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TIPPING THE SCALE: Stop Waiting For the Perfect Time to Start Dieting

After Thanksgiving and Christmas, I always find myself needing to start over and get my eating back in check.
The new year appears to offer that chance, with no major holidays in sight for at least a few months.

But then the Super Bowl rolls around, and I permit myself to eat a little extra. And then a few weeks later it's Valentine's Day. One box of chocolates won't hurt, right? Pretty soon it's Spring Break and midterms, then Easter, and then finals. In between these seemingly big events are, of course, parties, with alcohol, punch, chips and cookies, celebrating everything from getting an internship to just being glad it's the weekend.

The truth is, there's never a good time to start "dieting." There is always a reason to cheat, to eat a dessert you aren't hungry for or munch on french fries instead of apple slices. Maybe it's to reward yourself for a job well done on a chemistry exam or to get you through five hours of homework without falling asleep.

It's taken me years to realize that I have to change my whole approach to food if I truly want to succeed. I have to take each day one at a time, and not give in if I have a bad day or a bad week, or if I gain a pound despite working hard to lose.

But how do you pick yourself up and brush yourself off after a bad day? It's easy to just give in to the "I'll start again on Monday" mentality. The key is being prepared.

Like many other Americans, I eat what is most convenient. I want what I want and I want it now. If I can't have it within five minutes, I don't have time for it and don't want it. If picking up a McDonald's cheeseburger is faster, that's what I'll do.

To stop myself from eating what is usually a less healthy alternative, I've stocked my fridge with items that are easy to grab and usually don't require cooking. I buy veggie trays to save myself from the hassle of chopping and cleaning vegetables. I buy pre-sliced apples and light frozen dinners that are easy to zap in the microwave.

The biggest help, however, is cooking on Sundays. If you can take the time out to bake a chicken pot pie or make a big pot of chili, you can avoid going out in the middle of the week. With easy, tasty dinners on hand, you're less likely to give in to the pizza or Chinese take-out your roommates order.

Another good way to be prepared is to get rid of foods that are temptations for you and find suitable alternatives. If you can't control yourself around potato chips, guacamole, cookies or ice cream, throw them away. If you like crunchy foods, seek celery and light ranch dip or baked tortilla chips and salsa. If you crave something sweet, eat an apple or a small handful of chocolate chips.

There's no easy way to lose weight, and there's no easy way to keep from cheating. Don't deprive yourself of the occasional treat, but if you know you can't control yourself around a certain food, don't keep it in your pantry. Keep foods on hand to help keep your urges in check, and you're much more likely to have success.

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