Losing weight can be a long-term process, but choosing a diet program and sticking with it is an important step to make sure the change is permanent.

A reasonable diet for losing weight and body fat needs to limit calories while providing essential nutrients and a healthy balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. A low-calorie diet creates an energy deficit in the body by supplying less energy than the body needs for daily functions.

To meet its energy needs, the body then has to draw upon the energy stored in body fat. Moderate exercise -- which increases the body's demand for energy -- is a useful addition to diet therapy and is especially helpful in maintaining lost weight.

Many people are unsuccessful at losing weight because they get discouraged with the results. If you have unrealistic expectations, it is easy to become frustrated. Becoming overweight is not an overnight phenomenon; it takes months, even years, to accumulate that added weight. Reversing the process will not happen overnight either. You have to be willing to invest the necessary time and effort if the weight you want to lose is body fat.

A safe and realistic weight-loss program will lead to an average weight loss of one to two pounds a week. "Average" is a key word here, because the pattern of weight loss is not a steady one. In the beginning, as the body adjusts to a new diet, weight loss can be quick. But in time, the amount lost tapers off to about one to two pounds a week; our bodies simply aren't able to lose much more body fat than that in a shorter period of time.

Many people experience plateaus during their attempts to lose weight. Even when they're adhering to the diet, the weight loss appears to stop. If this happens to you, don't be discouraged; it's a normal part of the weight-loss process. These plateaus may last for weeks, but they are temporary.

Staying with the program during these critical periods is essential if you want to continue to lose weight in the long run. One way to try to overcome these plateaus is to increase your level of exercise. Sooner or later, most people make it through this period and continue to lose weight.

In addition to reducing body fat, a successful diet program has to provide your body with the essential nutrients it needs. And it must show you how to make wise food choices to meet those needs. If a diet plan doesn't provide your body with enough of the protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals, and fiber required for health, the diet can end up doing more harm than good. The plan needs to show you how to change your eating habits for good, so you don't go back to the poor food choices that caused the weight gain in the first place.

This article will help you pick a diet program. The next page tells you what you should ask to make sure a diet is healthy for you.

For more information about weight loss, see:

  • Benefits of Exercise: Regular physical activity can help you with everything from keeping weight off to preventing heart disease. Find out how to improve and extend your life through exercise.
  • Eating Healthy: Developing good eating habits is as much about making lifestyle changes as it is learning about food. Get started on the road to better eating.
  • How to Lose Weight: It's challenging to take off pounds, but it's even more difficult to keep them off. Learn how to change your habits to make your weight loss permanent.
  • Weight Loss: To stay healthy, you should take off weight gradually. Learn about the medical ramifications of weight loss.