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Once you have made the decision to lose weight, it's time to decide where to start. Are you a little overweight or a lot? How much do you need to lose? How fast can you lose it? This article offers a series of steps to help you determine your weight-loss goal and the path to get there. You may be pleasantly surprised at how little it takes to improve your health and lose weight, and the USDA Dietary Guidelines can help you achieve your goal. Get ready, get set, and go!

Get Ready
Embarking on a weight-loss journey means you'll be making changes in your eating and activity habits. Are you ready to do that? Probably, or you wouldn't be reading this! But you'll need more than desire to ensure success. To be successful, you need to think about what it will be like to make lifestyle changes. And you need to be willing to do things differently than you have before. The following questions will help you reflect on your readiness to make changes and on what may have prevented you from losing weight and keeping it off in the past. A little introspection now will put you on the fast track to success.

Here are the questions to ask:

1. Why do you want to lose weight? Whether you want to lose weight primarily to improve your health or to change your appearance, it's good to know what motivates you. Make a list of all the factors and refer to it for incentive as you change your diet and exercise habits. When you read "have more energy to play with the kids," or "look better at my college reunion," you'll be more likely to stay on track.

2. Have you lost weight before or attempted to? Many people attempt to lose weight more than once. This time can be different! Think about what prevented you from losing weight before and what you might do to prevent the same obstacles from getting in the way this time. Often the problem is that lifestyle changes haven't been established, and so dieters return to old eating habits. The USDA Dietary Guidelines encourage you to take gradual steps to establish lifelong healthy habits.

3. Do you have a few friends and/or family members who are willing to support your efforts? It's important that
people with whom you are in contact daily or almost daily are supportive of your efforts. Talk to them about what you are going to do and what you need from them specifically. For example, you can say, "I know you're trying to include me when you ask if I'd like some of the fried chicken you brought home, but please don't ask me anymore. It's easier for me to not eat it if I don't feel obligated to accept. Will you do that for me?" Surround yourself with people who will give you positive reinforcement. This will help you feel good about yourself and raise your self-esteem, which is a boon to weight loss (and vice versa!).

4. Do you understand the benefits of losing weight?
Losing even a small percentage of your current body weight can reduce your risk of many chronic diseases and health conditions. You don't have to become stick thin to reap the health benefits of weight loss. Often losing just 10 percent of your body weight will do the trick. Knowing this might help you feel confident and hopeful: You're starting something you can and will achieve.

5. Are you willing and able to spend time to take care of yourself? Some of the lifestyle changes you'll be making will take some extra time, and your routine will be different. You may spend a little more time making food choices at the grocery store or do more cooking than usual. And you will be spending more time being physically active. If you understand and make room for that extra time at the outset, you'll increase the likelihood of your success.

6. Is this a good time in your life to pursue weight loss? The best time to make lifestyle changes is when there are no major stressful events in your life, such as starting a new job, moving, marrying, divorcing, or having a child. Life will never be stress free, so don't wait for that -- just avoid starting a new diet and activity regimen during an unusually stressful time!

After having an honest chat with yourself, it's time for the next step: determining an appropriate weight-loss goal for you. In the next section we will look at healthy weights and what it takes to get there.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider. ­