How to stay motivated to lose weight

Clever tips and tricks to make sure you stick to the diet

Female bare feet with weight scale on wooden floor

The diet started well, but a week later and you're already picking at left overs and telling yourself that one little "cheat" can't hurt. Whether you've nearly reached your target weight or have a long way to go, staying motivated can make the difference between success and failure. Here are six ways to stay on track when you start to waver...

See also: Six reasons why you can't lose weight

See also: The REAL reason it's hard to keep weight off

1. Use an app to track
If writing a food diary sounds like hard work, download a tracking app to your phone instead. You can scan the barcodes on thousands of different food packages and search for everyday items – and it will work out the total calories automatically. Apps like MyFitnessPal allow you to enter your target weight and when you want to reach it, and will then tell you how many calories you should eat each day.

2. Keep a photo diary
You're already keeping track of what you eat, but have you thought about keeping a photo diary of your weight loss? Taking photos of yourself in your underwear or tight-fitting clothes will show the progress you're making and inspire you to keep going.

Measure your waist, thighs and hips every week, as well as taking a note of the weight on the scales. You may be losing inches more than pounds, particularly if you're working out and building muscle – and seeing the results for yourself in inches lost or photos can be the motivation you need.

3. Keep weighing yourself
If you want to hit your target, weigh yourself every day. A study published in the Annals of Behavior Medicine found that people who got on the scales every day (and wrote the number down) are more successful at losing weight than those who did not. Of course there will always be fluctuations of a pound or two, so don't get disheartened if you seem to have plateaued or even gained weight. Make sure to look back over the month and see how far you've come.

4. Get counselling
Research shows that people who join weight loss groups are more successful at losing weight. Can't get along to your local Weight Watcher's or Slimmer's World? Consider paying for counselling over the phone. Some companies, such as Lighter Life, offer group counselling over the phone, or you could find someone to coach you individually.

A study from the University of Kansas found that dieters who have counselling over the phone lose just as much as those who get it face to face. If you can't afford counselling, buddy-up with a friend and have a weekly call to go through your goals and discuss the coming week. Working out strategies together, for example if you have a big social event coming up, can help to keep you on the straight and narrow.

5. Visualise the new you
Visualisation is a powerful tool used by top athletes to improve their performance – so why not give it a try yourself? When you picture the new slimmer you, don't dwell on any negatives. Thinking to yourself "I hate the fat on my thighs, I can't wait until it's gone," will reinforce the idea that you're fat. Instead think "I love how slim my thighs feel," and really imagine how they look.

Thinking about weight loss as if it's already happened sends a powerful message to your subconscious to make the image a reality. You can also use visualisation to see yourself feeling motivated and energetic. Experts agree that there's a degree of "fake it until you make it." Tell your mind that you feel a certain way, and eventually you will. Think Yourself Thin, £6.74, will give you the techniques you need.

6. Hang out your best dress
Whether you're desperate to get back into your wedding dress or just look good in your work clothes, it helps to have a positive goal in mind. Take an outfit out of your wardrobe that you love and haven't been able to wear for a long time. Just seeing it hanging on your closet acts as a reminder to stick to your diet and exercise plan.

7. Set small goals
You didn't gain all the weight in a week – and you can't expect to lose it that quickly either. If you have several stone to lose, it can be disheartening to think how far you've got to go. Instead of having one final goal in mind, set smaller targets. Each time you lose half a stone reward yourself with a new hairstyle or pampering session. You may not want to buy any new clothes until you reach your target, but it's important to look after your self-esteem. When you feel good about yourself, you're more likely to make healthy food choices.

8. Enter a sponsored race
If you need motivation to exercise, sign up for a 5km charity race. Get people to sponsor you, and you'll be more likely to stick to a training programme. It doesn't matter if you walk and jog some of the way, making the commitment to do the race is the important thing. Knowing that you're raising money for charity will help motivate you to get in shape and do your best.