by Linda Bren
Setting a Goal
The first step to weight loss is setting a realistic goal. By using a BMI chart and consulting with your health-care provider, you can determine what is a healthy weight for you.
Studies show that you can improve your health with just a small amount of weight loss. "We know that physical activity in combination with reduced calorie consumption can lead to the 5 to 10 percent weight loss necessary to achieve remission of the obesity-associated complications," says William Dietz, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity at the CDC. "Even these moderate weight losses can improve blood pressure and help control diabetes and high cholesterol in obese or overweight adults."
To reach your goal safely, plan to lose weight gradually. A weight loss of one-half to 2 pounds a week is usually safe, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This can be achieved by decreasing the calories eaten or increasing the calories used by 250 to 1,000 calories per day, depending on current calorie intake. (Some people with serious health problems due to obesity may lose weight more rapidly under a doctor's supervision.) If you plan to lose more than 15 to 20 pounds, have any health problems, or take medication on a regular basis, a doctor should evaluate you before you begin a weight-loss program.
Changing Eating Habits
Dieting may conjure up visions of eating little but lettuce and sprouts--but you can enjoy all foods as part of a healthy diet as long as you don't overdo it on fat (especially saturated fat), protein, sugars, and alcohol. To be successful at losing weight, you need to change your lifestyle--not just go on a diet, experts say.
Limit portion sizes, especially of foods high in calories, such as cookies, cakes and other sweets; french fries; and fats, oils and spreads. Reducing dietary fat alone--without reducing calories--will not produce weight loss, according to the NHLBI's guidelines on treating overweight and obesity in adults.
Use the Food Guide Pyramid, developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services, to help you choose a healthful assortment of foods that includes vegetables, fruits, grains (especially whole grains), fat-free milk, and fish, lean meat, poultry, or beans. Choose foods naturally high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes (such as beans and lentils), and whole grains. The high fiber content of many of these foods may help you to feel full with fewer calories.
All calorie sources are not created equal. Carbohydrate and protein have about 4 calories per gram, but fat has more than twice that amount (9 calories per gram). Just as for the general population, weight-conscious consumers should aim for a daily fat intake of no more than 30 percent of total calories.
Keep your intake of saturated fat at less than 10 percent of calories. Saturated fats increase the risk for heart disease by raising blood cholesterol. Foods high in saturated fats include high-fat dairy products (like cheese, whole milk, cream, butter, and regular ice cream), fatty fresh and processed meats, the skin and fat of poultry, lard, palm oil, and coconut oil.
If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation. Alcoholic beverages supply calories but few nutrients. A 12-ounce regular beer contains about 150 calories, a 5-ounce glass of wine about 100 calories, and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits about 100 calories.
Limit your use of beverages and foods that are high in added sugars--those added to foods in processing or preparation, not the naturally occurring sugars in foods such as fruit or milk. Foods containing added sugars provide calories, but may have few vitamins and minerals. In the United States, the major sources of added sugars include non-diet soft drinks, sweets and candies, cakes and cookies, and fruit drinks and fruitades.
Using the Food Label
Under regulations from the FDA and the USDA, the food label, found on almost all processed foods, offers more complete, useful and accurate nutrition information than ever before. Even when restricting calories and portions, you can use the part of the food label called the Nutrition Facts panel to make sure you get all the essential nutrients for good health
You'll find the serving size and the number of servings per package listed at the top of the Nutrition Facts panel. The serving size affects all the nutrient amounts listed on the panel. For example, if there is one cup in a serving and the package contains two servings, you need to double the calories and other nutrient numbers if you eat the whole package. Many items sold as single portions--like a 20-ounce soft drink, a 3-ounce bag of chips, and a large bagel--actually provide two or more servings.
"If you zero in on the 'amount per serving' section of the Nutrition Facts panel, you can tell at a glance how many calories a serving has and whether a food is high in total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium," says Naomi Kulakow, coordinator of food labeling education in the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "These are items you should think about limiting in your diet."
The Nutrition Facts panel also shows how much dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron are contained in a serving. These are nutrients you need for good health.
Also listed on the Nutrition Facts panel are the amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and sugars contained in a serving. Use the panel to compare the amount of total sugars among similar products, and try to choose ones lower in sugars.
In addition to listing some nutrients by weight, the panel also gives this information as a Percent Daily Value (%DV). The %DV shows how a serving of a food fits in with recommendations for a healthful diet and allows consumers to make comparisons between similar products.
For example, shoppers can use the %DV figures to find out which frozen dinner is lower in saturated fat--particularly when it involves a comparative nutritional claim, such as reduced-fat. "You don't need to know the precise definition of 'low' or 'reduced,'" says Kulakow. "Just look at the Percent Daily Value and see which is higher or lower in the nutrient you are interested in." Foods with 5 percent or less of the Daily Value are considered low in a nutrient, while those with 20 percent or more are high in the nutrient.
The %DVs are based on a 2,000-calorie daily diet. But even if you eat less than 2,000 calories, the %DV can be used to determine whether a food is high or low in a particular nutrient.
"People use the food label too often to just restrict calories and fat--not to get enough nutrients," says Kulakow. While restricting calories is important for weight loss, "most people have no idea how many calories they consume every day--especially if they eat out." The %DV gives you a frame of reference and can be used to make dietary trade-offs, says Kulakow. "For example, if you eat a favorite food that's high in fat at one meal, balance it with low-fat foods at other times of the day."
Kulakow advises caution when choosing foods that are labeled "fat-free" and "low-fat." Fat-free doesn't mean calorie-free. To make a food tastier, sometimes extra sugars are added, which adds calories. So dieters should always check the Nutrition Facts panel to get complete information, says Kulakow.
Increasing Physical Activity
Most health experts recommend a combination of a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity for weight loss. Most adults should get at least 30 minutes and children should get 60 minutes of moderate physical activity on most, and preferably all, days of the week. But fewer than 1 in 3 U.S. adults gets the recommended amount of physical activity, according to The Surgeon General's Call To Action To Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity.
In addition to helping to control weight, physical activity decreases the risk of dying from coronary heart disease and reduces the risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, and colon cancer. Researchers also have found that daily physical activity may help a person lose weight by partially lessening the slow-down in metabolism that occurs during weight loss.
Exercise does not have to be strenuous to be beneficial. And some studies show that short sessions of exercise several times a day are just as effective at burning calories and improving health as one long session.
To lose weight and to maintain a healthy weight after weight loss, many adults will likely need to do more than 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily.
Article courtesy of the US Food and Drug Administration.
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