Long-term weight loss involves changing your behavior

A sensible plan for a lifetime of weight management
So those easy-to-follow, programmed diets won't produce permanent weight loss. Perhaps you have already discovered that liquid diets, eating special combinations of food and "magical diets" are not the way to go for healthy weight maintenance over the long haul. You have lost weight; you have regained weight.

According to research data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 44 percent of women are trying to lose weight, but only one in five is trying to eat better and exercise regularly.

Just what does work if you want to lose weight safely and permanently? Try behavior modification. It takes patience, but it works.

Don't set yourself up for perfection; you will have setbacks. Accept them for what they are temporary. You will be taking one day at a time, slowly changing lifestyle patterns that have been contributing to your weight gain.

It is not simple to eat less and move more. We all have baggage to deal with when it comes to established habits of eating; our eating habits are not insulated from our needs and emotions.

Success is more likely for people who have made inroads into behavior modification, recognizing the eating and lifestyle habits that need to be changed, setting goals to initiate modifications of that behavior and establishing ways to reinforce the desired behavior.

Here are suggestions that could help you make some of those changes. Keep in mind that there are no "bad" foods. Some people will put the weight-gain blame on carbohydrates; to others, protein is the culprit. The reality is that eating too much of anything will pile on the pounds.

Psyche yourself up
The first step is getting the self-motivation to replace some of the negative habits that probably have been hanging around for a long time. Lose weight because you want to, not because someone else wants you to.

Know why you want to do so. Is it to lower your blood pressure, reduce the risks of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, have more energy to do fun things, improve your appearance?

Clear the deck before setting sail
You don't want to begin this journey if your life is fraught with problems. Try to resolve major stressful situations before you start making lifestyle changes; the chances for backsliding will increase if you are inundated with personal problems.

Don't be in a rush
Forget the claims that try to charm you with guarantees that you will lose 8 pounds in a week. Healthy weight loss should be slow and steady 1 pound a week for women and 2 pounds for men. (Men have a higher metabolic rate than women, making it easier to lose weight faster.) It is said that it takes about six months of continued effort to make successful lifestyle changes.

Read nutrition labels
This will be a big help in limiting the fat calories in your diet. Try to select foods that are lower in saturated and trans fats when you are grocery shopping; foods high in these fats tend to raise blood cholesterol.

Saturated fats include fatty meats and high-fat dairy products such as cheese, whole milk, butter and regular ice cream. Trans fats are hydrogenated or hardened vegetable oils found in stick margarine, shortening and processed and fried foods.

Find your disaster areas
Take inventory of your eating habits. What might trigger an eating binge? Do you eat when you're not hungry? Do you eat a lot of french fries and finger foods?

Are you obsessed about eating everything that is placed on your plate? Is exercise included in your daily schedule?

Don't forget to look into your "excuse basket," which may harbor your justifications for not taking the time to prepare healthy meals: "It's too time-consuming, and I'm too tired to take the time," or "I live alone, and it's too much trouble to cook for one."

Take baby steps
When you have identified the trouble spots that can sabotage your efforts to lose weight, select one negative behavior at a time and plan your attack. Make specific plans to change it.

When you have changed one behavior pattern successfully, congratulate yourself and get to work on another. Practice new behaviors until they become habit.

Keep a journal
You don't have to weigh and measure everything you eat. How long do you think that would last anyway?

Keep a small notebook with you to jot down what you have eaten during the day and thoughts relating to food. This may seem like a bother at first, but you don't have to do it forever. Studies have shown this to be a successful tool used by people who have achieved their desired weight and maintained it.

A journal can validate not only what you are eating but how often and why, helping you to view what needs to be changed. It will create an awareness of what triggers some of your eating frenzies -- for instance, why you eat when you are not even hungry.

Drink before you are thirsty
Water is a necessary nutrient and accounts for 50 to 70 percent of our body weight. Every body cell needs water to function properly. Our bodies are constantly losing water whether we are sleeping or exercising, and we need to replace it.

Drink throughout the day and don't wait until you are thirsty; at this point, you are already somewhat dehydrated.

A minimum of eight glasses of water a day is the recommendation, more if you are active.

Water can do us a few favors when we want to eat less. Whenever you feel hungry, drink water first; it helps to fill you up and may slow down your eating.

If you drink a lot of sodas, cut back and replace with water. Water has no taste, which helps you to decrease your desire for sweet-tasting foods and beverages.

Avoid hunger
Maintain a regular eating schedule, eating at least three meals a day plus several healthy snacks. Don't skip meals because you may be tempted to overeat at the next meal.

Avoid the one-meal-a-day plan. Your metabolism rate will drop if you eat all your calories at one time.

Plan meals
Plan healthy meals a few days ahead so that you have the necessary ingredients, or you might eat that cold leftover pizza. Always have a snack available, such as popcorn, veggie sticks, yogurt or fruit trays. If you don't, the alternative could be a few too many low-fat cookies, which contain quite a few calories.

I like to use the air-popped corn; it has no oil and the fewest calories, and I can add my own seasonings.

Eat a variety of foods
Many diets eliminate food groups. Different foods contain different nutrients; no one food can supply all the nutrients you need in a healthy diet.

There are many ways in which you can develop a healthy food plan whether you want Mexican, Asian or Mediterranean cuisine, but the basis for healthy eating is created from the three food groups at the base of the Food Guide Pyramid: grains, especially whole-grain foods, fruits and vegetables all low in fat content and filling.

Select six to 11 servings from the bread, cereal, rice and pasta group, two to four servings of fruit and three to five servings of vegetables.

Go for two to three daily servings of moderate amounts of low-fat foods from the milk and cheese group and choose two to three servings from the meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts group.

If you choose not to eat animal products, be sure to obtain iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and calcium from other sources. Instead of featuring meat as the main attraction on your plate, serve smaller portions and add a lot of veggies, grains and fruits to the menu.

Fats, oils and sugars fill in the smallest tip of the food pyramid, to be used sparingly. Because of nutritional deficiencies and large drops in metabolism, women should not consume fewer than 1,200 calories a day and men no fewer than 1,500.

Treat yourself
Weight management is for the long term; it should become a way of life. At times, you will want to break the barriers and go for the fried chicken and hot fudge sundae. Do it and enjoy -- but not every day. What matters is what you do most of the time.

Become active
Exercise plays an important role in weight management. There are about 3,500 kilocalories in one pound of fat. To lose one pound of fat a week, you need to have a negative balance of 3,500 kilocalories. The most efficient way to do this is by increasing caloric expenditure through physical exercise and moderately reducing the caloric intake.

On-again, off-again dieting and weight loss can decrease the metabolic rate and make it more difficult to lose weight. Aim for strength training two to three times a week and at least 30 minutes of an aerobic activity most days of the week; both will increase your metabolism.

For somebody just beginning an exercise program, I would suggest walking. Invest in a good pair of walking shoes and start off slowly; gradually build up to 30 minutes.

Variety, balance and moderation are the three keys to a healthy diet. Now add daily exercise, and you have the four keys to successful weight management.

If you have a chronic health problem or have concerns about beginning an exercise program, consult your physician.

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