Establish a Diet Plan

Americans spend over 40 billion on dieting and weight-loss programs/products each year. If you're looking to change your eating style or adopt a new diet, it can be confusing what option best fits your lifestyle. It's helpful to understand each type of eating pattern or diet so that you can choose one that'll help you achieve your goals.


Setting Yourself up for Success

  1. Define your long-term goals. People adopt different diets or eating styles for a variety of reasons. Your ultimate, long-term goal will help you choose which diet plan is the best for you. Some goals may include:
    • Weight Loss
    • Managing high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol
    • Supporting increased fitness levels
    • Becoming more environmentally conscious
    • Improving your general health or wellness
  2. Take note of your past dieting experience. If you've tried other diets or eating patterns, try to remember how they worked for you, what you liked or didn't like about them and whether you felt they were a good fit for your lifestyle.
    • For example, if you tried following a vegetarian diet, but missed eating meat. Or if you tried a low carb diet, but it made you feel foggy and tired throughout the day. If a diet didn't work well in the past, you may want to consider other options.
    • Sticking to a diet plan takes more than willpower. It truly has to be a plan you can stick with long-term.
  3. Set your dieting budget. Each diet or eating plan may come with a cost. You might need to pay for pre-made foods, protein shakes or vitamin and mineral supplements. But there are also many diets that require little to no extra costs.
    • Choose a diet plan that will fit easily within your budget so that you don't have to discontinue your new eating pattern due to high costs.
    • Take advantage of "sign-up offers" or promotional rates when you can. This may help you save a little money on some of the more popular dieting programs.
  4. Design a plan for your lifestyle. Some diet plans require you to prep all your meals and snacks from scratch, some may be completely web and internet-based and others may require in person group or individual meetings. Will these types of activities fit with your current lifestyle? Think about how that may change or need to change for you to be successful on your new dieting plan. If you have to change your lifestyle too drastically, the diet plan may be difficult to stick to long-term.
    • Some diet plans require time spent cooking while others do the meal prep for you. If cooking is something you don't typically enjoy doing, think about a diet plan that involves meal replacements like protein shakes, bars or pre-made meals.
    • Make sure to consider your social life as well. If you love going out to eat or going to the occasional happy hour, you'll want a plan that gives you flexibility to enjoy those activities.
    • Also consider things like food allergies or sensitivities and cultural or religious diet restrictions. Many diets are very general and may not account for things like these.
  5. Include regular exercise. Physical activity is an important part to any healthy lifestyle. Plan on including both cardio and strength training exercises each week. These types of physical activity can help boost your weight loss and help you maintain your goal weight long-term.
    • In addition, exercise may help improve your mood, improve your sleeping habits, manage high blood pressure or diabetes and improve cardiovascular fitness.[1]
    • If you're new to fitness, try speaking with a personal trainer at your local gym or meeting with an exercise specialist. These professionals will be able to guide you to a fitness program that's appropriate for you.
    • See if there are any group classes for beginners at your local gym. This is a great way to get started and get support from people starting out just like you.
  6. Talk to your doctor. Speak to your doctor about your current health, any medical conditions you may have and what medications you're currently taking. They may be able to give you insight on what type of diet or eating pattern is the most appropriate for you and your health. They may also advise you on what diets to avoid.
    • Many doctors also provide an in-house diet and nutrition program for patients. It generally will include direct follow up with your physician along with regular weight monitoring.
    • Doctors can provide you with a referral to a registered dietitian that can educate you and help design your own personalized diet plan.
    • In addition, doctors will be able to guide you through medical weight loss. This is where a physician would prescribe a medication to help suppress your appetite, making it easier for you to follow a diet plan. Not all weight loss medications are appropriate for all people. Check with your doctor for more information.

Choosing Your Diet Plan

  1. Research different diet plans. Spend some quality time online, in the bookstore or talking with friends or family about different types of diets. It's important to be as knowledgeable as possible when you're choosing a new eating pattern. It'll ensure you choose one that's well balanced, safe and enjoyable.
    • Compare several different diets you think may work for you. Take into consideration any costs, flexibility and sustainability of each diet.
    • Find reviews about the diet plan from other people. Someone who has tried the diet will be able to give you honest, real-life reviews that may help you make your decision.
    • Additionally, use reliable, trustworthy resources when doing your research. Look for information provided by hospitals/weight loss clinics, doctors, registered dietitians or other licensed health professionals.
    • Make sure to avoid any "extreme" diets that can be potentially dangerous and unhealthy.
  2. Try out "well-balanced" diet plans. These types of eating patterns focus on all food groups and do not restrict specific foods. Although calorie controlled they include all food groups: protein, dairy, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. This makes them easy and simple to follow, in addition to being safe for most people.
    • Weight watchers is a popular diet that encourages participants to enjoy all foods. It teaches how to monitor portion sizes, choose healthy foods and stay accountable.[2] They also offer online, in-person group and individual support groups.
    • The Mediterranean Diet is typically associated with a "heart-healthy" diet. It includes all food groups, but places a strong emphasis on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. In addition, it promotes the consumption of omega-3 fats found in olive oil, avocado, and cold water fish like salmon or mackerel.[3] You can even have a glass of red wine.
    • DASH diet is a well-balanced diet that was developed to help people manage high blood pressure outside of their medications. Besides a lower sodium content, the DASH diet encourages you to consume lean protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low fat dairy. In addition, processed foods and refined sugars are strongly discouraged.[4]
  3. Try out high protein/low carb diet plans. Some diets focus on high amounts of protein, moderate amounts of fat and low amounts of carbohydrates. Foods like grains, starchy vegetables and fruits are higher in carbohydrates and may be restricted or limited in these types of diet plans. The lower carb levels may make you feel foggy or tired during the initial one to two weeks you follow the plan.[5] This is often called a "carb flu." High protein/low carb diet plans are recommended often by doctors for women with PCOS or anyone with insulin resistance.
    • The Atkins diet is a very popular diet that emphasizes lean protein, healthy fats, dairy, some fruit and non-starchy vegetables while limiting carbohydrates from foods including starchy vegetables and grains. Sugars and other processed foods are also restricted.
    • Zone Diet is another lower carb diet that focuses on lean protein, lower amounts of fats and larger quantities of non-starchy vegetables and fruit. Most of your meals should consist of fruits and vegetables with this diet plan.[6]
    • South Beach Diet is based on a 3 phased approach. The first phase is designed to eliminate cravings and induce fast weight loss with a very restricted diet. The second phase slowly reintroduces more foods - like whole grains, fruits and some vegetables. The third phase is designed to help you maintain your goal weight when reached.[7]
  4. Try vegetarianism or veganism. These eating patterns focus solely on plant-based proteins like beans, nuts or lentils, fruits and vegetables. They restrict the consumption of any animal based foods like meat, poultry, eggs, dairy and honey.
    • Veganism restricts all animal products including dairy, eggs and honey. This is the most restrictive type of eating plan within this group and requires careful planning and research to ensure meets all your required nutrients. This isn't a diet that is particularly easy to follow.
    • There are several different types of vegetarian diet plans. Lacto-ovo include eggs and dairy. This might be easier to start with if you've never tried a meat-free diet.
  5. Try meal replacements. Many diets use protein shakes, protein bars or pre-made foods to help with weight loss. These diets may help you get a jump start on weight loss compared to other diet plans.[8]
    • Jenny Craig, SlimFast, NutriSystem and Medifast are examples of diet plans that use protein shakes, protein bars or pre-made/pre-packaged foods to help induce weight loss.
    • Diets that use meal replacements may be more expensive than a well-balanced or low carb diet since you need to pay additional money for the replacement foods.
    • Meal replacements are also not intended for long-term use. They are generally too low in calories, vitamins and minerals compared to whole, natural foods.

Implementing Your Diet Plan

  1. Write out your plan of action. Each diet plan may require you to change some habits, stop others and possibly begin new habits. Make a list of all the things you're going to change and slowly begin incorporating them each day.
    • Give yourself set, timed goals. Having a deadline to stick to will help motivate you to start and stay on track with your new diet plan.
    • Making small changes over a longer-period of time is easier to do and you're more likely to stick with the program.
    • It may also be helpful to keep a journal. You can track your progress, your challenges and successes as you transition to your new diet plan.
  2. Set up a healthy environment. No matter which diet plan you choose, make sure your home and work environments are set up to support your new eating plan.
    • A good start would be to clean out your refrigerator, freezer and pantry. Make sure any junk food or treats are removed so that you don't have any temptations.
    • Also have other activities or hobbies that you enjoy outside of food. When a craving hits, it is helpful to have a project to distract you and keep you on track.
  3. Purchase necessary foods and products. If your diet plan suggests focusing on certain types of foods (like lean protein or 100% whole grains) or certain products (like protein shakes or bars), take a trip to the grocery store to stock up on those items. If your kitchen is full of healthy options, you'll be less tempted to stray from your new plan.
    • Purchase foods that are healthy swaps for your favorite treats. If you love a sweet treat after dinner, try keeping fruit, quality dark chocolate (80% cocoa and above with no artificial ingredients), or low fat yogurts on hand when a craving strikes.
    • It may also be helpful to purchase portion-controlled plastic containers. It makes brown-bagging lunch easy and convenient.
    • Some diet plans may also suggest measuring portions with a food scale or measuring cups. Food scales are relatively inexpensive and are easy tool to measure exact portions.

Staying Safe and Healthy

  1. Avoid fad diets. Eating plans that claim "lose 10 pounds in 10 days" or "drop 2 pants sizes in 1 week" are generally unsafe and ineffective. They may seem like a great idea, but may have side effects, produce little to no weight loss and are generally not sustainable long-term.
    • Many over-the-counter diet pills fall into the "fad diet" category. These are not regulated for safety by the FDA and may be harmful to you. They also may have some side effects that can cause a variety of side effects including nausea, vomiting, racing heartbeat, loose stools, headache and insomnia.[9]
    • Generally, safe weight loss is anywhere from 1/2 to 2 pounds per week. Be patient as you start your new diet plan.
    • Always make sure your diet plan is endorsed by a health professional, government website or hospital/weight loss clinic. This shows the diet plan is most likely safe and reliable.
  2. Avoid overly restricted diet plans. Diets that suggest avoiding entire food groups or specific groups are generally not healthy. They may cause you to restrict certain vital nutrients like vitamins or minerals.
    • Also avoid diet plans that recommend very low calorie levels. Generally, you want to consume a minimum of 1200 calories daily so you can meet all your nutrient goals.[10]
    • Be aware of diets that suggest you consume large quantities of specific food like grapefruit or green tea.
    • Remember, a healthy diet should include a variety of foods from all food groups.
  3. Avoid excessive supplementation. Some diets may promote the use of a variety of vitamin, mineral or herbal supplements. The FDA does not monitor the safety of supplements and they should be taken with caution.
    • Research all supplements before you purchase them. You can check The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicines website for detailed information and effectiveness for a large variety of supplements.
    • Check with you doctor before starting any type of supplement. Some supplements interact with many common medications, so it's important to check to make sure they'll be safe for you.


  • Always speak to your doctor or a registered dietitian before making any big lifestyle or diet changes.
  • Set yourself up for success by making realistic, tangible goals that you will be able to reach successfully.
  • Remember, safe weight loss is anywhere from 1/2 to 2 pounds per week. Be patient through your journey.
  • Joining a support group or finding friends, family members or co-workers can help encourage you throughout your transition to a new a diet plan.
  • If you plan to follow a vegetarian and a low carb diet, make sure you consume enough protein, vitamins and minerals from other food groups. Source: Low Carb Vegetarian

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Sources and Citations