The Best Day to Start a Diet? You Might Be Surprised

Article posted in: Lifestyle

In song, Mondays have been “blue” and “manic.” They left the Mamas and the Papas “crying all of the time,” the Boomtown Rats complaining, “I don’t like Mondays” and The Carpenters moaning that “rainy days and Mondays always get me down.”

But Mondays are a good day—a great day—to start a diet, according to research from the University of Pennsylvania and Washington University in St. Louis and another study from Cornell.

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There’s really nothing magic (or manic) about most Mondays. In fact, the researchers found, the reason why people were more likely to kick off a diet on Monday is that it’s a “temporal landmark,” a point in time viewed as a “fresh start.” In this case, it’s because Monday is the beginning of the week.

Other fresh starts can be both personal (like a birthday) or universal, like January 1 or another holiday. In the study, when 165 participants were given an offer of a free reminder to kickstart efforts to achieve a personal goal, like weight loss, they chose the first day of spring over another day in March, but only when they were told it was the first day of the new season. In fact, they were 3.5 times more likely to choose the date than any other once they knew it was a “beginning.”

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The researchers also analyzed Google searches for the word “diet” and discovered that the searches peaked at the beginning of the week, the beginning of the month, and the day after a national holiday (when, presumably, there was some overeating). Monday got another boost from research by Dr. Brian Wansink and his colleagues at the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell. In their study, 46 percent of people said the last time they attempted to go on a diet was on a Monday. But there’s a dark side to the Monday start. For 31 percent of them, the diet was down the tubes by Tuesday night.

The lesson from Wansink’s research? When you start isn’t as important as what you do to stick to it. Here are four tips from successful and long-term losers:

1. Get with a program.

Going it alone may not work as well as doing it with help. A study of more than 5,000 overweight people with type 2 diabetes, published in 2013 in The American Journal of Medicine, found that one key to successful weight loss, particularly if you have a lot to lose, is to take advantage of support and coaching. Those who did lost more weight and improved their cardiovascular factors significantly more than those who didn’t. Further evidence for getting help: Studies using the successful losers of the National Weight Control Registry—people who’ve lost 30 pounds or more and have kept it off for at least a year—found that 55 percent lost weight on a program, rather than on their own.

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2. Find motivated pals.

A 2015 University of Buffalo study found that having friends who are or were successful with a diet or exercise plan motivates you to try it, too—and stick with it.

3. Learn from what the losers do.

Most of the successful losers in the National Weight Control Registry always eat breakfast, monitor their weight once a week, stick to their exercise program and watch fewer than 10 hours of TV a week.

Research that looked at 35 studies on successful psychological and behavioral aspects of weight loss identified several traits worth adopting, including:

  • Focusing on the positive aspects of improving your health and overcoming personal challenges
  • Feeling confident that you can be successful
  • Practicing goal-setting and planning
  • Being flexible about your diet choices (and consequently being able to bounce back from the occasional slip-up)

4. Think long-term.

Set up a 12-month plan post-weight loss. A study from Denmark, published this year in the European Journal of Endocrinology, found that sticking with a diet and keeping the weight off for a year increases your chances of staying slim forever. Putting as much effort into maintenance as you do into losing pays off by cementing your new healthier habits and by promoting chemical changes in your body that keep it from “fighting” the weight loss. The University of Copenhagen researchers found that after a year of maintaining a new weight, your body produces more of two appetite suppressing hormones. In other words, your body accepts that it has a new “set-point,” that you aren’t starving yourself to death, and that there’s no need to encourage you with appetite hormones to “eat!”

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