My mother has gained a little weight and is obsessing about taking it off.  I’ve spent the past hour giving her all the advice I have from my completed diet (over 40 pounds total and over 30 in about 5 months) and several months of maintenance, so here is what I told her:

1.  Water is your best friend.

I try to drink 80 or more ounces of water (or tea) every day.  The more water I drink, the more weight I lose.

2.  Measure everything.

Yes, it’s annoying, but you have to know what you’re actually shoveling into your mouth.  I have a digital kitchen scale that I use every day and I keep a tablespoon atop the package for things that I grab from the pantry like . . .

3.  Nuts!

I eat nuts by the tablespoon.  They are easy and fast and relatively cheap.  I eat one tablespoon at a time, by spooning it out and then putting the package away.  When I leave it on the counter, I am much more likely to grab another one the next time I am in the kitchen if I am hungry or not.

4.  Buy the best quality, freshest food you can afford.

I never buy packaged food — no packaged salad dressings, no prepared meats, nothing.

I buy everything fresh (or quality frozen spinach and broccoli).  I buy ground turkey thighs for burgers and individually form and freeze patties.  Even high-quality whole foods turkey thighs are only $4/pound and I make 6 2.5 oz burgers from it.  (I add in about .5 oz of cheese for with each burger.)  I am an extremely careful shopper and I can easily survive on $30-50/week at whole foods buying things I absolutely love.

I cannot always afford the Parrano, Rochetta, or even chevretine, but by continuing to buy the best I can afford, I am still satisfied and my dishes turn out well.

I make my own vinaigrette every night.  It takes about 60 seconds to make a serving — 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil with a little salt, pepper, and dried herbs, and 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of dijon for flavor and emulsifying.

5.  Eat what you love.

If you’re not enjoying your food, you won’t stick to your plan.  I had to find new meals that I could find crave-worthy.  By taking an extra five minutes, I could turn a dish from simple to sublime by sauteéing some onion and mushroom for a salad, etc.  Then I look forward to what I am eating and each meal is more satisfying.

6.  No alcohol.

Seriously!  I love a great glass of wine (or champagne or mexican martini or . . .), but every time I drink, my liver processes the alcohol instead of the fat.  I cannot drink and lose weight.  Now that I am maintaining, I have no problem drinking a glass of wine (or more), but during a diet, no alcohol.

Also, if you are drinking cocktails, skip the mixes.  I have my favorite mexican food place make my drink with tequlia, cointreau, and fresh lime juice.  That’s it — no excess sugar in some sweet mix.  All the sweetness and carbs come from the cointreau and the lime juice.

7.  Nothing sweet.

During the diet: no sugar, no artificial sweetener.  Nothing.  I had to retrain my taste buds, but it only took a few days to stop craving sweet.  This is from a woman who ate half a bag of oreos while lounging around at Christmas.

8.  Eat healthy (and unhealthy) fats.

Nuts, oils, full fat cheese, and even butter.  Fats keep you feeling fuller, longer, and they help you lose fat.  I just did a google search on “eat fat to lose fat” and found hundreds of thousands of hits.  So, despite the fact it sounds counter-intuitive, you have to eat fat to lose fat.  Plus, it tastes good!

9.  Write down everything you eat.

Keep a journal of what you’ve eaten every day.  Yes, it’s annoying, but if you hit a plateau, your answer is often in your journal.  A new study says a food journal can double your weight loss.

10.  Calories count, but not absolutely.

I counted my calories on my diet, but the quality of the calories was more important than the overall amount.  More proteins and fats were better than lower caloried, higher carbed foods.

11.  No unnecessary food.

If I am eating a bacon cheeseburger for the joy of eating a bacon cheeseburger, I do not also need to eat a roll.  My knife and fork will do just fine.  Since the best part of chips and salsa is the salsa, I scoop some onto a bread plate and eat it with a spoon.  There are so many great things I love to eat partnered with stuff I do not need to eat, so I skip the unnecessary parts and eat what I love.

(Yes, this does occasionally become noticable in public, but on a date, I simply order more carefully so I do not look as obsessive — grilled fish, vegetables, etc.)

12.  Splurge.

From time to time, enjoy yourself.  Eat the crackers.  Have a cookie.  Share a lemon tart with your sweetheart.  But, exercise some self control.  If you know you’re going to eat dessert, take it easy on the alcohol and entrée.  Always pay attention to what and how much you’re eating so when you do splurge, you’ll know and appreciate it.

13.  Use a good scale and weigh yourself at the same time every day.

I know a lot of people say to weigh yourself once a week or once a month.  I had my daily check to see my progress or lack of progress.  I began to recognize hormonal shifts or food-related water retention, so I refused to completely beat myself up when I would gain or celebrate too too much when i lost significantly (until the second day in a row).  I still weigh and record my weight and body fat every day I am in town.  It helps keep me on track.  I allow my weight to fluctuate within a five pound range, so I know when I need to get concerned in either direction.

14.  Enjoy exercising control.

It feels great to know that I am eating because I want to and eating things I love.  I do not have particular cravings anymore.  I have things I look forward to eating — a little berry smoothie at night, a fabulous cheese.