The Final Word on Dieting

Cut through the confusing and often contradictory advice on losing weight.

Well, in truth there probably never will be a “final” word on dieting, as Americans continue to look for a quick fix for everything that ails us. We want more money in our wallets, less wrinkles on our faces, more hair on our heads, and less fat around our waists. Weight loss has become a phenomenally huge industry. Just type the word “diet” on a search engine and you will be bombarded with tens of millions of results, with the vast majority ready to sell you something.

But obesity is a chronic disease and successful treatment requires a lifetime commitment. There may not be a quick and easy fix, but there is a simple one. You don’t need the latest diet craze and you don’t need to swear off ever again being able to eat your favorite foods. You simply need to follow these three suggestions from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

1. Monitor your diet.

If you continue to eat the same number of calories that you have been unchecked, you will continue to gain weight, or at best stay the same weight you are. To drop pounds, you have to reduce your calories by 500 to 1,000 a day. What do you think you eat too much of? Bread? Candy? Pastries? Beer? Wine? Get yourself one of those little calorie counter books at the checkout stand at the grocery store and see just how much these indulgences add up. You can probably eliminate one or two servings of those favorites each day and reduce your intake by 500 calories. Just a couple pieces of toast with butter and jam can add up to that.

Perhaps it is not a matter of favorite indulgences; you just have a hard time stopping eating because it tastes so good. Did you know that we eat most of what is on our plates, no matter the size of the plate? When you’re home, try fooling your eye (and your stomach) by using smaller dishes. Fill the plate with everything you plan to have, and don’t go back for seconds. Eat it more slowly; try putting down the fork between bites. When eating out, share an entree with a friend. These days restaurant food portions are often enough for at least two people.

Here’s another trick. Whether it is a quick snack or a full meal, brush your teeth immediatley after. Without that yummy taste of caramel ice cream still on your taste buds, the craving for more is much easier to resist.

Ask yourself: Am I full yet? It takes 15 minutes or more for the message that we’re full to get from our stomachs to our brains, so wait a few minutes before giving in to the urge for seconds. Have trouble feeling full? Drink two glasses of water or other noncaloric beverage before the meal. Doctors say we should have 8 glasses of water a day anyway.

Some Statistics

  • There are an estimated 122 million overweight adults in this country.
  • Obesity is a leading cause of high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and type-2 diabetes.
  • Diabetes directly killed 69,301 Americans in 2000, and was a contributing factor in an additional 150,000 deaths.
    from the National Diabetes Information Clearing House

Before you have a snack, you might ask yourself another question: Am I really hungry? Few Americans even know what real hunger is. Perhaps it is boredom you are attempting to quell. Try stretching or changing activities for a few minutes instead of going to the frig.

Remember: A calorie is a calorie is a calorie. When you shovel down too much food, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s full of fat or carbohydrates or even protein— it’s still going to end up around your waist. Cut calories painlessly by reducing the amount of saturated and trans fats you eat. If you don’t know what’s what, start reading the labels on the products you buy. If it doesn’t have a label (Fast food) don’t buy it. And don’t pig out! Scarfing down a bag of fat-free cookies may feel more virtuous, but it’s still a lot of cookies.

Finally, don’t overdo the dieting thing. Be sure to keep your daily intake over 800 calories. Studies have shown that if you take the weight off too quickly you are more likely to regain it. If you are not functioning at your best because you’re starving yourself or lacking vital nutrients, its just one more excuse to go off your diet.

2. Boost your fitness level.

Adding to your current level of exercise will increase the amount of energy you’re expending and help you stay slim or slim down further. Physical activity also reduces the risk of heart disease, even more than weight loss alone. If you’re going to amp up your routine, do so slowly, to avoid injury. Begin with 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, five to seven days a week, then work your way up from there.
The experts say an hour of daily physical activity may be necessary for weight loss, but don’t let that discourage you. The best reason to exercise is for its overall cardiovascular and muscular benefit. The fact that you are burning more calories when exercising than when sedentary can be looked at as just an additional reason to exercise. If you cannot increase your physical activity, that’s okay. The only way you are going to weigh less is by consuming less.

3. Change your Behavior.

Behavioral therapy can be an effective weight-loss tool. Try to think of food as fuel for your body and not so much as a reward for getting through the day. Consider taking a class or seeing a professional to learn how to better monitor your cravings, manage daily stress and prepare for dietary emergencies. There’s nothing like support to keep a weight-loss plan on track. (Find local Nutrition Professional)
Most important, be specific and not overly ambitious with your goals. Write down these goals, for example, the type of activity you plan to do, how often you can realistically do it and how long you can spend on it. Start with small, short, easy goals, and improve as you go. Before starting on each new goal, promise yourself that if you reach it by a particular day, week or month, you’ll treat yourself to a well-deserved (non-food) reward.

And finally, when you do occasionally eat more than you wish you had, don’t beat yourself up and get discouraged and quit. Remind yourself of the discipline you have shown, the strides you have already made, and then get back to the regimen.

Learn more: “Dietary Guidelines for Americans”

Adapted from information available at NHLBI
Phone (301) 592-8573
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