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6 Diet Rules to Break

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. He probably wasn't referring to dieting, but he could have been. If you've tried the same weight-loss tricks month after month without losing pounds, maybe it's time for something completely different. It turns out most time-honored dieting decrees don't benefit everyone. In fact, they might be sabotaging your efforts. Here's how to rewrite the rules and finally drop pounds in a way that works for you.

By Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD

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Old Rule: Eat mindfully. Listen closely to your internal hunger cues. Chew each bite slowly, savoring the flavors, and stop as soon as you feel full.

Break It: Mindful eating works great for people with a lot of time and self-discipline—but it can be frustrating for the rest of us, says Brian Wansink, PhD, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and a member of the Family Circle Health Advisory Board. "People end up feeling bad about themselves because they think they don't have any willpower," he says. Truth is, we're biologically programmed to eat as much high-cal food as we can, and working against that instinct can seem like an uphill battle. In Wansink's research, people tend to eat big portions of calorie-dense food almost automatically, especially when it's served in big bowls or plates.

Revised Plan: Re-engineer your environment so that it's easier for you to eat less, says Wansink. Switch to 10-inch dinner plates, "de-convenience" tempting treats by putting them on a high shelf, and portion out single servings of snacks instead of eating out of big containers. But a little mindless eating is actually good when it comes to fruits and vegetables, which most people don't eat enough of. Serve steamed vegetables, green salads, and cut-up fruit family-style at the table during mealtime (plate everything else at the stove).

Old Rule: Choose a wide variety of foods. You'll get more nutrients and eat healthier that way.

Break It: People who are most successful at weight loss actually eat a smaller variety of foods, according to NWCR findings. That's because these dieters find meals and snacks that are "safe"—that satisfy them without putting on pounds—and then stick to them. Other research shows that having a wide variety of foods on hand (even different flavored yogurts or multicolored candies) causes you to eat as much as 50 percent more.

Revised Plan: Eat a large variety of foods only from certain groups: fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. At the grocery store put a new veggie in your cart along with your usual staples, and buy several kinds of fruit to pack in your lunch each week. Branch out from brown rice to other high-fiber grains, like bulgur or quinoa. And in terms of high-fat, high-calorie stuff—like desserts or salty snacks—limit your options by stocking only one kind (if any) in your house.

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