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If you've just come off a few days of overindulgences, it may be hard to pass up treats altogether — but you can set limits. Try limiting yourself to one dessert this week and one meal where you'll enjoy a favorite food in a reasonable portion.
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updated 1/10/2010 12:54:07 PM ET 2010-01-10T17:54:07

After celebrating the holidays, many of us have felt this way before — Ugh! I blew my diet. Now what?

Before you decide to bury your troubles in a plate of cookies and resort to a lifetime of drawstring pants, use our simple 3-day action plan to undo the calorie damage and make a fresh start. We tell you what to eat, when to eat, how to bump up calorie burn — and give you the motivational tools you need to get back on track fast.

Day 1: 7 a.m.
Like many people, you may have woken up feeling fat, bloated, and mad at yourself for overdoing it while celebrating the holidays.

What to do:

Stop beating yourself up. "The first thing I would tell people is not to be your own worst enemy, not to be super critical," says clinical psychologist Nancy Molitor, PhD, public education coordinator for the American Psychological Association. "When you turn on yourself, it's not the food, it's you that you're battling. Admit you overdid it and be honest, but recognize that you're human."

Remember that overindulging sometimes is perfectly normal, says clinical psychologist Suzette Glasner-Edwards, PhD, of the UCLA School of Medicine. "Forgive yourself for yesterday, but make a pledge to yourself about how you will eat today."

Positive mantra: Yesterday was a challenging day. I can make a fresh start.

Day 1: 8 a.m.
Whatever you do, don't skip breakfast because that could set you up for overeating later in the day, says Andrea Spivack, RD, LDN, medical nutrition therapist at the Stunkard Weight Management Program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

What to do:

Fix a healthy morning meal. A filling, well-balanced breakfast like this one has only 407 calories:
Pour 1 c Kashi Go-Lean cereal into a bowl
Top with 1 c blueberries (frozen is just as good as fresh)
Sprinkle with 2 Tbsp walnuts
Add 1 c low-fat or fat-free milk

Day 1: 9:30 a.m.

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Now that your day is underway, you may be telling yourself, I need to drop a few pounds so I'll watch what I eat this week. But a general wish isn't likely to give you the results you desire. Molitor recommends setting a reasonable, concrete goal and creating a plan that will help you reach it. Be sure to write down your goals — it'll make you more likely to commit to them.

What to do:

Aim to lose 1 pound in the next week. To do that you'll have to reduce your daily calorie intake by 200 to 300 calories and burn off 200 to 300 calories a day for an average weekly deficit of 3,500 calories, says David B. Sarwer, PhD, clinical psychologist and director of the Stunkard Weight Management Program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

If you usually exercise 3 days a week, add an extra day. If you're not a regular exerciser, then try to walk for at least 5 minutes, 3 times a day to start. It's okay to start small; any little movement adds up to calories burned.

If you've just come off a few days of overindulgences, it may be hard to pass up treats altogether — but you can set limits. Try limiting yourself to one dessert this week and one meal where you'll enjoy a favorite food in a reasonable portion. Write down your commitment.

Positive mantra: I'll take this one day at a time.

Day 1: Noon
Eat a lunch packed with feel-full veggies and satisfying protein.

Mediterranean wrap
1 lg whole wheat tortilla
2 Tbsp garlic-flavored hummus
1/4 c roasted red pepper strips
4 slices roast turkey breast (or low-sodium deli turkey)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 c lettuce

1. Lay tortilla flat on large cutting board. Spoon hummus evenly over tortilla to within ½" of edge. Lay peppers evenly over hummus. Layer on turkey slices. Sprinkle with mint. Layer on lettuce leaves. Fold in sides and then roll to form wrap. Cut diagonally in half.

2. Serve immediately or wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Total calories: 323

Day 1: 1:30 p.m.
This is a good time to start logging your food calories in a journal or online diary.

What to do:

Write down what you're eating. Starting a food diary is a research-proven weight loss technique. If you've never kept a food journal before, try Prevention's free My Health Tracker tool and start logging food calories and portions. If you have logged food calories before, start again to track what you're eating and how much.

Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, PhD, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, says keeping a food diary helps you get back to being accountable. "It raises awareness and gets you focused on eating healthier foods."

Look up food calories and track them — it's easy to get started with the health tracker tool.

Positive mantra: I overate for a day or two and am getting back to my healthier habits.

Day 1: 3:30 p.m.
You might be feeling midafternoon hunger pangs and eyeing that leftover pumpkin pie in the fridge. Before you reach for a slice, take a deep breath and assess what your body needs.

What to do:

Keep hunger under control. Drink a glass of water and wait about 10 minutes to determine if you are truly hungry. It's easy to mistake hunger for thirst, notes Dee Sandquist, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

If you are still hungry, have a small snack. Research has shown that eating regular meals or snacks every 3 to 4 hours can keep you from overeating.

Graham cracker snack
3/4 c grapes
2 graham cracker squares
8 oz water
Total calories: 137

Day 1: 6:30 p.m.
A healthy dinner doesn't mean you have to slave in the kitchen for hours. This easy recipe is ready in less than 10 minutes.

Personal pizza
Top 1 toasted whole wheat pita with ½ c chopped tomatoes, 1/4 c shredded part-skim mozzarella, ½ c grilled chicken breast, and 1/4 c chopped sun-dried tomatoes
Sprinkle with minced garlic and oregano
Place under oven broiler until bubbly
Total calories: 396

Day 1: 7 p.m.
If you didn't get any exercise today, go for a 10-minute walk after dinner. Walking after eating can help relieve belly bloat.

Day 1: 10 p.m.
This can be a dangerous time for late-night snackers who reach for food out of boredom, emotion, or exhaustion. You can avoid the temptation altogether by brushing your teeth and hitting the sack!

What to do:

Get at least 7 hours of sleep. Getting enough sleep is one of the best things you can do to get back on track after overeating, says Sandquist.

Research shows there are links between inadequate sleep and obesity. A study from Case Western Reserve University of about 68,000 middle-age women found that those who slept 5 or fewer hours were 32% more likely to experience major weight gain, and 15% more likely to become obese, than those who slept an average of 7 hours.

Can't get enough Zzz's? Banish these 10 common sleep thieves from your bedroom.

Positive mantra: I'm committing to taking care of myself and my health — I'm worth it!

Day 2: 7 a.m.
Assess the "damage." If you didn't weigh yourself yesterday, do so first thing this morning and write down your weight for accountability. Weigh yourself once a week at the same day and time for more accurate results.

What to do:

Get on the scale. Gazzaniga-Moloo recommends doing this within 2 days of the overeating episode so you can face the facts and move on.

"The USDA recommends that we eat about 2,000 calories a day," says Sarwer. "On Thanksgiving, people can eat well over 3,000 calories, maybe even 4,000 calories. If you ate 4,000 calories that only adds up to a half-pound of weight." If the scale says you gained more than half a pound, don't let the numbers ruin your day. Your weight can vary from day to day — even hour to hour. You could be retaining fluids from eating salty foods over the weekend.

Positive mantra: Sometimes I do things and have to be accountable for them later. I'm back in control.

Day 2: 8 a.m.
Remember, don't skip breakfast! If you don't like to eat first thing in the morning, just start off with a piece of fruit and have something more substantial, like oatmeal with milk, an hour or so later. If you wait for lunch to eat, your hunger will overrule your willpower and you'll be less likely to make healthy choices.

Blend these ingredients for a peanut butter and banana smoothie*:
½ c fat-free milk
½ c fat-free plain yogurt
2 Tbsp creamy natural unsalted peanut butter
¼ very ripe banana
1 Tbsp honey
4 ice cubes
Total calories: 410

— From The Flat Belly Diet

Day 2: 9 a.m.
As part of your diet reboot, you'll need to commit to making exercise a regular part of your daily schedule.

What to do:

Make an exercise pact with yourself. Exercising within a day or two of overeating will help refocus you on your healthy lifestyle plan, says Gazzaniga-Moloo.

Make sure your fitness schedule involves activities you love to do — like walking, dancing, or ice skating — and tell someone about your plan, says Molitor. You'll be more likely to stick to your workout if you enjoy it and have someone else holding you accountable. Better yet, work out with a buddy!

Day 2: 11 a.m.
Positive self-talk can help you stay on track and reach your goals. Post motivational messages in plain sight to stay focused.

What to do:

Surround yourself with encouragement. Post inspirational photos around your workspace, in your car, and on your home fridge. Tape a message like "I can do it!" to the back of your cell phone or set up your computer's screen saver with a favorite quote.

Positive mantra: This is a courageous thing I'm doing. I am mature and responsible. I have the ability to control what I eat.

Day 2: 12:30 p.m.
Eat meals around the same time each day. Sandquist says eating at regular mealtimes will keep you from getting too hungry.

Deli meat sandwich:
Grab 2 slices of whole wheat bread
Top with 2 slices each of lean roast beef and turkey breast
Add lettuce and tomato and 1 tsp mustard
Pair it with ½ c of fruit salad
Total calories: 350

Day 2: 3:30 p.m.
Fix a snack that will help flatten your belly. Research shows that eating a meal with a serving of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) can help fight belly fat. MUFAs are the good-for-you fats found in avocados, nuts and seeds, olive oil, dark chocolate, and olives.

Cheese and crackers snack:
Pair 1 light or low-fat string cheese with 8 sm whole wheat crackers and 2 Tbsp sunflower seeds.
Have with 1 apple
Total calories: 389

Get 28 more tasty meals — ready in 5 minutes or less!

Day 2: 5:30p.m.
Squeeze in 10 minutes of walking before or after dinner.

Day 2: 6:30p.m.
Eat slowly to make your meal last longer. Research shows the more chewing you do, the more nutrients your body absorbs.

Salmon and spinach dinner:
Sauté a 4-oz piece of salmon
Cook 2 c raw spinach sautéed with 1 crushed garlic clove in 1 tsp peanut oil
Pair with 2/3 c cooked brown rice
Total calories: 441

Day 2: 8p.m.
You're doing a great job of eating healthfully, but don't make it any harder on yourself.

What to do:

Rid kitchen of temptations. You've committed to a healthy eating plan; now get junk food and leftover pumpkin pie out of sight!

"When the foods are in the house it's easier, to eat them," says Spivack. If you hosted the celebration, pack up as much leftovers (including snack foods) as possible and give it away to neighbors, coworkers, or family members who live nearby.

Day 3: 7:30a.m.
Start your day off with protein to help you feel fuller, longer. Remember to track your calories in your food journal.

PB&B sandwich
Spread each half of a toasted whole wheat English muffin with 1 Tbsp peanut butter
Top each half with 1/4 c sliced banana
Eat as an open-faced sandwich with a side of 20 blueberries
Total calories: 406

Day 3: 8:30a.m.
If your clothes feel a little tight, you'll be less likely to overeat during mealtimes.

What to do:

Wear a belt or clothing with a fitted waistband. Use this as a way of staying mindful of your goals and to help keep you from overeating.

Day 3: 11a.m.
Can't make it to the gym today? Don't sweat it. Research shows the little stuff you do to move your body adds up to serious calorie burn.

What to do:

Squeeze in easy exercises. Research shows that the little stuff you do all day can add up to big weight loss. James Levine, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, discovered that people who tap their feet, prefer standing to sitting, take stairs, and generally move a lot burn up to 350 more calories a day than those who sit still.

Don't just sit there while your computer is downloading or the copier is collating. Do a stretch (place both hands behind your head, open your elbows, and lean back), try balancing on one leg, or do a few calf raises, rising up and down on your toes. Squeeze your glutes and you'll tone your butt, too!

Positive mantra: I'm doing great!

Day 3: 12:30p.m.
If you didn't pack your lunch today or need to eat on the run, no worries. You can still grab something from the drive-thru that won't derail your diet.

What to do:
When you're faced with a fast food menu, choose a salad with chicken (dressing on the side) and hold the extra toppings such as bacon bits and croutons. Other good options include a veggie burger, a broth-based soup, or a turkey sandwich.

Day 3: 3:30p.m.
Sometimes you have those days when you're always on the go. Remember to refuel and rehydrate so you don't find yourself starving later in the day. If you're near a Starbucks, take a coffee snack break.

Order a tall skim latte
Pair it with Reduced-Fat Cinnamon Swirl Coffee Cake
Drink at least 8 oz water
Total calories: 390

Positive mantra: Strive for progress, not perfection.

Day 3: 6:30p.m.
When you're hungry and tired, it's easy to eat your dinner too quickly, causing indigestion and the likelihood that you'll want to go for seconds. It takes your body at least 20 minutes to register that you're satisfied.

What to do:

Think with your stomach. Keep from overeating at dinner by chewing slowly, putting your fork down between bites, and filling up on water or low-calorie beverages. Be sure to sit at the table — TV off! — to avoid mindless eating. Turning off the tube while eating with family also provides an opportunity for conversation and catching up.

Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Spread 6 Bibb lettuce leaves with 2 Tbsp hummus and top with 3 oz sliced grilled chicken and 2 Tbsp walnuts.
Also have 1 c raspberries and 6 small whole wheat crackers.
Total calories: 405

You can have a special holiday treat if you'd like, just keep the portion small and track the calories in your food diary.

Positive mantra: I won't stuff myself to the point of being uncomfortable.

Day 3: 8:30p.m.
Unwind and burn a few calories by watching a favorite TV sitcom.

Reward yourself with a comedy break. Research shows that laughing for 10 to 15 minutes can burn about 40 calories. It's a small number by itself, says fitness expert Chris Freytag, author of Prevention's “2-Week Total Body Turnaround,” but a daily chuckle could add up to a loss of about 4 pounds over a year!

Day 3: 9:30p.m.
You've made it through the first 3 days! Reflect on what you've done and be proud of your dedication.

What to do:

Pat yourself on the back. Glasner-Edwards recommends rewarding yourself for sticking with your healthy plan. Just don't reward yourself with food! Take a bubble bath, enjoy a soothing cup of herbal tea, call the friend you've been meaning to reconnect with, or ask a loved one for 5-minute back massage.

Day 4 and beyond
Continue to track your calories and exercise regularly.

Eating meals every 3 to 4 hours will help you stick to your healthy-eating plan and make you less likely to overeat when faced with the opportunity.

Keep up a regular exercise routine. Spivack recommends joining a group exercise class to help you stay accountable to your workout schedule.

Positive mantra: Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.

What to do when you're faced with another opportunity to indulge
Think about what might be on the menu before you go to a party or special dinner. You can sample your favorites, but practice portion control.

"Realize that it is real life to have a weekend of fun, and not to view this healthy lifestyle plan as all-or-nothing," says Gazzaniga-Moloo. "There are going to be more holiday weekends. [You] need to learn from each one what works what doesn't work, so in the future [you] can make a game plan to avoid major setbacks."

Practice these tips from our experts before your next challenging meal:

1. Exercise that day so you'll be more focused when faced with tempting foods.
2. Have a small, nutritious snack before you go.
3. Fill up on zero- or low-calorie beverages.
4. Drink a glass of water between every alcoholic beverage.
5. Don't stand near the food table.
6. Remember why you're there — to visit with family and friends! Stay engaged in conversation and you're less apt to keep filling your plate.

Copyright© 2012 Rodale Inc.All rights reserved. No reproduction, transmission or display is permitted without the written permissions of Rodale Inc.

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