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Most of us are concerned with our weight. We live in a society that puts a premium on the ‘perfect body’, and for some of us, the pressure of looking good is what drives us to overeat. But a healthy body weight should not just be about looking good. Maintaining a healthy weight puts us at a lower risk for Heart Disease, Diabetes, Arthritis and certain types of cancer. That is something you have probably heard a million times, but it is one thing to know WHY slimming down is important, it’s another thing entirely to change habits, especially when food is such a big part of our culture and, well, it’s delicious.

One of the best ways to begin a ‘diet’ is to erase the term ‘diet’ from your vocabulary. Diet, in this situation, implies something that is only temporary – a means to an end – and once you reach the goal, the ‘diet’ is over, and you can go back to business as usual. That’s not going to work! Fad diets are so restrictive that your body almost believes it’s starving. That’s not a good thing! Humans have been around for so long that our bodies are biologically designed to anticipate periods of hunger; our bodies have not quite caught up to the times – we have more food than we need! So, if you restrict your calories, which seems to make the most sense if you want to lose weight, your body slows it’s metabolism down: it burns fewer calories, believing it needs to keep some in storage because it doesn’t think any more energy will be coming its way. When your ‘diet’ is over, and you have lost the weight you set out to lose, you have set yourself up for disappointment. You may be slimmer, but your metabolism is now slower, and those pounds will pile right back on.

So, what do you do? You look at healthy eating as a lifestyle change. Set realistic goals. If you want to lose 20 pounds, don’t panic and expect to lose them all at once. Losing half a pound to one pound a week has been proven to be the most effective way to achieve long-term weight loss. Why? Imagine for a second that food cravings have a mind of their own. Being conscious of food choices has never really been on your to-do list. Your body has grown accustomed to large amounts of high-fat, high-sugar foods. Suddenly, you eliminate those foods. Your body reacts like it would to a drug being yanked from its system. You don’t even notice yourself buying that cupcake – but there you are, eating one. And then another. Basically, if you deprive yourself of the things that make you happy, your brain will simply say, “NO!” and you will most likely binge on exactly the type of food you are trying to avoid. Treat yourself every day! They sell bite-sized candy bars for just this purpose, or maybe not JUST for this purpose. But they do the trick.

Portion control is very important, and it goes hand-in-hand with moderation.

The Food Plate is a great resource. Keep in mind that everyone’s dietary needs are different. The body needs over 40 different vitamins and minerals to function and thrive – feed it well with a well-rounded diet that includes the following: whole grains, fruits, veggies, dairy products, nuts and legumes, lean-meats like poultry, fish and certain cuts of steak and pork. If you have allergies, research alternatives to the foods you cannot eat.

And remember: there is no such thing as “bad” food – even fat is important! Certain vitamins are only fat-soluble. It is recommended that 30% of your daily caloric intake should come from fat. Of course, there are good kinds of fat and bad kinds of fat. Keep your saturated fat consumption down to 10% of your daily caloric intake – or lower!

Write it down! Time and time again you hear nutritionists telling you to journal what you eat. Why? Because it works! Keeping a log of what you eat not only helps you track problem foods (foods you are eating out of boredom, portions that can be reduced), but it forces you to take responsibility. Imagine keeping a food journal as the difference between using cash to buy something, and using a credit card. You are much less likely to spend all of your cash, because you can actually see the money and hold it, than you would be to run up a bill on your credit card, which you can forget about until later.
Make it fun! Try to new recipes. Become a part of the change you are making. Learn to love food without all the dressing. Experiment with different spices and flavors – you may find yourself leaving the fatty condiments like creamy caesar at mayo and the door.

It’s all about small, gradual changes that will last you your whole life! You don’t want a crash diet that will leave you fatigued, hungry, cranky, and bitter. You want delicious, healthful meals that leave you satisfied, energetic, and positive.

Don’t forget the importance of exercise! You need to burn 3,500 calories to lose one pound. That may sound like a lot – but if you shave off 500 calories a day by eating better and exercising more – it’s really not a lot AT ALL! There are so many options to get moving. Running, yoga, walking, Zumba… Increase your physical activity by 10% and you will see dramatic changes in your appearance, stamina, and confidence. Good luck!

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