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How to Create a USDA Weight-loss Plan


Setting Dietary Goals

Identifying your behaviors, positive and negative, and your eating and activity patterns is the first step toward changing them. The next is to set some goals. To lose weight effectively and successfully, your goals need to be specific, attainable, and forgiving.

For instance, as you assessed your inventory, you may have realized that you need to eat less sugar. That's too vague to be a goal, though, because there's no plan for how to accomplish it and no way to measure whether you've achieved it. However, if you decide to drink only one 12-ounce can of soda pop instead of your usual 20-ounce bottle, five days a week, you'll have set a specific goal that you can actually measure. This goal requires a small enough change that you can attain it. And it's forgiving because you need to do it only five days a week, not seven.

Or, your inventory may have highlighted how little physical activity you do. If you just vow to be more active, you probably won't have many more minutes to add to your log in the next week. But if you decide to walk for 20 minutes on your lunch hour three days a week or lift weights during your two favorite TV programs this week, then you have made a specific and attainable plan to expend more calories, one that is also flexible.

Your goals should also include the idea of calorie balance. If you want to eat 250 fewer calories and expend 250 more calories a day, your goals will determine how you get there. That 20-ounce bottle of Coke that you were considering giving up is worth 250 calories, as is a 45-minute brisk walk (for someone who weighs 150 pounds).

Your goals need not be static. In fact, they shouldn't be. What you want to do is take small, achievable steps, then raise the ante when you're comfortable. Once you've adjusted to drinking 12 ounces of soda five days a week, for example, you can cut back the number of days and reduce the amount again. And you can add 5- or 10-minute increments on to your lunchtime walk as you're ready.

Now go back and review each category in your log with an eye toward setting a goal. Together, the goals you set will form the basis of a plan for eating fewer calories, increasing your activity, and making wiser food choices that will provide adequate nutrition. However, do not try to accomplish each goal right away. Start with one or two that seem most important to you or that you are most willing to do. In general, you should only change one or two behaviors at a time. Making too many changes at once can be overwhelming, defeating you before you've had a chance to make real progress.

A step-by-step approach will lead you to greater and more long-lasting success. Try starting out with one or two achievable goals per week related to food and one or two for physical activity. Write out the one or two goals that you are going to do first. Post them in some conspicuous places. Don't let them become "out of sight and out of mind." You may need them posted on the refrigerator, the bathroom mirror, in your car, and/or at work. Set yourself up for success by doing whatever you need to achieve those goals. Do you need to go shopping so you have certain foods on hand? Do you need to purchase new tennis shoes or clear your schedule at 5 p.m. for your appointment with activity? Make a quick list of what you need, and take care of these things within the next few days so you can get started.

Keep Track
As you move through your week, continue tracking your eating and activity -- daily if possible or, at a minimum, three consecutive days each week. Successful weight losers know that a log keeps you on track. It not only makes you accountable to yourself, it helps you spot problem areas. Once you realize some of your obstacles, you can set goals to overcome them.

MyPyramid.gov has a tracking sheet you can use each week. Make sure you enter weight information that results in a chart showing the amount of calories you want to eat. Print the tracking form. On it, you can enter the foods you eat and compare them against the recommended amounts for your calorie level's food pattern. The tracking form also gives you space to record your physical activity. Keep these forms from week-to-week to monitor your progress. If you'd like a computerized analysis of your progress each week, MyPyramid.gov can keep your information for up to one year.

Be sure to review your goals every week. Did you achieve them? If not, set goals that will be more attainable. Set one or two new goals each week, building on those you have already accomplished. Before you know it, you'll reach your weight-loss goal.

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.

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