7 Ways to Get Your Diet off to a Good Start

Ready for weight loss? Here are some tips to set you on the right path

By Kathleen Zelman MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Beginning a diet to lose weight and improve health is a worthy goal, but it can be a bit overwhelming. There are bound to be challenges whenever you start something new, especially when it involves something you do several times each day -- like eating and drinking.

Still, as long as you don't try to change everything at once, you can meet your weight loss goals. Read on to learn some secrets of the masters -- those who have lost weight and, more importantly, kept it off. After all, what good is losing the extra weight if you gain it right back?

1. Follow a Healthy Eating Plan

A healthy eating plan (like the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic plan) should include foods you enjoy along with plenty of healthy, not-too-processed foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean meats, seafood, beans, and nuts. Thanks to their ability to satisfy, these low-calorie foods will actually help you stick to your diet. The most satisfying foods have lots of fiber (like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts) and/or low-fat protein (found in meat, fish, dairy, and soy).

Ideally, you'll slowly wean yourself off favorite foods that are heavily processed and high in fat or calories, and replace them with more nutritious options. At any time during this process, feel free to come up with a new eating plan that increases some healthful foods and decreases others. It's best for WLC members to create a new plan at the end of the week. When you do so, the WLC electronic journal wipes your slate clean.

Don't worry if you are a vegetarian, or have allergies or intolerances. Your personalized WLC eating plan may not include all of the recommended food groups, but it will provide adequate nutrients. We recommend that everyone take a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement to fill in any nutritional gaps.

2. Take Baby Steps

Change is hard. Making small, gradual changes in your eating patterns is the best way to overhaul your diet. Some experts suggest making just one change each week, to give you time to get used to the new behavior. Your ultimate goal is to establish new eating habits that can be sustained for a lifetime.

An excellent way to start is to stock your cupboards and refrigerator with healthy foods, and plan to prepare healthier meals at home. Pick up a new cookbook or cooking magazine specializing in healthy cuisine; post a favorite family recipe on the WLC "Recipe Doctor" board for tips on how to lighten it; or try one of the recipes from the Weight Loss Clinic collection.

3. Set Realistic Goals

Most people who need to lose weight set lofty goals, dreaming of fitting into clothing sizes that may not be realistic for them. Yet losing as little as 5% to 10% of your body weight can improve the way you feel, put a zip in your step, and, most importantly, improve your health. Studies show that losing even small amounts of weight can improve overall health and, specifically, lower blood pressure, and blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Set weight loss goals that are attainable, and keep in mind that the recommended rate of weight loss is only 1-2 pounds per week. Slow and steady wins this race. It takes time to learn new eating habits that will last for the rest of your life.

4. Reward, Don't Punish

To keep motivation high, reward yourself after reaching minigoals. After all, losing 5 pounds or making it to the gym five times in a week deserves a pat on the back.

On the other hand, don't be too hard on yourself when you fall off the wagon -- everyone does, sooner or later. Anticipate that slipups will happen, and when they do, just brush yourself off and get right back on track. Use your slipup to learn where you are vulnerable, and decide how you will handle the situation the next time without abandoning your diet. My suggestion is try to do your best 80% of the time, and relax the rules somewhat the other 20% of the time.

5. Get a Buddy

Support is an essential part of a successful weight loss program. Enlist a family member, find a friend to join you in your walks or workouts, and get involved in the WLC online community. These people will become a source of inspiration, support, and encouragement on a regular basis -- and especially when the going gets tough.

6. Track Your Meals

Successful losers know how important it is to document what and how much they eat. The simple act of writing it down is a powerful tool that can help keep you in control.

Use the WLC journal function, or if you prefer, keep your own diary to track your daily food intake.

7. Add Exercise

Eating healthfully and cutting calories is only half the formula for successful weight loss. Getting regular physical activity is the other portion. Exercise is a powerful tool, helping you burn calories and increase strength, balance, and coordination while reducing stress and improving your overall health.

My advice is to fit in fitness first thing in the morning, to make sure it doesn't get squeezed out of your busy day. (Before starting any fitness program, check with your doctor, and while you're at it, bring your doctor a copy of your eating plan to discuss.)

You should be proud that you have made the decision to improve your health. Know that the road ahead will have some bumps, but equipped with a good eating plan, support system, and a positive attitude, you will be successful. Good luck!

Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, is director of nutrition for WebMD and the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.

Published March 2, 2006.


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