Take a new approach to New Year’s weight loss

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Diets that promise quick weight loss aren’t usually successful. But making simple changes to your eating and exercise habits can be.

If you’re overweight, chances are you’re starting the new year with an old, familiar resolution: to take off a few pounds. This year, you say, you’re going to keep them off too.

That’s the attitude to have. To truly succeed, however, you may need a strategy other than simply “dieting.”

Dieting is generally considered a temporary activity. And temporary solutions may bring only temporary results.

The key to long-term weight-loss success is to look at your lifestyle, says Ruth Frechman, RD, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Making small changes that you can live with can bring big rewards.

Slow and steady

Most of us want excess weight off right away. So diets that promise quick results sound appealing.

The problem is these diets don’t tend to be the most effective. Quick weight loss is usually a result of water loss, not fat.

“Losing weight is a process,” Frechman says. “It takes time. People expect to lose 10 pounds in a week, but your body just doesn’t lose fat that easily.”

A 1- to 2-pound loss per week is a more reasonable goal, she says. That adds up. And losing just 10 percent of your weight may improve your health—perhaps before you notice changes to your appearance.

Making changes

To get started, Frechman advises setting short- and long-term goals to help keep yourself motivated.

A short-term goal might be to fit into a smaller clothing size, while a long-term goal could be to reduce your high blood pressure.

Next, Frechman suggests keeping a food journal—a running tally of all the foods and beverages you consume each day. Most of us eat more than we realize, she says. Seeing it in black and white might help you identify where you can cut back and what you can change in your current eating plan.

Finally, you’ll need to make some healthy changes. These tips can help you get started:

Eat breakfast.

Studies show that people who don’t eat a morning meal may eat more for lunch and dinner than they otherwise would, Frechman says.

Measure portions.

What you consider one serving could actually be several. Using a smaller plate can help too.

Add another fruit or vegetable to your meal plan.

Fruits and veggies are generally low in calories and loaded with nutrients. Plus they’re filling. Eating more produce might help you cut back on less healthful foods.

Replace higher fat, higher calorie foods with more healthful alternatives.

For example, always choose the leanest meats, and instead of snacking on chips, try carrot sticks. Or, if you’d ordinarily have a milkshake when eating out, order milk. Make it nonfat rather than whole milk, and you’ll save an additional 60 calories, says Frechman.

Eat more slowly.

It takes at least 15 minutes to recognize when you’re full. Slow down and you may not feel like having a second helping.

Make exercise a priority.

Be specific about when and how you’ll be active. You could get up half an hour earlier to go for a walk four days a week. Or spend 30 minutes of your lunch break at the gym. A simple tip, according to Frechman, is to get a pedometer. See how many steps you normally take each day—then increase that by 2,000. “Walking is about the easiest, cheapest exercise, and it’s very effective,” she says.

Get back to basics.

Modern conveniences contribute to inactivity, so make an effort to be active. If possible, walk or bike to the store instead of driving. Or wash your vehicle by hand instead of going through an automatic car wash.

Be active all day.

Rather than sitting on the couch to watch television, plan on dusting or doing other chores while you watch your shows. Even if you walk in place during commercials, you can work up a sweat, says Frechman.

Plan active vacations.

Think hiking or skiing. Just choose an activity you enjoy that will get you moving.

Don't go it alone

Talk to your doctor or a dietitian for more weight-loss tips. With their help, this can be the year of a trimmer, healthier you.

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