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If you’re successfully sticking to a diet plan, we applaud you! Diets aren’t easy — they can seem confining, and they require patience, discipline and planning. Diets are even more challenging if your goal is strict and total compliance. In fact, when your diet is too “crash”, you’re bound to crash your diet.

To boost your chances of succeeding, we recommend a flexible and reasonable approach, with a little room for the foods you crave. Here are four strategies to make dieting easier and more effective. (For the record, if your diet has been mandated by a doctor, you’ll need to follow his or her advice, not ours. Just sayin’…)

Tip No. 1: Hey! Ease up a little.

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Don’t ask the impossible of yourself. If your diet is too extreme, it could pull you down, both physically and mentally.

Of course you need to incorporate more fiber, nutrients and vitamins. Of course you need to cut back on bad fats and processed foods. But you don’t have to be “maniacal” about it in order to reduce your weight and keep yourself in shape.

Tip No. 2: Lay down some rules.

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Tip No. 1 says, be reasonable, but how do you “give yourself a break” without falling back into the bad habits you once had?

One way to maintain your self-control is to lay down some general rules that are strict — yet permissive. Need examples?

Possible Rule A: Consume your favorite “evil” foods, but in predictable intervals.

It’s Interval Training, but with food! If, for example, you feel that life is hardly worth living without an occasional pepperoni pizza (and who doesn’t?), treat yourself, once in awhile, to a slice or two — but put a restriction on it, say, only on the last day of the week, or some other relatively infrequent interval. This kind of rule sets up a reward at the end of the rainbow, instead of a prison sentence of perpetual discipline.

Possible Rule B: Don’t feed it to yourself, get it from others.

Here’s an idea … Only eat a favorite “evil” food if someone else gives it to you. It sounds like a great way to ensure you don’t fall into the same old habits. Make sure not to start using others as enablers for overeating — give this task to people you trust.

Possible Rule C: Get on up!

There’s one thing that always trumps extra calories, and that’s burning them off with a good workout. Provided you’re combining a diet regimen with proper exercise, follow that pepperoni pizza with an extra mile or two on the elliptical.

So making rules and sticking to them helps you structure and strengthen your regimen.

Tip No. 3: Never serve fattening favorites to other people.

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If you’re serving unhealthy foods to your partner, family or friends as a way to eat vicariously, you will no doubt face unnecessary temptation as you prepare these foods. You could find yourself “grazing” on things you’ve banned from your own diet!

Essentially, don’t prepare the foods you crave but shouldn’t eat for others. Ask someone else to shop for and make them, or think up alternative dishes. If you have a passion for pasta, for instance, make spaghetti squash, instead — then pray they’ll like it.

Tip No. 4: Distract yourself with other activities and interests.

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One of the most helpful tricks for people trying to change their diet is, stop thinking about food all the time. Of course, this is easier said than done, unless you have other interests to occupy your time.

If you already have a hobby, make the most of it. If you don’t, start one. Any activity will do, provided it excites you and takes your mind off pepperoni pizza. Whether you’re painting, dancing or playing the ukulele, you’ll be too engrossed in what you’re doing to think about food — at least, we hope you will be.

And away you go!

The fact that you’ve embarked on an improved diet regimen shows, you’re taking health seriously, and that’s great. Just give yourself a break, don’t create unnecessary pressure, discover there are other things in life besides eating — and who knows how far you’ll go on the scale of life?

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