a month straight, it’s only natural to want to reward yourself. Just don’t do it with food, says Keller. Instead, treat yourself to something you want more, such as a massage or new party dress. "Deprivation is a real downer, but having a system of rewarding yourself for healthy behaviors will help reinforce it for you," says Keller.
Swap beef or chicken for fish twice a week. Fatty fish, such as salmon, contains heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, says certified wellness coach Jackie Keller. And one study found that people who ate fish instead of beef for lunch ate 11 percent fewer calories at dinner.
Planning a road trip? Stock a small cooler with things like whole-grain bread, lean lunch meats, peanut butter, water and precut veggies, suggests Amy Virus, RD, a dietitian at Temple University’s Center for Obesity Research and Education. Having healthy food on hand will make you less likely to pull into rest stops for greasy, overpriced fast food.
Be accountable to someone other than yourself: Involve a trusted friend in your "Maintain, don’t gain" plan, suggests Keller. Set goals together and then check in daily via the phone, email or a social-networking tool, or schedule face-to-face activities that aren’t focused on eating, such as hiking. "Tracking progress is good for everyone," says Keller. "It helps you gain perspective on where you started and how far you’ve come."
"We tend to make the poorest choices when we’re too hungry, too tired or too stressed to think about what we’re eating," says Keller. Set yourself up for success by taking a couple of hours on Sunday to cook some basics dishes. Then write down a meal plan for the week (allowing for some flexibility). Keep a copy on the fridge and in your purse, and you’ll be more likely to follow through on you healthy eating goals.
"Our sense of thirst is pretty insensitive. Most of us are in a state of dehydration and don’t realize it," says Keller. Thirst is also easily mistaken for hunger. "I recommend that you drink before, during and after meals," says Keller. "You’ll be more likely to eat less—and only what you need—if you’re not trying to get all of your moisture out of food." Shoot for eight glasses daily.
"Sleep-deprived women tend to eat more, most often to stay awake, but also because of the sheer number of hours they’re awake," says Keller. In addition, your judgment can easily become impaired if you’re exhausted, making you more likely to grab sugary foods for a quick energy fix. Unfortunately, that rush crashes as fast as it surges, creating a vicious, and caloric, cycle. The National Sleep Foundation recommends getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
With a hectic schedule, it’s easy to become dependent on packaged foods instead of fresh ingredients. Buy precut produce or take the time to cut up some fruits and vegetables as soon as you get home from the grocery store. That way, when you’re pressed for time, you'll have something healthy to add to soup, salads, scrambled eggs or stir fries. "Aim for three to five servings of fruit and five or more servings of vegetables daily," says Keller.
A cute dress can motivate you as much as a bikini. Keep an article of clothing that you’re dying to wear out—and look fabulous in—visible, says Keller. The daily reminder with help you stick to your dietary goals.
Don’t depend on other people to pick you up when you’re feeling down. "Put notes about your goals where you can see them, whether on your bathroom mirror, refrigerator or computer monitor, or set reminders to pop up on your cell phone or email with motivational messages," suggests Keller. The barrage of support will help strengthen your resolve.
Try not to go to social events that involve food on an empty stomach, says Keller. Saving calories by skipping meals is a prescription for being overly hungry once you get to your event and eating far more than you would if you started out with something in your stomach. Have a piece of fruit and some string cheese on the way.
If your friend is hosting a party, bring flowers instead of chocolates, or wine tags instead of wine, suggests , RD, nutritionist for NBC’s The Biggest Loser. "Hostess gifts are often immediately shared with partygoers, so don’t sabotage yourself by bringing anything unhealthy," she says.
On days you don’t feel like going to the gym, plan recreational activities that have a physical component instead, says Keller. Active pastimes, such as hiking, bowling and gardening, burn calories and can help you avoid boredom-induced snacking.
Alcoholic beverages tend to be high in calories and may lower your inhibition, making you more likely to let down your nutritional guard. "Opt instead for light hot chocolate or a cup of hot tea, both of which can help you keep your hands and mouth busy while socializing," says , RD, a dietitian at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois.