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7 strategies of successful dieting

Feel like your weight-loss efforts are getting you nowhere? Here are seven sure-fire ways to make that scale inch downward every week.

1. Keep Track of What You Eat
Pay attention to what you eat during the course of the day. How much you consume without even thinking about it just might surprise you — a cookie here, an extra helping of leftovers there, all tend to add up. Writing down each item will help you think twice about whether it's worth it.

2. Weigh Yourself Weekly
Does it seem like it's taking forever to lose weight? Maybe you're jumping on the scale too often. Weigh yourself at the same time every week, not every day. "Reaching a plateau — where the weight won't budge — can be frustrating," says dietitian Anne-Marie Mackintosh. "But losing 1 to 2 pounds a week is okay. Anything greater comes from water loss or muscle wasting, rather than actual fat loss."

3. Find a Buddy
Dieting along with a friend can strengthen your resolve. A supportive buddy keeps you from overeating and helps you stay motivated. Call or e-mail your buddy when you feel yourself slipping or need a nudge to get to the gym. "Having support — be it talking with a friend, enlisting your family or having regular appointments with a weight-loss group — really does help," says Mackintosh.

4. Do Exercise You Enjoy
"Exercise is the key to maintaining a goal weight," says Mackintosh. By exercising 30 minutes every day, you raise your metabolism by replacing body fat stores with muscle, which burns calories. Most important: choose an activity you enjoy. Studies show that 90 percent of the people who keep weight off use exercise as one of their key strategies.

5. Forget Fads
Beware of "new" or "revolutionary" diets. Avoid fads that claim you don't need exercise, that promote eating unlimited amounts of certain foods (e.g., eggs, bananas), that ban food groups like carbohydrates, or that encourage missing meals or taking pills. They all treat dieting like a short-term scheme, when in fact losing weight and keeping it off involves changing your lifestyle. "There is no magic wand, pill or gimmick," warns Mackintosh. "But a healthy food plan that doesn't leave you hungry and allows the occasional treat is easier to make a long-term commitment to."

6. Watch Out for Weekends
It's practically impossible to resist splurging at Saturday night parties. We appease our nagging conscience by promising to get back on track next week, but a weekend feast, if not planned for, can ruin all your hard work, putting you back at square one come Monday. The secret is to stop thinking of the weekend as a reprieve, a get-out-of-jail card. An ongoing commitment to eating well means watching what you consume even at a Sunday picnic. Plan for occasional splurges by eating a bit less earlier in the week. You'll be grateful when your hard work shows up on the scale.

7. Treat Yourself
It's important to have treats each week — a piece of chocolate, a glass of wine. A reward now and then keeps us from caving in, keeps our willpower strong. And if you've been successful, why not pamper yourself with an occasional non-food indulgence? Put money aside for every pound you lose, then buy a new outfit, or that bikini you never thought you'd fit into. Slip into slinky new lingerie, have a relaxing facial, buy a nice bouquet of flowers. You deserve it!