How to cheat on your diet— and still lose weight

Happy New Year! With the craziness of the holidays behind us, it’s time to focus on what lies ahead. And if you’re one of the many who has taken on a diet-related resolution, you’re probably hoping to get rid of those extra pounds from the end of the year (or the past few years…).

This year, make that goal stick with some pre-planning, simple tweaks and a new way of thinking. Use these expert tips to stay focused and healthy.

1. Track it.
A weight-tracking app can help you stay on course and prevent impulsive eating.

“You’re going to be more conscious that if you eat it, you have to track it,” said Angela Lemond, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

2. Grab a snack.
If you’re famished at the end of the day, it’s much harder to choose better-for-you options.

“You have more signals to eat higher fat and higher sugar foods if you’re [very] hungry,” Lemond said.

Keep your blood sugar levels stable with a snack that has a good mix of fiber and protein, like an apple with almond butter.

3. Sip wisely.
The holiday parties may be over, but don’t forget: Drinking lowers your inhibitions and self-control, making it easy to overindulge. Plus, sweet drinks can cause you to overeat and the calories from alcohol alone can add up quickly.  The next time you have a night out, choose clear liquors instead of mixed drinks, dry red wine instead of sweet varieties and cut yourself off after two drinks.

4. Distract yourself.
Two recent studies in the journal Obesity Week found that people who used distraction like tapping their fingers on their ears or thinking about the negative long-term consequences of eating a food had fewer cravings.

5. Don’t skip meals.
If you starve yourself all day because you know you’re going to eat a lot later, you’ll actually end up eating even more. So have breakfast and lunch at your normal times so that when dinner rolls around, “you can have a little bit of everything but you’ll still be in control of your hunger and satiety cues,” Lemond said.

6. Use substitutions.
Trying to eat a healthier diet doesn’t mean boring foods. Swap pureed cauliflower for mashed potatoes, spaghetti squash or spiral sliced zucchini for pasta, a bean or lentil dish instead of carb-heavy sides, and salsa instead of creamy dips. For baked goods, use avocado instead of butter, pureed bananas instead of oil and a sugar substitute.

7. Indulge, but not every time.
You may have treated yourself all the way through the holidays, but now it’s time to go back to being mindful about what you’re eating and how often you’re indulging.

8. Enjoy your sweets at home.
“Make your kitchen a haven for healthy treats,” said Pearl Barrett, co-author of the New York Times bestseller, “Trim Healthy Mama.” Find recipes that are healthy and delicious and make them at home. So when it comes time for a special occasion, “you won’t feel like you’ve been in some prison camp of un-flavorful diet food and now you want to splurge,” she said.

9. Make your dish colorful.
Fill at least half your plate with plenty of non-starchy vegetables. Without added butter, cheese or sauces, veggies are just 25 calories per serving but they pack a nutritional punch.

“Your body is going to feel satisfied with less calories,” Lemond said.

10. Have just a bite.
If you really want that special dessert, but don’t want to blow your entire day’s worth of calories, take a bite and savor it. After a few bites, chances are you’ll feel like you had enough.

11. Nix the all or nothing mentality.
“I see more people self-sabotage when they’re anxious,” Lemond said.  So instead of worrying so much about what you eat or telling yourself you can’t, enjoy your meal, pay attention to portion sizes and focus on your family and friends instead.

12. Let yourself off the hook.
Just because you had too many cookies one day, don’t beat yourself up. Simply make healthy choices from this point forward.

“[It] doesn’t have to be a mess up,” Barrett said.