How do I eat and exercise to lose weight?

Once you have a safe and effective plan to follow, you'll need to start looking at what you eat and how often you exercise. You have three basic steps to remember when it comes to food.
  • Eat fewer calories.
  • Consider portion sizes.
  • Think about what you can stick with for a long time.

No one likes to think so, but you'll need to make healthy choices about what you eat even after you reach your goal weight. Think of the time that you spend losing weight as the training period for how you will eat to maintain your weight loss once you've reached the weight you've desired.

Make Some Cuts in Calories

To lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit. That is, you need to burn more calories than you eat. One way you can achieve this is by cutting back on the calories you take in each day. Try eating smaller portions of the foods you already eat. You do not need to deprive yourself of all the foods you like. If you reduce calories, it's important that you still get all the nutrients, such as vitamins and protein, that you need. For some guidance, consider the ideas below. Cut back on the amount of fat you eat. Fat is high in calories. Each gram of fat contains 9 calories, while each gram of carbohydrate or protein contains only 4 calories. So reducing the fat in your diet is an effective way to reduce calories and lose weight. To learn some strategies for eating less fat, see How Can I Cut the Fat in My Diet? One way to eat a low-fat diet is to follow the DASH diet. DASH is short for the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension study. In this study, people ate a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in salt, total fat, and saturated fat. As a result, they significantly reduced their blood pressure. See What Is the DASH Diet? to learn more about it. See What Can I Eat on the DASH Diet? and How Much Can I Eat on the DASH Diet?

Read food labels. To lose weight, it's not enough to simply eat foods labeled low-fat or nonfat. Many processed food products that are low in fat are loaded with sugar. This means they are high in calories. When you're trying to lose weight, all calories count, not just calories from fat. Get in the habit of reading food labels, and look for foods that are low in total fat, saturated fat, and calories.

Choose a diet you can live with. Losing weight doesn't mean you always have to feel hungry. Replace foods high in fat with foods high in carbohydrates and low in fat. When you do, you'll be cutting calories without reducing the amount of food you eat. Foods that are high in carbohydrates help you feel full. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains also contain a lot of fiber, which can prevent hunger. So there's no need to starve yourself. Also, don't deprive yourself of all your favorite foods. If you do, you're setting yourself up to fail. Work at including favorites less often or in smaller amounts. Try new healthier foods, too. You may find that some of these become your new favorites.

Two P's of Staying Fit

Pay Attention to Portion Size

One of the biggest weight-loss mistakes people make is to overestimate the size of a standard serving. For instance, one serving of pasta is just ½ cup. So when you hear that you're supposed to eat at least 6 servings of grains a day, this is equal to 3 cups of pasta. It is also equal to 1 cup of oatmeal at breakfast, 2 slices of bread on a sandwich at lunch, and 1 cup of pasta at dinner. To learn about the serving sizes of other foods, see What Counts as a Serving?

Measure your portions. Measuring is important, especially when you are just getting started. Use measuring cups and spoons to make sure you are eating the amount you intend to eat. Place this amount of food in the dish you would typically use. Take a good look at how it fills the dish. After you do this for a while, you will become familiar with the size of a healthy portion. Then you will no longer need to measure. Measuring is an important first step to help you become more conscious of portion sizes and to cut calories.

Use visual tricks when you can't measure. Of course, when you eat out, it's not convenient to measure your food. Instead, you can use the size of common items as a reference for what counts as a serving. For instance, a serving of meat, 2 to 3 ounces, is the size of a deck of cards. So visualize a deck of cards on your plate to help you decide how much meat to eat. This table provides visual references for other types of food, too.

Food Serving Size Visual Reference
Meat 2 oz. to 3 oz. deck of cards, or standard personal checkbook
Rice ½ cup cooked cupcake wrapper
Pasta ½ cup cooked ice cream scoop
Fruits and vegetables ½ cup tennis ball, or light bulb
Cheese 1 oz. four dice
Butter or margarine 1 teaspoon the width and length of a postage stamp and the thickness of three nickels stacked together

Get More Active

Physical activity not only burns calories, it helps control your appetite. It also revs up the rate at which your body burns calories, which is called your metabolism. This helps reduce excess fat around your waist - the most dangerous place to carry weight in terms of your health. When it comes to weight loss, a little activity goes a long way. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds and you begin walking briskly every day for 1½ miles, you'll lose about 14 pounds in a year. This should happen even if you don't change the number of calories you eat! To learn how to add more exercise into your life, see How Do I Increase My Exercise? So if you are more active, you may not have to work quite as hard at making changes in your eating habits. Plus, being active makes you feel better, mentally and physically. This feeling of well-being will help you stay motivated.