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Losing weight is hard. We often set ourselves up for disappointment by failing to take this important piece of advice: the best plan is the one you can stick with for the long term.
That’s not easy to do. Many of us know the feeling of disappointment when even the best-laid diet plans don’t work out. That’s why identifying your “eating personality” can help. Ask yourself, “What kind of eater are you?”
Once you size up your eating “personality,” it’s a lot easier to find an eating plan that connects with you. From my many years of clinical practice, here are some of the main types of eaters and the diet plans that worked best for them.
The emotional eater
Signs this is you: You turn to food when you’re sad, stressed, worried or happy. Food is comfort, and you struggle to stay in control of your eating when emotions are running high. Often, you’re a walking calorie-counter and know when and why you’re overeating — but you can’t effectively control it.
What to consider: Almost all balanced plans will work for an emotional eater, but the most important component is support. Staying connected to other people, whether it’s an app, online program or an in-person support group in your community will help. Even a “diet buddy”, a friend, relative or co-worker with a similar amount of weight to lose can be just what you need.
The mindless muncher
Signs this is you:You’re a “grazer” and eat throughout the day, never sure if or when you’re hungry. You often eat without thinking and choose foods without much thought because “it’s there.” Simply put, you don’t pay much attention to how much, when or what you eat with any consistency.
What to consider: You need to begin with a lot of structure in your daily eating and have fewer choices to help make new habits. Meal replacement programs (that also offer other lifestyle support) can take the guesswork out of portions and meal timing. Regular meals and the occasional snack is the routine you need to learn (or re-learn). Once you’ve mastered these skills, you can use meal replacements as needed, combined with healthy, freshly prepared foods.
You might like: Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, HMR, Optifast, Medifast. Or, create your own meal-replacement plan with calorie controlled meals, protein shakes and bars that are low in sugar and high in protein.
The food lover
Signs this is you: You love to cook and eat — it’s a very social activity. You enjoy a large variety of healthy foods and like to “sample” wherever you go. Portion control is often an issue. You’re a happy eater!
What to consider: Often, your major barrier is that you’ll lose the pleasure you enjoy with food in the quest to lose weight. But for the food lover, the truth is just the opposite. Choosing plans that offer a wide range of options in many food categories (that promote volume of food and not extra calories) is your best bet. There’s a lot of latitude here in choosing a plan. The focus becomes of creativity, and all the foods you can eat regularly, and which foods become occasional treats.
You might like: Mediterranean-based plans, DASH plan, South Beach plan, Flexitarian plan, meal delivery kits like HelloFresh, Freshly, Sun Basket or Blue Apron, choosing the calorie-controlled option.
The junk food eater
Signs this is you: You sometimes try to eat healthy (and know what to do) but often turn to a lot processed, low-nutrient foods. You’re someone who loves anything salty, crunchy or sweet — and often you enjoy the powerful taste of combining food from these categories.
What to consider: You’re best off with a structured program that provides a lot of flexibility, where no foods are off limits. You need to learn how to include “treat” foods that satisfy but don’t trigger overeating and poor choices. You can begin by making some easy, smart swaps. For example, if you enjoy salty and crunchy food, try air-popped popcorn. If you have a sweet tooth, grab a piece of fresh or frozen fruit. If you want that creamy taste with an extra crunch, spread some peanut butter on celery.
No matter what plan you choose, regular physical activity needs to be included. Start with a daily walk of 30 minutes, even divided up throughout the day. Build on that, as time allows. Remember that physical activity supports but does not replace cutting calories. And take some steps to monitor your stress and allow for adequate sleep.
Check with your doctor before making any significant changes in your eating; and take that opportunity to learn more about your personal health risks. And if you’re one of the millions who do not have a primary care doctor (family or internal medicine, gynecologist) — call your health plan company for advice — and get started with a yearly checkup. It’s one of the most reliable ways to track your weight and your health for the long term.
Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D. is the NBC News Health Editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.