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Don't Get Burned by Diet Burnout

How to stay psyched for the long term
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WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Exclusive Feature

Jan. 1 you resolved to finally lose that extra weight and start living healthier. You began your weight loss program full of enthusiasm and willpower. The pounds started coming off, you felt terrific, and the compliments kept coming your way.But along the way to your goal, something happened. The idea of living a healthier lifestyle forever began to feel more confining than freeing. You're struggling to remember just why you thought it was so important to lose weight anyway. The Krispy Kremes are calling your name -- loudly.

You're suffering from diet burnout. What to do?

First, make sure you're not being too hard on yourself, says fitness and stress management expert Debbie Mandel, MA. The "all-or-nothing" mindset so many dieters have is a big reason for burnout, she says: "Going off a diet for holidays or vacation and then thinking, 'I can't succeed at anything,' is a sure way to get you off track."

That kind of thinking tripped up Janette Barber on her way to shedding more than 125 pounds. But once she gave up her "demand for perfection," the pounds kept coming off -- and they've stayed off, says Barber, former supervising producer and head writer for The Rosie O'Donnell Show.

Barber lives by the "80% rule" -- that is, she sticks to her healthy plan 80% of the time. Her motto: "You don't have to be perfect; you just have to be better."

"By including mistakes in my planning, I was able to avoid the pitfall of eating a cookie and feeling so guilty that I went into the old 'I-ruined-it-anyway-so-I-might-as-well-pig-out' syndrome that ends most diets," she says.

Barber's maintenance strategy is simple: "No matter what I eat, my plan never ends. I never start over. I maintain my weight without obsession or torture."

Aside from all-or-nothing thinking, Mandel says, other common reasons for diet burnout include:

  • Unrealistic goals and expectations for weight and body image
  • Trying to stick to a fad diet
  • Stress
  • Hitting a weight plateau

The Dreaded Plateau

For those with lots of weight to lose, "there is a short window of opportunity -- about six months -- before the dreaded plateau occurs," says Cathy Nonas, MS, RD, CDE, co-editor of Managing Obesity: A Clinical Guide.

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