Losing weight and establishing a healthy lifestyle is a goal almost everyone has at some point. But how do you achieve it? And more important, how do you achieve it in the right way?

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have created a set of guidelines that will help you lose weight in a practical and achievable way.

Now, this doesn't mean it will be easy, but at least you will have guidelines to follow and suggestions to help you when you feel like giving up. Most of these tips are outlined in this article in the following sections:

  • Understanding the USDA Guidelines Looking for a healthy, lifelong weight loss plan? Then you've come to the right place. In this section, you'll find out about the 2005 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are basically recommendations for a healthy way to eat. You'll also find out why the federal government is so interested in what we eat.
  • What's New About the USDA Guidelines On this page, you'll find an overview of the major changes made to the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans. For example, learn about MyPyramid, the new symbol that has replaced the old Food Guide Pyramid as a helpful tool for eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly.
  • Understanding Calories and Weight Control Do you know how many calories equal a pound? Find out in this section. While you're at it, you'll also learn about the importance of calorie balance if you want to control your weight -- and why imbalance causes you to gain or lose weight, depending on which side of the scale is tipping.
  • The Three Tenets of Weight Loss The USDA suggests that there are three tenets of weight loss: eating fewer calories, increasing physical activity, and making wiser food choices. This sounds relatively straightforward, but if you need more information, plus some helpful examples, take a look at this section.
  • Fats, Proteins, and Carbs According to the USDA, it's important to eat a combination of fat, protein, and carbohydrate each day, even when you're trying to lose weight. Cutting out one or more of these types of food could actually hinder your weight-loss efforts. To find out more about eating a balanced diet, see this page.
  • Restricting Fats and Consuming Fluids and Vitamins While eating a balance of fat, protein, and carbohydrate is a crucial step toward weight control, it's also important to restrict the amount of fat you consume and increase your fluid and vitamin intake. Find out more about what your diet may be missing -- or have too much of -- on this page.
  • Creating a USDA Weight-Loss Plan Before you embark on creating a USDA weight-loss plan, you'll want to ask yourself a series of questions to ensure that this time your weight-loss efforts will stick. Find these questions, as well as information on the many health benefits of losing weight, in this section.
  • Healthy Weights and BMI You know you need to lose weight, but what is a healthy weight for you? This section discusses healthy weights and offers a equation to help you determine your BMI, or body mass index. You'll also find out why that weight in your middle is the most dangerous to your health.
  • Setting a Weight-Loss Goal There are a few good methods for determining how much weight you should lose: using the BMI formula, losing a percentage of your current weight, and losing 1/2 to 2 pounds per week, no matter what your weight. Get more information on these methods in this section, along with help on figuring out how many calories you should be consuming.
  • Creating a Calorie Deficit The USDA claims the best way to create a calorie deficit and lose weight is by not only decreasing the amount of calories you intake, but also by getting rid of them through physical activity. Learn more about the USDA's recommendations on this page.
  • Creating a Diet Inventory You can't know where you're going without knowing where you've been. That's why it's so important to take an eating and activity inventory before you start cutting calories. Find suggestions to do just that on this page, along with link for keeping track of your diet online.
  • Dietary Guidelines Quantities Key Just how much is 3 ounces of chicken anyway? When you first start cutting calories, it can be difficult to know what the recommended serving size means -- especially if you're not at home to measure it all out. The tips on this page will make the process easier until you become a master at determining serving sizes.
  • Analyzing a Diet Inventory After you've spent a few days tracking your food intake and activity output, it's time to analyze the data and determine how many calories -- and what kinds of foods -- you should be eating each day. The information on this page will help you.
  • Setting Dietary Goals A good way to ensure you meet your dietary goals is first to make them attainable. This section offers tips on how to set goals and how to alter them as you acheive each one. You'll also be reminded about tracking your eating and activity habits to make sure your diet stays on track.
  • Calorie-Cutting Strategies Now that you've set your weight-loss goal, you probably need some calorie-cutting strategies to get you on the right track. This section features suggestions on how to cut down on portion sizes and how to ensure you drink lots and lots of water.
  • Boosting Nutrients and Fighting Temptation In order to achieve your daily caloric intake goal, you need to be mindful of how to get the most out of the food you're eating and how to avoid those tempting "bad" foods that could send you spiraling back to your old habits. This section offers great tips on boosting nutrients and fighting temptation.
  • Smart Shopping and Recipe Modification The grocery store can be a difficult place when you're losing weight. Find out how to shop more effectively on this page. You'll also learn great tips for modifying some of your favorite recipes to make them less fattening and lower in sugar.
  • Low-Calorie Snacking on the Go Don't let hunger get the best of you while you're away from home. By following the tips outlined on this page, you can be sure to keep up with your weight-loss plan, even when you're traveling, shopping, or engaged in other activities outside the house.
  • Low-Calorie Dining Out Yes, going out while dieting can be difficult. But if you are making a lifestyle change like the USDA suggests, then you need to get used to avoiding temptation. This page offers suggestions on how to order when dining out and preventative measures you can take before you go out to ensure you don't overeat.
  • Restaurant Advice: Mexican, Chinese, and More This helpful section details some of the best dishes -- and worst -- to order when you are dining out. You'll find lists for Mexican, Chinese, and Japanese food, as well as Thai, Italian, and Middle Eastern fare.
  • Restaurant Advice: Fast Food and Buffets The biggest challenge for many people who are dieting is what to do when faced with such high-caloric options as a buffet, a fast-food restaurant, or take-out food. Fortunately, there are still ways to keep your diet in check when these are your only options. Learn more on this page.
  • Finding Time to Exercise We all know how difficult it can be to get motivated -- and stay motivated -- to exercise on a regular basis. That's why the tips on this page will come in handy. Whether it's finding an activity buddy to join in on the fun or rewarding yourself with nonfood treats, you'll learn ways to keep up with your activity goals.
  • Exercise Strategies Since exercising is one-half of your weight-loss plan, it's important to find ways that will ensure you stick with it. This section will do just that, offering strategies like creating a flexible routine, incorporating TV time with exercise time, and more.
  • Exercising While Away Abandoning your exercise routine while away from home -- especially if you travel for business -- just won't work if you're serious about weight loss or weight control. So what can you do? There are actually plenty of ways to stay active while traveling; find out about some of them on this page.