10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting a Diet

By Jim F

A wise man once said that if you want to build something, you need to first sit down and estimate the cost. That principle can be applied to building a better body or better health.

It’s amazing how many people embark on a healthy eating regime without sparing a single thought as to the practicality aspects. While I am not a huge fan of the concept of “trying a diet” – every time you plan to make changes to your lifestyle (such as nutrition and exercise) – you need to count the cost.

  1. Are you prepared to eat differently than your friends at a social situation?
    Eating often accompanies many social gatherings. How do your friends eat? Do they consume foods that you know will not be compatible with your lifestyle? How will you address this?
  2. Will you acknowledge the truth about yourself objectively?
    Many people reach their ideal weight, and then let old habits creep back in. However there are a few warning systems in place – one is the waistband in your pants. Will you choose to conveniently ignore it if it gets tighter? Or will you be objective?
  3. How do you eat?
    Is it at your desk at work? Maybe in the car or on the bus? What do you eat during these times? How will it be compatible with your new food choices?
  4. What sort of lifestyle do your friends and family lead?
    If your whole world is filled with people who are couch potatoes – how do you plan to work against this culture? Will they influence you to be more active or more sedentary.
  5. Are you being totally honest with yourself?
    You read about a new diet in a magazine, and it requires eating a lot more vegetables. On the surface you are busting to lose “10 pounds in 2 weeks”, but deep down you know you cannot stand vegetables. Which part of you will win out in the end? Probably the voice that says you hate vegetables. This must be addressed. Why do you hate vegies? Are you prepared to cook more, or learn different ways of cooking vegies? Is it the taste? The texture? The time taken to prepare them?
  6. Are you prepared to accept the things you cannot change?
    You cannot change the way other people act and the way they speak – “oh, so you’re on another health kick again are you?”… But you can choose how you will respond inwardly and outwardly – ahead of time.
  7. Are you prepared to changed your home environment?
    So you decided to eat mindfully and leisurely. The trouble is, your home environment is utterly chaotic, noisy, and messy – with barely a place to sit down – let alone have a large pleasant space to indulge in your new gourmet meals. What will you do to change this?
  8. How do the local restaurants fit in?
    Do you eat at restaurants a lot? Which restaurants do you go to? Will they fit with your new style of eating? Are you prepared to leave food on your plate if their portions are too big?
  9. Will your current habits fit?
    Most nights are spent watching re-runs of “Friends” while chowing down on a super-sized packet of cheetos. However you are embarking on a diet that completely rules out junk food. What will you do? Change your habits? Find a different comfort food? Divide up your packets of cheetos? Think about it.
  10. Is my kitchen okay?
    Seems like an odd question – but take a look around your kitchen. You’ve decided to try the Sonoma Diet and you need to actually cook and prepare food. Trouble is, all you have are 3 forks and a corkscrew… Or maybe you’re going to start making a smoothie every day. Now where do you fit a blender? After all, will you actually use it if it’s stored in a cupboard 10 feet up? Or maybe you plan to portion up your meals. Do you actually have enough fridge/freezer space? Enough containers? Enough time?

If you want to make a lifestyle change rather than “just another diet”, then you need to think about your life objectively and realistically. When starting any new diet it’s a good idea to discuss and medical questions or concerns with your doctor.


  1. Healthy Weight Loss Girl

    It does take quite a bit of self control to maintain a diet, especially a diet that is very different from what you are used to. It takes strength and willingness to change.

  2. Lori Austin

    Great advise! Does it apply to children as well? If so how do you help them with this without pointing out the obvious?

  3. nalani

    The best thing that helped me was to keep a food journal. It was hard at first because I had to also list the portion of each food that I ate. You cheat yourself if you don’t measure portions at first to see what a tablespoon and 1/2 cup really is. After awhile you start to know the actual size at a glance. When you have to honestly write down what you eat you will see how much or what you are eating. If you did this before you decided to do any life plan change of eating you can look back and see what and how much you really eat and gauge from there.

  4. Jan

    Nan, a solution for a restaurant that won’t split your order with another customer is to just ask that half your food be served, half packed to go, before it even reaches your table. That they’ll always do, since each person is buying a full order.

  5. Nan

    Ask at restaurants if they will split an order. I-HOP will split anything and serve it split. Perkins will give you an additional plate. My husband and I do this and we end up satisfied, not stuffed, and are happy with the restaurant.

  6. Danna

    I must say I am a stress eater and a crybaby. I have a heart of gold and I am always trying to solve everybody’s problems from being mistreated to not being able to feed their kids. I gave and gave and had nothing left for myself. I recently realized that I have to take care of home before I can take care of anybody else. I realized that the outside world we live today do not care about anybody but themselves. I have learned to change my eating habits and not stress about somebody’s else’s problems because who is going to be there for me while I’m stressing over something that I know that are going to change anyway.

  7. Jeff

    I have been a vegetarian for the last 40 years and it was the best choice I ever made for my health. You are what you eat.

  8. RedPanda

    Re Spectra’s comments on Nutrisystem – $70 a week for processed food is a waste of money. You could buy a lot of salmon for that!

    But seriously, what do people on Nutrisystem actually learn? It’s like the adage, “Give a man a fish…”

  9. Spectra

    There’s another thing to add: can you realistically afford to eat this way the rest of your life? I saw a TV ad for Nutrisystem this morning and it said “Only $10 a day!” Hello, that’s like, $70 a week for just Nutrisystem food. I think you also have to supplement your own snacks. I don’t think I could afford to buy all that crap for the rest of my life (not to mention how overly processed it is).

  10. Kelly

    Everybody should ask themselves these questions. Great Post!

  11. RedPanda

    In addition to Laura’s No. 11, I would add a No. 12 – Can you stick to this diet for the rest of your life? I used to be very active on a weight loss support board and it never ceased to amaze me how many people would reach their goal weight then disappear – only to return several months later having regained a lot of weight, or everything they’d lost plus some more pounds to boot. And this was despite reading the experiences of many others who’d done exactly the same thing.

    Much of the diet industry is based on that same “quick fix” mentality. It’s a trap.

  12. Laura

    I would add a #11: Figure out WHY you are eating. If you’re fat just because you lacked the knowledge of what/how to eat, or if you just grab something because it’s quick and easy, that is something that can be changed with a “diet”. But if you are a binge/emotional eater, like I am – one who, in the worst situations, will hide or hoard food, then there is another situation at play, and NO “diet” in the world is going to work. I guess this falls into the “know thyself” category, but it’s one that needs to be confronted and addressed if you are going to be successful.

  13. Jan

    A small kitchen makes things harder, but not impossible. I currently live in a 4-bedroom house built by a kitchen-hater, cause the kitchen is smaller than it was in the studio I lived in when I was in college (I know, makes no sense – 4 bedrooms, and such a tiny kitchen). I learned to get around it by bringing part of the food on days when I prepare a lot of it (for freezing, usually) into the dining room. As for gadgets, I had to store about half of mine in the garage cause I can’t fit it, and I’ve learned to live without them (I never thought I’d say that! I still love them!). 2/3 of my cookware is packed away too.

    In the first month, it drove me crazy. I essentially ate salads, sandwiches, and soup, cause I couldn’t figure out how I was gonna make more than 1 dish at once in such a tiny space. Then I improvised a “counter” (a piece of wood covered in stick-on-plastic on top of the legs of an old computer desk – my husband is handy, luckily) and now I can prepare food.

  14. Spectra

    Excellent list. Caramelle-Oh…I know what you mean! I’d kill to have an awesome kitchen with a million gadgets and super great cookware. Not to mention the budget to be able to afford wild salmon, free range chickens, organic produce, etc. every night.

    You do indeed have to plan for some of the diets out there. I mean, realistically, if you are on a diet consisting of prepackaged milkshakes, are you going to be able to eat out with your friends? And are you going to want to buy milkshakes the rest of your life? Probably not; you’ll get tired of it and go back to eating like you did before and gain the weight back.

  15. noelle

    bravo! so many people want to change – and can’t mentally do it. really taking the time to sort through EVERY aspect of your diet makes a huge difference.

  16. iportion

    I have to write things down and have a flexable plan.
    It’s so much better now that I have an idea of things to do when I go to parties.

  17. Caramelle-oh

    Interesting list. Number 10 is probably my favourite. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had kitchens like the ones on cooking shows, a ton of room, everything within arms reach, and all the ingredients pre-measured in little bowls on the bench in front of you.

    I also think numbers 2 and 5 are pretty big issues for a lot of people, but all of these points are important, and just one being a problem is usually enough for a person to ‘fail’ at a diet. Perhaps you have a diet book in the making with this list.

  18. jj

    The only other thing I would add is to look at what has worked and hasn’t worked for you in the past. Know thyself and make wise decisions with that knowledge in mind.

  19. Andrea

    An interesting post, especially the first point about eating in social situations. Restrictive diet regimes usually make the dieter feel like a dinner-party pariah, I think! And from my own experience, excluded from what life is really all about. I’m in the process of ditching the diet for good but I’ll be keeping an eye on this blog – it looks useful.

  20. PastaQueen

    Great post! There is so much to do with dieting that has nothing to with what you’re eating.

  21. iFitandHealthy

    Great checklist. Planning is everything…I have noticed a real difference between just thinking about the goals vs. writing them down. I don’t know what it is, but when it is on paper, I seem to see things a little different.

  22. kisabel

    Great advice here. I know it was quite a revelation to me that I actually needed to plan my meals & snacks – and make sure they fit into my calorie goals for the day. It seems so simple – but it’s NOT a “no-brainer”.

    90% of a successful diet is planning. Even though I’m not on any particular diet plan, I do track calories and servings of fruit & veggies. Planning ahead keeps me on track.

  23. Jan

    Excellent post, Jim. Everyone should use this check list.