Healthy choices

You know those suggestive little voices that whisper in your ear...and suddenly you're knee-deep in ice cream? Change the sabotaging, discipline-destroying thoughts, and you can change your life—or at least your weight.

Old loop: I ordered the grilled cheese, so why not get the fries, too?

Switch to... One treat at a time. I'm indulging in grilled cheese, so I'll trade the fries for a salad.

Here's How: "The thought pattern is, I've already blown it for today, so I might as well keep going," says Janet Polivy, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto. She calls it the "what the hell" effect and says it causes people to devour so much food that they feel they'll never get back on track. To prevent this scenario from playing over and over, Polivy says, you have to redefine your idea of healthy eating. Allow yourself the occasional treat, as long as it's accompanied by smarter food choices like fresh fruit and vegetables. At roughly 500 calories, one melted cheddar on rye a week should hardly make you fat. Habitually tacking on a large order of fries, however, might.
Hand in the cookie jar

Old loop: I'll just have this one cookie.

Switch to... If I can't stop at one or two cookies, I shouldn't have any at all.

Here's How: We stand by the above tip that it's okay to eat your favorite foods, provided you're the type who can stop after a small amount. "One cookie could turn into 1,000 calories or more if you proceed to eat the whole bag," warns Stephen Gullo, PhD, president of the Institute for Health and Weight Sciences. He suggests that you take a step back and honestly assess how you've reacted to your favorite foods in the past. You may discover that chocolate chip cookies trigger uncontrollable cravings but one square of dark chocolate appeases your sweet tooth quite nicely.

Old loop: My husband says I look fat, so I guess I should start exercising.

Switch to... I want to get in shape for myself, not for him.

Here's How: Whether or not you need to shed a few pounds, acting in response to someone else's hurtful remarks will breed self-doubt and lower your self-esteem, says Marlene Schwartz, PhD, codirector of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders in New Haven, Connecticut. To reset your weight loss goals so they revolve solely around you, sit down and figure out how you could benefit from changing your lifestyle. (Writing your thoughts out on paper might help.) If you identify areas that need improvement, talk to your spouse about how he can play a part: Plan low-fat weekly menus together in lieu of eating out, or take walks after dinner instead of watching TV. Alternatively, if you're exercising, eating right, and feeling pretty healthy the way you are, Schwartz says, "tell him that this is his problem, not yours."
Gingerbread man and holiday cookies

Old loop: What's the point of losing weight during the winter? I'll get in shape come summer.

Switch to... By eating more now, I'm creating a lot of extra work for myself when spring rolls around.

Here's How: A study by scientists at the National Institutes of Health tracked 195 people through the holidays and found an average weight gain of about a pound.

By the following year, most had gained another half pound, and the researchers predicted that the trend would only continue. To prevent this outward creep, Gullo says, keep thoughts of summer in your house all year long by hanging a bikini or skimpy sundress on the back of the bathroom door, and visualize yourself wearing it every time you head for the leftovers. He also proposes committing to a regular exercise program in the fall, "before the winter blahs set in," because lugging last night's comfort food through an hour-long spinning class isn't so comfortable.

Old loop: Fat runs in my family, so why bother exercising?

Switch to... I can't change my DNA, but I can change my fate.

Here's How: "Genetics helps determine your natural weight range, but you have some control over where you fall within that range," says Edward Abramson, PhD, an expert on obesity, dieting, and weight disorders and the author of Body Intelligence. Rather than aiming for a size 2, aim for health: If being overweight is a family trait, diabetes, heart disease, and other obesity-related illnesses could be, too, Schwartz says. Walk to the grocery store, choose the stairs over the escalator, and take good care of the body you were born with. "It's important to distinguish between body size and body health," she says. "Research shows that people who are overweight and physically fit can live longer than people who are ideal weight and not physically fit."
Woman eating burger

Old loop: After that grueling workout, I deserve a bacon double cheeseburger.

Switch to... After busting my butt at the gym, my body deserves the VIP treatment.

Here's How: "Most people overestimate the number of calories they've burned," says Brian Wansink, PhD, a professor of marketing, applied economics, and nutritional science at Cornell University and author of Marketing Nutrition. To burn off a bacon double cheeseburger, the average 140-pound woman has to jog at a rate of five miles per hour for more than 60 minutes. Recast your concept of reward: Instead of seeking food, take a luxurious bubble bath, rent a guilty-pleasure movie, buy a new pair of shoes, or lose yourself in a good novel.
Chocolate bar

Old loop: I'll grab a candy bar to get me through my mid afternoon slump.

Switch to... When my energy flags, I need food that will help me go the distance.

Here's How: Candy and other sweets have little nutritional value, and they destabilize blood sugar, causing you to have more cravings later on, Gullo says. To head off a snack attack, he suggests, "reprogram yourself to seek out a mini-meal 30 minutes before you usually hit a slump." By eating before you're famished, you should be able to resist the sweet stuff and choose foods with enough protein, fat, and complex carbs to keep you sated and energized until dinner. Some of Gullo's top picks: bran crackers with low-fat cheese, a hard-boiled egg, or a cup of low-fat yogurt.

Next: Test your diet IQ