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Weight Loss Diets

Why do I need to lose weight if I am overweight?

Being overweight increases your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. If you are overweight, losing just 5 to 10% of your weight and keeping it off lowers your risk for most of these diseases. Your healthcare provider can give you a good idea of how your weight increases your risk.

What can I do to lose weight?

Changes that will help you lose weight include:

  • a better understanding of your own health
  • healthier eating habits
  • more physical activity
  • rewarding yourself for losing weight

Healthy diets for losing weight involve:

  • making smart choices from every food group: fruits, vegetables, grains, milk products, meat, and fats
  • finding a balance between how much food you eat and how much exercise you get
  • getting the most nutrition from your calories.

Losing weight most often means eating fewer calories and avoiding some foods. However, a weight loss diet needs to give enough nutrition and a good variety of satisfying foods as well as fewer calories.

What works best is a gradual change in your habits of eating and physical activity--a change that you can continue the rest of your life. The ideal diet helps you lose weight slowly but steadily, so you can keep a healthy weight after you have reached your goal. The best weight loss plan is one that fits your needs and food preferences.

Ask your healthcare provider for a safe, healthy, and effective weight loss program.

What foods should I choose to lose weight?

A healthy eating plan is one that:

  • Includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans.
  • Includes fat-free or low-fat milk products.
  • Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs or egg whites, nuts, seeds, and soy foods.
  • Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars.

Keep track of everything you eat in a food diary. As soon as you eat or drink, write it down. It may be helpful to use a small pocket diary. Seeing what you eat and drink will help you learn more about your eating patterns and food habits.

What foods should I limit or avoid?

Try to avoid the following types of food:

  • refined carbohydrates (sugar) and foods containing added sugars, such as sucrose, glucose, dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup, corn sweetener, honey, and brown sugar
  • refined grain products such as white rice and white flour (try to substitute whole grains for refined grains whenever you can).

Also avoid:

  • saturated fats such as butter, cream cheese, poultry skin, whole-milk dairy products (including cheese), and fat on meats
  • other foods that often contain a lot of fat and trans fats, such as pastries, cakes, cookies, potato chips, and crackers
  • fried foods
  • packaged meats because they are often high in fat, salt, and preservatives (look for low-fat, low-salt varieties).

Alcoholic drinks add calories to your diet with very little nutrition. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Moderate drinking means up to 1 drink a day for women and up to 2 drinks for men. A drink equals 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 and 1/2 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.

What are calories?

A calorie is a way to measure the energy value of food. Your body burns calories for energy. Proteins, carbohydrates, and fats contain calories. To lose weight, eat fewer calories without giving up nutrition. Burn more calories with more physical activity. Your body will burn fat stored in your body to get the energy it needs and you will lose weight.

You can lose 1 pound a week by eating 500 fewer calories a day than you need to keep your present weight. Try to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week. If you lose more than that each week, you begin to lose muscle rather than fat.

Most weight loss diets suggest 1200 to 1500 calories a day for women and 1500 to 1800 calories a day for men. However, calorie needs can vary a lot. They depend on your activity level and current weight. Ask your healthcare provider how many calories you need a day.

Don't lower your calories too much. If you get too few calories a day, your body will slow down your metabolism so that you can survive the lean time. This can happen if you go on a "starvation diet." The body's survival response will then stop you from losing weight.

What are some of the popular diets?

There are many popular diets. Some are considered to be fad diets and unsafe for the long term. Others are healthy and may be right for you. Remember that no one diet works for everyone. Some broad categories of popular diets are:

  • High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets result in a quick loss of weight right away. Two well known examples of this type of diet are the Atkins Diet and the South Beach Diet. Most of these diets allow unlimited amounts of high-protein foods and limit other food groups. Carbohydrate content varies but usually is very low at first. The amount of fat allowed in the diets can vary. Diets that have low amounts of saturated fat and move quickly to adding other food groups back to the diet are healthier. Research has yet to determine the long-term benefits or risks of high-protein, low-carb diets. Recent studies of people following the Atkins Diet showed that they lowered their triglyceride levels (unhealthy blood fat) and increased their HDL (good cholesterol) even though their diet was rich in saturated fat. A possible risk is that this diet limits foods that help lower the risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Specific food diets limit your diet to a few specific foods. They are a type of fad diet. These diets do not count calories, are boring, and depend mostly on will power to follow a diet that has very little variety. You may start having vitamin and mineral deficiencies after just a few days on one of these diets. Examples of these diets are the grapefruit diet and the cabbage diet.
  • Balanced nutrition diet plans are higher carbohydrate, low saturated-fat diets that more closely follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and guidelines recommended by the American Heart Association and Cancer Society. Examples of this type of diet are the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid, American Heart Association, and Mediterranean diets.
  • Calorie-conscious commercial programs and weight loss clinics offer group support and motivation for the dieter, a wide variety of foods, and meal plans of 500 to 1500 calories a day. These programs are often costly. Some should not be followed without supervision by your healthcare provider. Some programs, such as Weight Watchers, can give excellent support for changing bad eating habits and sticking to your weight loss diet.

Each year more and more diet books are published, each promising great results. Some diets are very low calorie (less than 500 calories a day) or total fasting. These diets can be dangerous--even life-threatening--and must be supervised by your healthcare provider. It is hard to keep up or know which diets are based on good science. You can read diet reviews by nutrition professionals on the American Dietetic Association Web site:

How will physical activity help me lose weight?

In addition to diet, daily walking can help you manage your weight. Start with a comfortable goal: 5, 10, or 15 minutes a day. Walk this amount at least 4 to 7 times a week. Each week add 5 minutes to your time until you have worked up to at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day. Moderate aerobic exercise is generally defined as exercise that requires the energy it takes to walk 2 miles in 30 minutes. Once you have reached the 30-minute goal, you may need to work up to exercising 60 minutes a day to keep from gaining weight gain. You may need to exercise 90 minutes a day to lose weight. Invite someone to walk with you--for example, your spouse or a child you've been meaning to spend more time with. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before you start an exercise program.

As you walk you will burn calories. If you are unable to walk, ask your healthcare provider to recommend another type of exercise.

In addition to helping you lose weight or keep a healthy weight, regular physical activity lowers your pulse, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. It also increases your energy level and improves your sleep.

What if I can't stop overeating?

If you compulsively overeat, the Overeaters Anonymous organization may help. The program is free. Write or call:

Overeaters Anonymous
Phone: 505-891-2664
Web site:

You can learn more about healthy eating from The Dietary Guidelines for Americans available on the Web sites

Disclaimer: This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information provided is intended to be informative and educational and is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.

HIA File diex4733.htm Release 13/2010

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