9 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Diet Plan


Find the Perfect Sustainable Eating Plan for You!
  — By Ellen G. Goldman, Health and Wellness Coach
In the many years that I have been working with clients who want to lose weight, first as a personal trainer and now as a weight-loss coach, two questions come up over and over again. The first is, ”Will you give me a specific diet to follow?”

To that, my answer has always been the same: ”No, I will not prescribe a diet plan for you. I am not a registered dietitian. However, I can teach you the principles of eating for optimal health, well-being and weight loss, and can help you create a plan that will work for your body, preferences and lifestyle.”

The second question is usually something like this: ”That sounds so hard. Why don’t you just tell me what diet to go on? Which one is the best?” My answer then is, ”The best diet is the one you will follow and stick to.”

In my mind, whether you are looking to lose weight or not, we are all ”on a diet.” The word ”diet” simply means the foods and drinks you consume on a regular basis. Depending on how you choose to eat, your diet will either support weight loss, contribute to weight gain or maintain your current weight.

I am not a big proponent of ”going on a diet.”  My personal philosophy, which has proven successful for so many of my clients, is that we all need to create our own personal diet plans. Your food plan needs to be one you can live with in the real world for the long haul. It needs to fit your particular tastes, preferences and lifestyle, and it has to agree with your body. Different ways of eating work for different people–and that’s perfectly fine!

The act of ”going on a diet” often has many connotations and beliefs attached. In our society, this ”diet” generally means a plan with a beginning and an end. For some, it is a form of punishment and deprivation. Still others think of it as a road leading up to a big event, such as a wedding or a high school reunion. And for most, it is anticipated as a time that will be difficult, requiring extreme discipline and sacrifice.

The truth is, after all the hard work and restrictions, most diets fail miserably. If a diet is too restrictive (which they often are), people tend to fall off the wagon and never get back on–putting back on every pound they lost (and then some!).

So, should you just toss out all the plans, never go on a diet again and throw your hands up in defeat? Not necessarily. Although my preference is for individuals to learn small, manageable lifestyle changes for slow but steady weight loss, there is a time and place for choosing and following a structured diet plan.

A diet plan based on sound science and research by qualified professionals such as doctors, dietitians, metabolic specialists and/or nutrition educators can be very successful at helping certain people succeed at their weight-loss goals. A sensible plan can help teach the basics of healthy food choices, portion control, menu-planning and more. It can also provide structure, support and motivation for those who feel lost or disorganized. Some diets will even eliminate guesswork and confusion by supplying daily meal plans, recipes and shopping lists.

The key to all weight loss is cutting calories–period! But many people like having “rules” to follow to help keep them on track, which is what makes specific weight-loss plans so appealing. Whether you choose to lose weight by following a low-fat plan, a low-carb plan, or by eating all foods in moderation, the plan you choose is all about your individual preference and how your body responds. The ultimate success is not how much or how fast you take off the weight, but whether or not you are able to maintain the loss.

If you decide that going on a specific diet plan is your next best move to get you closer to your ideal body weight, how will you choose which plan to follow? Here are nine questions to ask yourself when evaluating a plan to determine if it is the right one for you.

1. Is the diet based on scientific, sound and proven nutritional principles? Should you expect weight loss at a reasonable rate of .5 to 2 pounds a week, or is it promising a quick fix? If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

2. Do the foods on this plan sound appealing to you? When looking at the list of permissible foods or meal plans, they should be pleasing and varied enough that you will look forward to your meals and snacks. If there is a big ”yuck” factor, the chance that you’ll stick to the plan are slim to none.

3. Will this plan fit easily into your lifestyle? If you don’t have time in your schedule to shop for exotic ingredients and cook complicated dishes, a plan that requires a lot of food preparation will likely frustrate you. You’d be better off with a plan where the food choices are more basic and quick to prepare, or you might even try a diet service that offers pre-made, portion-controlled foods and drinks.

4. Do you like choices, or do you prefer more structure? Do you want your diet plan to allow room for creativity, or do you like the structure of being told what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day?

5. Will your family eat the same foods, or will you (or your partner) need to prepare separate meals for other family members? If you don’t live alone, it might be best to choose a plan that the entire family can follow–or accept that you might have to prepare separate meals to meet everyone’s needs.

6. Could you stay on this plan for an extended period of time without getting bored or feeling deprived? Make sure there is enough variety and choice. Diet plans that eliminate entire food groups, never allow for an occasional treat or require the same few choices each day will usually fail, even for the most motivated and disciplined dieters.

7. Does the diet include group support through in-person meetings, online forums or call-in counselors? If you are the type of individual who needs and wants support, make sure it is available. Aside from having a place to go to with questions or for encouragement when commitment falters, being part of a group can make dieting a lot more fun.

8. Is this a plan you can follow as long as you like, or is there a specific beginning and end point? If there is an end point, do you have a strategy in place that will allow you to ease into a lifelong plan? Ultimately, you want your diet to be a pathway to a sustainable way of eating that will nourish you properly and keep you at your healthy weight for years to come.

9. When you read over your plan and imagine yourself following it, do you feel optimism and excitement–or dread? Listen to your gut! If the plan doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right for you.

No matter what road you take, I wish you great success in achieving your weight-loss goals. If one road doesn’t get you where you want to go, recalculate and choose another. Consult with your doctor before beginning a new diet plan, and reach out to a registered dietitian or wellness coach if you feel you need more guidance.


Fletcher, Anne MS, RD. 2003. Thin For Life. New York: Houghton Mifflin Books.

Harvard Health Publications. “Choosing the Diet that Will Work for You,” accessed August 2014. http://www.health.harvard.edu.

Kovacs, Jenny. “For Savvy Weight Loss, Know Thyself,” accessed August 2014. http://www.webmd.com.

Tribole, Evelyn, MS, RD. “Warning: Dieting Increases Your Risk of Gaining More Weight,” accessed August 2014. http://www.intuitiveeating.com.

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7 Swaps for a More Productive Morning

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7 Swaps for a More Productive Morning

Small Changes to Get More Out of Your Day
  — By Jen Mueller, Certified Personal Trainer
Mornings are crazy in my house, as I’m sure they are for many of you. Every morning, I try to exercise and do some work before my family gets up. Then, I make breakfast for my four kids and me, maybe throw in some laundry and deal with any emergencies (”I can’t find my pants!”, ”I spilled milk all over my shirt!”) that inevitably come up. My husband leaves for work by 6 a.m., so it’s up to me to get everyone else up and out the door. Many days, it makes me tired just thinking about it.

Luckily, I have a few go-to techniques in my back pocket to save my sanity and help me be more productive in the morning. Here are some of my favorite tried-and-true techniques that might help you save time, simplify your day, and leave you feeling more efficient and less stressed all day long.

Instead of: digging through drawers in the morning
Try: packing your gym bag and choosing tomorrow’s clothes the night before
This is especially helpful if you help more than one person get dressed in the morning, or if you have a hard time deciding what to wearMy kids wear uniforms every day, but I still get out their stack of clean clothes the night before so they can grab them in the morning and start getting ready on their own. Each of these tasks saves a few minutes here and there, but it adds up and makes the start of the day less hectic.

Instead of: sleeping in
Try: vetoing the snooze button
I find that hitting the snooze button throws off my entire morning. Even though it’s really hard sometimes, dragging myself out of bed on time allows me to get everything done that needs to happen. If I have trouble getting up, I’ll ask myself if it’s really worth a few more minutes of rest for the additional stress later. If I’m really tired, the answer might be ”yes”. But most of the time, it’s not worth it, and I’m better off getting up right away.

Instead of: frantically throwing together meals for everyone at once
Try: prepping the night before
I ask my kids the night before what they want to eat for breakfast tomorrow so that I can either prep ahead of time, or get as much ready as possible before I have to get them up in the morning. Need to pack lunches for school or work?  Do it the night before. Thinking ahead saves time and stress the next morning.

Instead of: jumping on your computer or phone first thing
Try: waiting to check your email, Facebook, etc. until after you’re ready for the day
I’ve been guilty of this, and it really does create a distraction that makes your morning less efficient. Instead of focusing on what I need to be doing right now, I’m responding to emails that could easily wait 30 minutes until I’m completely ready to head out the door. I’ve also found that thinking about the Facebook post I just read or the email from school distracts me from spending a few quality minutes with my family before we all head in different directions for the day.

Instead of: trying to do everything yourself
Try: delegating morning responsibilities
Are there things your kids can do to help get breakfast on the table? Can someone else feed the dog or take him for a walk? If you live alone, are there tasks that can wait until later instead of having to do it all right now? You shouldn’t have to take care of everything, especially if there are a number of people at home to help share the workload.

Instead of: trying to find time for a workout after work (and not always being successful)
Try: switching to morning workouts
If you have trouble finding time to fit exercise into your busy schedule, or you’re sluggish in the morning and looking for an energy boost, morning workouts might be the solution.  You can get a quality workout in 30 minutes, which makes it very manageable to squeeze into your morning routine. This also sets the tone for the day, helping you continue down the path of healthy choices all day long. I like knowing that no matter what demands are put on my time for the rest of the day, I’ve taken a short amount of time already to do something good for myself.
Instead of: ”flying by the seat of your pants” each morning
Try: developing a consistent routine
My friends and family like to kid me about the regular (sometimes ”rigid”) schedule I stick to, but it helps me get through the day and get things done. My kids know what happens every morning, in what order, and what they are responsible for doing. Without fail, it gets us to school and work on time every day.

All of these things can cut down on morning stress, but they also free up a little more of your morning to squeeze in a workout, spend some quiet time reading or meditating, or whatever else you need to do to get your morning started the right way.  With a little bit of planning and preparation, you might actually have a few minutes to yourself to take a deep breath before the day begins.

How to Separate Healthy Fact from Fiction

Discover Your Path to Health Without Confusion
  — By Ellen G. Goldman
”Show me the research!” Of all the advice and information I absorbed as an undergraduate studying health and physical education, this one phrase from a literature review professor is one that has stuck with me throughout my career. It taught me to question everything that I read and never take any information as gospel. When I read headlines regarding the latest trends in nutrition and exercise today, I ask, ”Who did the research? What could they stand to gain by proving their hypothesis? Are we looking at a small, randomized group over a brief period of time, or a large population followed over years?”

Today, it seems more important than ever to learn to ask the right questions when it comes to health and fitness. Inundated with so much conflicting information from news articles, nightly news reports and Twitter, it’s no wonder people find themselves confused as they search for the answer to healthy living.

Drink coffee. Give up coffee. Increase your omega 3’s by eating more fish. Don’t eat too much fish due to the abundance of mercury. Low-fat is the best way to go for heart health and weight loss. No, wait, it’s actually low-carb. And on and on.

It’s enough to make anyone crazy! Overloaded with such information, some will throw up their hands and say, ”I don’t care. I’m just going to eat whatever I want.” Others will flip from one fad to another, desperately trying the newest miracle food or diet plan, and end up in exactly the same place: frustrated, confused and too often, overweight.

Believe me, I know how you feel. I often think, ”I’m a professional in the field, reading and studying the dietary trends all the time, and I’m confused. How are my clients supposed to know what to do?”

Based on my experience in the field and my desire to dissect the research, my best advice for discovering the path to health is to learn how to decipher the variety of scientific research news by keeping these tips in mind.

Be Skeptical
Always remember that you don’t have to believe everything you read. Just because it is in print doesn’t mean that it is correct. However, do approach new information with curiosity and open-mindedness. Adopt an attitude of ”This is interesting. I am curious to see if this is truly fact or sensationalism.”

It is also important to take a look at who funded the research. Keep in mind that often the company or association that manufactures the food stands to benefit economically from an increase in sales.

If It Sounds Too Good to be True, It Usually Is
This is especially true when it comes to weight loss. Advertisers play on the emotional vulnerability and desperation of the dieter. The multi-billion dollar weight-loss industry is selling to the ”quick-fix” mentality. However, as sound scientific evidence has shown time and time again, sustained weight loss takes time and effort. No combination of specific foods or elimination of entire food groups is going to lead to permanent weight loss and good health.

Small, short-term, randomized studies, rather than large population studies done over time are often the basis of reported results. When you read testimonials of highly successful weight losers who followed a specific plan or took a specific pill, drink or potion, there is little or no mention of the other lifestyle changes that went along with it. Most participants also increased exercise and adjusted other eating habits aside from the recommended ones that the study was focusing on. Those in the controlled study group often work with counselors and accountability partners. I would be interested to see where these individuals are a year past the study or five years down the line.

Exercise Caution When Considering Fad Diets
For years, different fad diets have taken their turn battling it out in the weight-loss arena. In the 70’s and 80’s, fat was the enemy. Then, in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, it was impossible not to look at the mass of information from the doctors who now blamed high-carbohydrate diets for America’s skyrocketing obesity rates.

However, the research looking at low-carb diets vs. low-fat diets has found that the differences in weight-loss effectiveness are minimal between the two. The bottom line is that when comparing not only initial weight loss, but sustained weight loss over time, one thing remains constant—when people follow a specific weight-loss plan (which usually results in a dramatic reduction in the calories they were eating beforehand), no matter what the percentage of food groups that make up that plan, they lose weight.

Similar principles can be applied to today’s fad diets—notably paleo, primal, slow-carb and gluten-free (for non-celiacs). These diets often promise not only weight loss, but near-superhuman health benefits. However, keep in mind that most of the phenomenal, almost unbelievable results that are reported by individuals who go on these diets are based on small, randomized studies done by the exact individuals that want you to buy their diet books, programs or products. And, of course, when you cut out major food groups as advocated by these diets, you’re bound to lose weight—but a fad diet is probably not the most sustainable route to take for life-long health and satisfaction.

What Can I Believe?
With all of this conflicting information and all these camps vying for your attention, how in the world do you know who to believe, what to believe and what to eat just to stay healthy or lose weight?

It’s time to become your own detective. It’s time to start really paying attention to your body and how it reacts to the things you are putting into it on a daily basis. Tune in to your intuition and your gut.

To begin, for the next few weeks, carry a small memo pad with you and keep a food diary. Log the foods you eat and how you feel shortly after. Monitor your weight on a regular basis, stepping on the scale no more than once or twice a week.

Then, identify your goals. Do you want to lose weight? If so, the scale is going to tell you if the way you are eating is supporting or sabotaging that effort. Are you feeling sluggish and lacking in energy? Begin to experiment with changing when you eat, what you eat and how much you eat. If you notice a breakfast of oatmeal, berries and nuts powers you through the morning, but a bagel and cream cheese has you tired and hungry by 10:30 AM, you don’t need to be a nutritionist to figure out which breakfast is a better option for you. If every time you have pasta for dinner you feel bloated, uncomfortable and gassy, perhaps you should consider cutting back on gluten, and see how that makes you feel.

You can listen to your body and learn what you should and shouldn’t be eating to lose weight and feel great. Rather than ”going on a diet’’ or jumping from research study to research study, create a personal healthy-eating plan that is as unique as your lifestyle. If you don’t think you can figure it out on your own, one or two consultations with a registered dietitian could be a wise investment.

My Diet Plan
After thirty years of working in the nutrition and health trenches, here are my guidelines and advice based on my own diet plan.

  • Eat often and eat light. Never go more than four hours without food. This will keep your blood sugar on an even keel.
  • Aim for every meal and every snack to be a combination of protein, healthy fat and complex carbohydrates.
  • Load up on as many fruits and vegetables as you can–all day, every day.
  • As much as possible, steer clear of processed foods and those with added sugar.
  • When you purchase packaged foods, choose those with a smaller ingredient list. If you can’t pronounce the ingredient, there is a good chance you don’t want it in your body.
  • In general, when choosing packaged foods such as breakfast cereals, breads and snack bars, the higher the fiber and the lower the sugar, the better.
  • Unless you have a specific allergy or medical condition, no food is ever completely off limits. Occasional treats can help you avoid feelings of deprivation that often lead to bingeing.
  • Savor the experience of eating. Eat foods that make you feel good, both physically and emotionally, and steer clear of those that don’t!

Behind the Headlines, Nutrition Action Newsletter: January/February 2015.

Dairy: 6 Reasons You Should Avoid it at All Costs, from Dr. Mark Hyman.  http://drhyman.com/blog/2010/06/24/dairy-6-reasons-you-should-avoid-it-at-all-costs-2/

Cordian, Loren. 2002.The Paleo Diet.  New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

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