Dieting? Eat This, Not That

You start every diet with high hopes--and maybe you even lose a few pounds--but in a few short weeks, the weight comes creeping back. Sound familiar? If so, you're not alone. An estimated 95 percent of dieters gain back any weight they initially lose. What's more, a recent UCLA study found that after one year, 41 percent of dieters actually weighed more than they did before they started their eating plans.

Want to stop the maddening cycle and achieve lasting results? According to experts, the key is foregoing fad diets in favor of practical lifestyle changes you can maintain over the long term. In addition to cardiovascular fitness and strength-training exercises, a few dietary replacements may be all you need to lose weight—and keep it off.

7 Simple Switches

Try these painless substitutions, and watch the pounds melt away.

1. Drink water, not soda.

In a study conducted by the Children's Hospital and Oakland Research Institute in California, dieters who replaced sugary drinks with water lost an extra five pounds a year. And is it any wonder? A 20-ounce cola contains approximately 250 calories, while a 32-ounce fast-food version packs a whopping 400 calories. Water, by contrast, contains no calories and helps you feel full.

2. Eat oatmeal, not muffins.

If you think that morning muffin is a harmless indulgence, think again. The average bakery muffin contains 340 to 630 calories, and it's loaded with sugar and fats. Doughnuts pack nearly as many calories and sometimes more, depending on their fillings. A bowl of oatmeal, on the other hand, contains only 150 to 250 calories and keeps hunger at bay.

3. Use mustard, not mayonnaise.

It may not look fattening, but a tablespoon of mayo contains approximately 100 calories. The same amount of yellow mustard has only 10 caloriesso as a condiment, this switch is a no-brainer. For recipes that would be difficult to prepare without mayonnaise, such as tuna salad, use a lower-fat version. Also consider substituting some of the may with Greek-style yogurt. It contains live cultures to help keep your digestive health in check.

4. Order open-faced, not regular, sandwiches.

One of the easiest ways to cut back on carbs is to order your sandwiches open-faced. Depending on the type of bread used, you'll save 100 to 200 calories per meal. In addition, try to eat whole-grain cereals instead of bagels (a four-and-a-half-inch deli bagel contains 300 to 380 calories without cream cheese, while a bowl of Total cereal has only 97 without milk).

5. Ask for a salad, not fries.

Given their calorie counts, it's no surprise that French fries are one of the biggest diet saboteurs. Fortunately, there are healthier options to choose from, even at the fast-food counter. At McDonald's, a side salad with low-fat balsamic vinaigrette and croutons has just 120 calories, while the supersize fries contain a shocking 610.

6. Enjoy angel-food cake, not cheesecake or carrot cake.

Who says you can't have your cake and lose weight too? The secret is finding sweet treats that don't contain loads of extra calories. Angel-food cake, for instance, has just 130 calories per slice. Compare that with a piece of carrot cake or cheesecake, either of which contains anywhere from 500 to 720 calories.

7. Snack on air-popped popcorn, not potato chips.

Much like French fries, potato chips can undermine your weight-loss efforts. Need a salty, crunchy snack alternative? Air-popped popcorn contains only 30 calories per cup without butter, while a single serving of Ruffles regular potato chips has 190 calories. If you made this simple switch every day for a month, you'd save 4,800 calories—about a pound and a half on the scale.