Picking a healthy, practical diet can be a tough job, especially considering all the choices out there. But there's more to selecting a diet plan than weighing the options. Diets have their unique personalities and characteristics, and so do you.
The trick is finding one that, like your best friend or mate, feels comfortable. You've already read about how to evaluate diets for safety, effectiveness, and nutritional content. Now you need to get personal.
Even if the diet is safe, effective, and nutritious, is it really right for you? Only you can accurately answer that question. Your answers to the questions below will lead you to a diet you can stick with.
Take the following self-quiz to determine the type of diet that's right for you.
Do you live by the clock? Can't function without your Day Runner?
If you answered yes, then you're better off with a diet that offers structure and a lot of direction, including preplanned menus and specific suggestions for substitutions. Some diets leave a lot of the decision-making up to the dieter, but if structure and planning are your life, those won't be right for you. Opt for a diet that sets it all out for you and leaves little to chance.
Are you a spur-of-the-moment kind of person? Hate to plan ahead?
If this describes you, then look for a diet plan that gives you some room to maneuver. If meals have to be planned in advance according to strict guidelines, then your go-with-the-flow lifestyle may doom you to failure before you even begin. Just because you want to lose weight doesn't mean you're going to alter your personality in the process.
Is the main ingredient in the diet one that you hate?
If the diet calls for cabbage at every meal and the smell of cooking cabbage makes you nauseated, then you're barking up the wrong diet tree. Be realistic. Just because it worked for your nearest and dearest friend (who loves cabbage) doesn't mean it's the right diet for you.
Do you prefer a lot of food flexibility or would you rather have your meals predetermined?
If you want to be led, step by step, through a diet plan, complete with sample menus, recipes, and lists of substitutions, you better make sure that the diet you're considering does just that. Some provide great visuals, grocery lists, and recipes. Others give broad, sweeping guidelines and leave the details up to you.
Do you even know how to operate the oven?
If you eat out most nights of the week and the diet calls for preparation of elaborate recipes for dinner each night, forget it. You'll be much better off if you find a diet that explains how to eat out while still sticking with the diet.
How's your budget?
If your budget is limited and the menus call for special ingredients from gourmet shops or organic ingredients from pricey health-food supermarkets, you won't be able to stick with it for long, at least not without cutting back on other expenses. The same holds true for diet programs that charge initiation fees and require you to buy prepackaged foods.
Do you have any existing health problems?
If you have any medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, a neurological disorder, or high blood pressure, be sure to check with your health care provider first to make sure the diet you're considering is safe for you.
Even if you've gotten your doctor's OK, make sure the diet meets your special nutritional needs, not only because you're past 50 but to accommodate your medical condition.
Be honest. Is this a diet you believe you can stick with forever?
While success is often mistakenly measured by weight loss, the real key to success is weight maintenance -- keeping the weight off once you've lost it. If the diet is too strict or too monotonous, leaves you drained of energy, or is just too weird for you, you won't stay with it. Give this some serious thought before you get started, so you don't face the all-too-familiar (and unhealthy) ups and downs of yo-yo dieting.
Do you need a strong support system?
If yes, then be sure the diet program offers counseling or the diet plan provides enough motivational and helpful resources to get you through. Or, be sure you put your own support system in place before you start. Your support person can be a close friend, a family member, or an online counselor.
Is the physical activity portion of the program something you can keep up with?
If the diet has led you to believe you're going to have "buns of steel" or "six-pack abs" from your weight-loss and exercise programs, toss the diet in the trash. Your goal should be a healthier, fitter you, not some supreme level of physical fitness.
Do you hate to count calories?
Then don't even try to stick with a diet that has you thumbing through calorie-counting books all day and keeping a running tally on every calorie you put in your mouth. Instead, look for a diet that focuses on balancing foods and food groups, not counting calories.
It never hurts to get familiar with the calorie counts of foods so there are no high-calorie surprises, but there's no need to live by calorie-counting rules if it's just not you. You'll be much better off in the long run.
Do you live alone or with a partner, roommate, kids, or grandkids?
Your family situation can either limit or broaden your dieting possibilities. Kids probably present the biggest obstacle to healthy eating. And their activity level and rapid metabolism allow them to get away with eating junk food along with all the healthy stuff. You should be so lucky. A diet that forbids treats of any kind may not be realistic when you keep them in the house for the kids.
But kids aren't the only problem. Spouses can be, too. A 225-pound man who stays fit will, due to sheer size and muscle mass, be able to eat almost twice a woman's food allowance. Make sure the diet educates you on portion sizes so you won't be influenced by his double portion sizes.
Whatever your living arrangements, make sure you take them into consideration when you choose an eating plan. It may affect everyone else in the household.
When you check out the diet plan, does something just not seem quite right?
Go with your instincts. If you don't feel comfortable and confident about your diet plan in the beginning, you probably never will. It should be "love at first sight." The initial excitement may eventually wear off, but somehow you'll know it's something you can live with forever.
Continue to the final page in this article to learn about special dietary concerns as a senior.
To learn more about senior health, see: