How to Create a USDA Weight-loss Plan

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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. ­

Healthy Weights and BMI

Top Reasons to Lose Weight
Losing even a few pounds can reduce your risk of health problems. You can look forward to LESS risk of:
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Certain cancers
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Respiratory problems
  • Joint pain and osteoarthritis
  • Gout
  • Sleep apnea
  • Premature death

The USDA Dietary Guidelines urge all Americans to achieve and maintain a body weight that optimizes their health. But how do you know how much you should weigh? Just as there is no magic weight-loss bullet, there's no magic number on the scale, either. But you can determine whether your weight and the amount of body fat you are carrying are within a range of weight that is optimal for your health. Once you've done that, you can go ahead and set a more specific goal weight.

There are two primary methods of measuring body fat, the Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist circumference. The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend that you use both measures to assess your current weight and to monitor your weight whether you're in the weight-loss or maintenance phases of your weight-control plan.

Body Mass Index (BMI)
The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure of a person's weight in relation to height. But don't confuse it with the traditional height and weight tables that used to be on display in your physician's office. BMI is calculated with a formula, and it produces a number that indicates whether your weight falls into a range that's optimal for health. BMI is considered a more accurate measurement of body fat than weight alone in people 20 years of age or older. (For assessment of young people ages 2 to 19 years,visit www.cdc.gov/growthcharts)

To calculate your BMI, weigh yourself first thing in the morning, wearing few or no clothes. Confirm your height and convert it to inches. Multiply your weight in pounds by 700 (using a calculator makes these computations quicker and easier). Divide this result by your height in inches. Then divide this result again by your height in inches. This number is your BMI. (You can also insert your height and weight into a BMI calculator at a Web site run by the Centers for Disease Control at: www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/bmi/calc-bmi.htm)

Here's an example of BMI calculations for a 140-pound person who is 5 feet 6 inches tall:
140 (weight in pounds) X 700 = 98,000 divided by 66 (height in inches) = 1,484.85 divided by 66 (height in inches) = 22.49.

A BMI between 19 and 24.9 is considered to be in the healthy range and is associated with the least risk of heart disease or other health problems related to overweight. So the person in the example above is right in the middle of the healthy range. Health risks begin when BMI is 25.0 to 29.9. They become even greater when BMI is higher than 30.0.

If you have a BMI that puts you in the "obese" category, don't despair. There are health benefits to even a modest weight loss of ten pounds. And you can significantly reduce your health risks by losing just ten percent of your weight. The lifestyle changes you're about to make will automatically lower your health risks -- you're on the right path!

Even if your BMI places you in the healthy weight range, it's important to take steps to prevent weight gain, which happens as you age because of metabolic changes even if you continue to eat the same number of calories. Preventing weight gain by eating fewer calories as you get older is also critical to your health.

BMI Limitations
Although it's a good indicator of body fat and health risk, BMI measurement is not perfect. It can overestimate the amount of body fat in people who are very muscular, because muscle is more dense than fat. And it can underestimate the amount of body fat in people who have lost muscle mass, such as the elderly. Even so, BMI is the preferred method of assessing health risks related to weight and amount of body fat.

Watch Your Waist
If you're a male with a waist circumference of 40 inches or more or a woman with a waist bigger than 35 inches, you have an increased risk of developing the following:
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol and/or triglycerides
  • Type 2 diabetes

Where's Your Fat At? -- Waist Circumference
In addition to BMI, it is also important to consider where you carry your extra weight. If fat tends to gather in your abdominal area, you may have increased health risks. Large stores of fat around the waist are associated with a risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers for those who have a BMI of 35 or less. (Waist circumference does not indicate any additional risks for those with a BMI greater than 35.)

To measure waist circumference, place a tape measure around the top of the hip bone. This location may not be what you consider to be your natural waistline, since it is not the narrowest part of your midsection. However, it is the position where you will get the most accurate measure of your abdominal circumference and therefore the best indication of where fat is being stored. Pull the tape snuggly but not so tight that it indents the skin. Take the measurement after a normal exhalation of breath. Read the tape measure in inches. A waist circumference of 40 inches or more for men or 35 inches or more for women indicates that you are at greater risk of health problems, even if your BMI alone doesn't indicate that. Your waist circumference can put you in a high risk category when your BMI does not.

Now you know what your target weight should be, at least in general terms. In the next section, we will talk about setting a realistic weight-loss goal and answering the question -- what does it take to get there?


DOES YOUR BMI PUT YOU AT RISK?

Body Mass Index
Category Health Risks
Less than 19.0
Underweight
Risks not discussed here
19.0-24.9 Healthy weight
No risks unless waist circumference indicates risk
25.0-29.9 Overweight
Moderate risk
30.0 and greater
Obese High risk


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.

Setting a Weight-loss Goal

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Using the BMI formula is one way to lead a happy and healthy lifestyle.

At this point, you've calculated your BMI and waist circumference and discovered whether you are at greater risk of health problems because of those values. You've considered common barriers to weight loss and thought about how to get around them. And you've determined your own health status and family history. The next step is to set a goal.

There are several methods for setting a weight-loss goal. Use one of the methods that follow, whichever suits you best:

1. Use the BMI formula. Estimate a weight that you think will put you in the healthy weight range. Then use the BMI formula from the previous page to refigure the BMI with your goal weight rather than your current weight. If the weight goal you chose falls between 19 and 24.9, then it's a healthy one, and you can use it to determine your daily calorie needs.

2. Lose a percentage. The National Institutes of Health; the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; and the North American Association for the Study of Obesity recommend an initial weight-loss goal of 10 percent of your current weight over a six-month period. Even if you have a lot of weight to lose, aiming for a 10 percent loss will keep you focused on an achievable target. After you lose 10 percent successfully, you can set a new goal. To determine how many pounds equal 10 percent of your weight, do these calculations:

  • Your current weight in pounds _ X .10 = _ pounds to lose.

  • Current weight _ minus _ pounds to lose = _ my new weight goal.

3. Lose 1/2 to 2 pounds per week. No matter what your goal weight, the healthiest and most long-lasting weight loss typically occurs in weekly increments of 1/2 to 2 pounds. People who are clinically obese (BMI of 30 or more) can aim for a weekly weight loss at the higher end of that range, while those who are only slightly overweight should aim for the mid or lower end.

Which of these methods you choose will likely depend on your current weight as well as your personal preferences. It doesn't matter much how you set your goal, but it's essential that you have one. A goal will help determine your path to weight loss.

How Many Calories Do I Need?
Now that you have a goal in mind, it's time to make a plan for achieving it. Weight loss requires you to create a calorie deficit: You need to take in fewer calories than you expend over a period of time. Although you can just start eating less, it will be easier to meet your long-term goal if you have some idea of how many calories you're actually consuming right now. You can get a sense of that by figuring out how many calories you need every day to maintain your current weight. Here's a quick calculation that will give you a ballpark estimate of your daily personal energy needs:

1. My current weight: _ X 10 (for women) or X 11 (for men) = _

2. I am:

  • Inactive (mainly sitting, driving a car, standing, reading, typing, or other low-intensity activities): Add 300 to the result of #1

  • Moderately active (active throughout the day with very little sitting; may include heavy housework, gardening, brisk walking): Add 500 to the result of #1

  • Active (active, physical sports or in a labor-intensive job such as construction): add 700 to the result of #1.
3. Total of answers in #1 and #2: _. That's the approximate number of calories you need every day to maintain your current weight.

Another way to estimate your current calorie intake is to consult this chart from the Dietary Guidelines. The table estimates the number of calories needed to maintain energy balance based on gender, age, and activity level.

Getting to Your Goal
To lose a pound a week, which is a realistic goal, you'll need to create a deficit of 500 calories a day. That's because one pound of body fat is equal to 3,500 calories (500 calories X 7 days= 3,500 calories). You don't want to lose weight much faster than that because it takes time for fat cells, where your body stores the extra calories that you don't use up each day, to give up their bounty. (People who are classified as clinically obese (BMI > 30) and who are aiming for a more significant weight loss, however, can try to create a calorie deficit of up to 1,000 calories per day -- two pounds, or 7,000 calories, a week.) By creating a calorie deficit each day, you force your body to seek energy from the stored energy in the fat cells. When fat cells release their stored energy, they shrink, getting smaller and smaller until they are empty. But it's a process, and it doesn't happen overnight.

You may have heard about diet plans that promise weight loss of 5 pounds a week -- and you may even have experienced such a drop in weight yourself. But when you lose weight that rapidly, the majority of what's lost is typically water and muscle rather than fat. Severe food restriction causes chemical changes in the body that produce water as a by-product. That water, and the water loss caused by muscle degradation when the body breaks down muscle to provide energy, is what's actually being lost rather than fat. When you return to a less restricted diet, the body quickly replenishes the depleted fluid and fat stores, and you regain weight. You don't regain muscle unless you work at it.

That's why yo-yo dieting is so unhealthy and unproductive: You actually regain weight as fat rather than muscle -- unless you go to the gym and work to counteract this process. At the more reasonable weight loss rate of 1/2 to 2 pounds a week, you'll lose unhealthy body fat, not just water.

Drastically reducing the number of calories you consume also slows your body's metabolism, which is counterproductive to your weight-loss efforts. A dramatic reduction in calories signals famine, and the body will slow its internal engine to keep you from starving to death. It will give up little bits of muscle instead of fat, because fat is a concentrated source of energy that the body might need if the perceived famine conditions persist. Keep in mind that your metabolism is the greatest user of calories. If it slows down, you're burning fewer calories.

How Many Calories?
To figure out your daily calorie needs to produce a one-pound weight loss per week, take the result of the formula you used earlier in step #3 and subtract 500 from it. The result is the number of calories you can consume each day to achieve a one-pound weight loss.

One caveat: Do not consume less than 1,000 calories per day. Research shows that weight loss is not aided by eating less than 1,000 calories. And the average minimum amount of calories needed to support your body's functions is 1,200 per day. You'll risk your health and defeat your weight-loss goals because you'll slow your metabolism if you go much below that number of calories.

In the next section, we will discuss how to create a calorie deficit that will help you lose weight.

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.

Creating a Calorie Deficit

Keep the Weight Off
Successful weight maintenance means continuing your new eating and activity behaviors so that weight regain is kept to less than 6.6 pounds in 2 years and you maintain a reduction in waist circumference of at least 1.6 inches. If you want to lose additional weight, you will need to make further adjustments to your calorie balance scale -- eat fewer calories and use more.

The next step in weight loss is to determine how to create your daily calorie deficit. In order to lose weight, you need to tip the scale toward weight loss -- taking food off the "Calories In" side (eat fewer calories) and adding calories to the "Calories Out" side (burn more in physical activity).

If you make adjustments on both sides of the energy-balance equation, you'll be more successful at losing weight.

And that's what the USDA Dietary Guidelines encourage you to do no matter how much weight you're trying to lose. If you only decrease calorie intake and don't increase physical activity, it will take longer for you to lose weight and you won't reap as many health benefits. One way to approach creating a calorie deficit is to make equal adjustments on both sides of the calorie-balance scale.

If a 500-calorie daily deficit is your goal, then you'd take in 250 fewer calories and expend 250 additional calories every day. Of course, you can balance your scale any way you'd like, and you'll probably want to make adjustments as you lose weight and become more fit or when you encounter any lifestyle changes that alter your routine. If expending 250 calories in physical activity seems like too much at first, try eating 400 fewer calories per day and expending 100 calories a day in physical activity.

You can gradually shift the ratio as you become comfortable with the amount of physical activity in your daily routine. And on days when you can't fit in your usual amount of physical activity, simply decrease your calorie intake by the number of calories you normally expend. That's the beauty of the calorie-balance concept. You're not stuck with a rigid diet or physical activity plan. You just need to keep your daily calorie deficit goal in your sights and make sure to follow the USDA Dietary Guidelines' recommendations for healthy eating and physical activity.

Genetics also play a role in your body shape, size, weight, and likelihood of having certain chronic conditions. Research suggests that genes are responsible for somewhere between 60 to 80 percent of how your body regulates weight. Genes play a major role in determining how much energy your body spends to sustain itself, your rate of metabolism, the type of appetite you have, and how your body tends to store fat. When one or two parents are obese or a sibling is obese, your chance of becoming overweight increases. Certain body types are designed to be heavier than others regardless of the steps you take. However, adopting eating and activity habits that lower your health risks are still important, regardless of how much weight you do -- or don't -- lose.

Researchers agree that even if there are obese relatives in the family, "environment" plays a major role. In this case, "environment" refers to eating and activity habits. Since genetics determine 60 to 80 percent of weight regulation, that means a whopping 20 to 40 percent is attributed to environment--the things you can control! A healthy eating plan combined with adequate physical activity may stop so-called "obesity genes" in their tracks. So even if you have overweight family members, don't despair -- you're on the right track now.

A realistic weight-loss plan always involves dietary and activity changes. In the next section, we'll focus on diet and show how creating an inventory will help you monitor the calories you take in.


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.

Creating a Diet Inventory

Online Diet Tracking
For a more precise evaluation of your calorie balance, log onto www.MyPyramid.gov. Go to the section called "MyPyramid Tracker." Click on "Assess Your Food Intake." Here you can enter your daily food intake -- from one day up to a year's worth of days. The report will tell you precisely how many foods you're eating in each category and how many calories you're consuming.

Also in the MyPyramid Tracker you can determine your calorie expenditure more precisely. Click on "Assess Your Physical Activity" to enter the length of time you do activities throughout the day and the intensity level. It will instantly calculate an estimate of the calories you used.

Do you know what your energy balance scale looks like? Most of us have no idea. In fact, research shows that our perceptions of what we eat and how much physical activity we do are way off the mark. In a survey of more than 5,700 adults, most thought they ate more fruits, milk, and protein foods than they actually did. Women tended to overestimate -- and men tended to underestimate -- the number of vegetables they ate. And most thought they were eating much fewer grains, fats, oils, and sweets than they actually were.

Before you can put yourself on a calorie budget, then, it's important to get an accurate picture of what you currently eat and how active you really are. That's why this article shows you how to keep a food and activity log -- a sort of inventory of your diet. After you've done that for a few days, you'll learn how to use the Dietary Guidelines' recommendations to adjust the amount of calories you consume and the amount of calories you expend to achieve the weight-loss goal you've set. It's a balancing act you'll get good at!

Take an Eating and Activity Inventory
The only way to raise your awareness of what you actually eat and how active you are is to keep a log for at least three days. If you're under any illusions about your calorie intake and calorie expenditure or what foods you eat, this will quickly dispel them. The inventory will also help you uncover patterns in your eating and activity behaviors. You'll be able to identify situations and emotions that cause you to overeat or make poor choices.

Armed with that information, you can develop some strategies to take control over your habits instead of letting them control you. And the inventory will give you a very good idea of how your diet stacks up against the Dietary Guidelines and MyPyramid (the USDA interactive food guidance system) intake recommendations. You are the only one who will see this inventory, so be completely honest. An inventory that truly reflects your current habits will help you target problem areas and make changes that will lead to successful weight loss. And it will help you design a plan that includes many of your favorite foods and gets you moving in ways that fit into your lifestyle. For a blank copy of a diet inventory than you can print out and use, click here.

Before you get started, here are some basic guidelines:

  • Log typical days: Take your inventory on three typical consecutive days. Aim for two workdays and one nonwork or weekend day. Avoid taking your inventory when your schedule is hectic or when you're traveling or sick.

  • Don't wait: Carry your log with you and write down everything as you eat it or as you do it. Don't wait until the end of the day: Studies show that you can't rely on memory. If you don't have your inventory sheet with you, jot down your meal, snack, or activity on any piece of paper and add it to your inventory later.

  • Record everything!: Be sure to record any food you eat or beverage you drink, no matter how small. That includes nibbles and bites you take while preparing food or eating on the run. The old joke about cookies not counting if they're broken does not apply!

  • Be specific: For foods and beverages, record the specific amount you consumed. For example, did you eat about 1/2 cup of rice, 10 potato chips, 6 ounces of milk, or 3 ounces of chicken? Try to measure everything you eat and drink at least once. Determining your typical portion size is very important, so don't skip this part of the process. Also record the number of calories. If you're not sure how many calories are in a particular food, look on the product's Nutrition Facts panel. Be sure to log the amount of time you spend in physical activity, too. Record the number of minutes, as well as the intensity level.

  • Include food preparation details: Record how food was prepared -- was it raw, baked, breaded, fried, steamed? And log everything you add to your food, such as butter, ketchup, sauce, gravy, and salad dressing. When recording mixed dishes, list ingredients separately. For instance, your sandwich might have 2 slices of whole-wheat bread, 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise, and several slices of ham that are about 3 ounces (the size of a deck of cards), plus 2 leaves of lettuce.

  • Assess your hunger: On a scale of one to five (1 is not hungry; 5 is ravenous) rate how hungry you are every time you eat. If you weren't hungry, mention why you ate: Were you bored, sad, or excited? Did someone offer you food and you couldn't refuse? If you understand why you eat when you do, you'll be better able to change and control your eating habits.

  • The Benefits of a Diet Inventory
    Keeping track of everything you put into your mouth and all of your activity for several days can seem very tedious. Yet people who write it all down report that it is the most useful tool they have for getting in touch with their eating and activity habits. Numerous studies, too, report that those who keep a food diary eat fewer calories. The most successful weight losers continue to keep an Eating and Activity Inventory for a few days every month. Even though you may be impatient to get on with the process, don't skip this part. You are strongly encouraged to log a minimum of three day's worth of eating, drinking, and activity -- this IS part of the process!
  • Quantify by category: Indicate the number of cups or ounces you ate from each of the five food groups. You'll need this information later on to design a diet plan that follows the Dietary Guidelines and the MyPyramid food guidance system. To fill out the Discretionary Calorie columns, use calories or grams, whichever you prefer. Determining the amounts to enter in the columns can be tricky, because they are not just calories from snack foods. They include calories from fat and sugar in foods that you may have eaten to fulfill your nutrient needs in each food group.

    For example, dairy products in the milk group of the Guidelines are all nonfat. So if you eat dairy products that are low fat or full fat, you'll need to account for the fat calories (or grams) in those products in the "solid fat" column in the discretionary calorie section of your log. You can find the amounts listed on the Nutrition Facts panel.

    The same principle applies to meats. Only the leanest cuts of meat are included in the Guidelines' meat group, so if you choose fattier cuts or didn't trim off all visible fat, include those additional fat grams or calories in your discretionary calorie allowance. In addition, shortenings used in baked products, hard margarines, mayonnaise, and cream or creamer should be included in the fat column. One teaspoon of fat equals four grams or 36 calories. In the sugar column, which is part of your discretionary calorie allowance, only account for added sugars, such as high fructose corn syrup or table sugar, that are added to foods and beverages during processing or preparation. Do not list sugars in unsweetened dairy products or beverages that are 100 percent juice, because these are not added sugars; they occur naturally.

  • Total the categories: At the end of each day, add up the quantities you've logged in each food category column, as well as the number of minutes of physical activity. Write this in the "Totals of Food Categories -- Amount Consumed (or Minutes of Activity)" row.

Before you can effectively fill out your inventory, you have to understand quantities and serving sizes. After all, recording an accurate diet needs a good standard for measuring food items. The next section will provide a good guide for measuring items like fruits and vegetables.


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.

Dietary Guidelines Quantities Key

Serving Size Guide
If you're away from home and can't measure your food, these will help you estimate portion size.
  • 1 cup is about the size of a baseball or tennis ball
  • 1/2 cup is about the size of 1/2 of a baseball or tennis ball
  • 2 tablespoons is about the size of a ping-pong ball
  • 1 teaspoon is about the size of one die
  • 1-1/2 ounces of cheese is about the size of 6 stacked dice
  • 3 ounces of meat, fish, or poultry is about the size and thickness of a deck of cards
  • 1 medium potato or other fruit or vegetable is about the size of a medium adult fist

By describing servings in familiar household measurements such as cups and ounces, the Dietary Guidelines have resolved a major source of consumer confusion. The previous guidelines talked about numbers of servings, but it wasn't clear what constituted a serving. Now the Guidelines say to eat two cups of fruit. No more guessing about how much makes a serving and how many servings you should eat.

Dietary Guidelines Quantities Key
The following are equivalents to the quantities recommended in the Guidelines:

Vegetables and fruits
One-half cup of fruit or vegetables is equivalent to:
  • 1/2 cup cut-up raw or cooked fruit or vegetable
  • 1/2 cup fruit or vegetable juice
  • 1 cup leafy salad greens
Grains
One ounce-equivalent is the same as:
  • 1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta or cooked cereal
  • 1 cup cereal flakes
  • 1 slice bread
  • 1 very small muffin (1 ounce)
  • 1 ounce dry pasta or rice
Milk
One cup milk is equivalent to:
  • 1 cup milk, yogurt, or fortified soy milk
  • 1-1/2 ounces natural cheese such as Cheddar
  • 2 ounces processed cheese
Meat and Beans
One ounce-equivalent is the same as:
  • 1 ounce lean meat, poultry, or fish
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup cooked dry beans or tofu (count as a protein or vegetable, not both)
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1/2 ounce nuts or seeds
Oils
One teaspoon equivalent is:
  • 1 teaspoon soft margarine
  • 1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons light salad dressing
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
All cooking oils plus soft margarines that do not contain any trans fats are included in this category. Because these oils contain vitamin E and essential fatty acids, they are not part of the discretionary calorie allowance below.

Discretionary calories
The allowance for discretionary calories will depend on the specific calorie-level eating plan you are following. Check the label for the number of grams of sugar listed. The same goes for fat; check the labels of food products for the number of grams of fat.

Alcohol
The Guidelines recommend a maximum intake of 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men (see "Alcoholic Beverage Guidelines" below). One serving is equivalent to:
  • 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits
  • 5 fluid ounces of wine
  • 12 fluid ounces of beer

See more alcohol guidelines on the next page.


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.

Alcoholic Beverages Guidelines

Alcoholic Beverage Guidelines Alcohol contains no nutrients, so it is not listed in the food pattern guide. What alcohol does have, however, is calories -- lots of them. Each gram of alcohol provides 7 calories, just 2 less than fat. Alcoholic beverages, then, should be counted as part of your discretionary calorie allowance.

As you can see from the chart below, which shows the typical amount of calories in various alcoholic beverages, one or two drinks can blow your discretionary calorie allowance. Cocktails or mixed drinks contain other high-calorie ingredients, such as tonic water, fruit juice, cream, and sweetened soft drinks, that up the calorie count and can send you way over your discretionary calorie budget. Alcohol is well-known for decreasing one's resistance to food, so chances are good that while you're drinking, you're also eating, and drink accompaniments are more likely to be high fat than high fiber.

As you can see from the chart below, which shows the typical amount of calories in various alcoholic beverages, one or two drinks can blow your discretionary calorie allowance. Cocktails or mixed drinks contain other high-calorie ingredients, such as tonic water, fruit juice, cream, and sweetened soft drinks, that up the calorie count and can send you way over your discretionary calorie budget. Alcohol is well-known for decreasing one's resistance to food, so chances are good that while you're drinking, you're also eating, and drink accompaniments are more likely to be high fat than high fiber.

However, since studies show that moderate alcohol consumption may help reduce heart attacks and strokes, the Dietary Guidelines do address it. The Guidelines define moderation as 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. This is not intended to be an average over several days but rather the amount consumed on any single day. Excessive intake of alcoholic beverages is dangerous, carries with it many health risks, and will sabotage your weight-loss plan -- so stick to moderation if you decide to drink at all -- and never drink during pregnancy or while operating motorized machinery.

This table is a guide to estimate the caloric intake from various alcoholic beverages. An example serving volume and the calories in that drink are shown for beer, wine, and distilled spirits. Higher alcohol content (higher percent alcohol or higher proof) and mixing alcohol with other beverages, such as calorically sweetened soft drinks, tonic water, fruit juice, or cream, increases the amount of calories in the beverage. Alcoholic beverages supply calories but provide few essential nutrients.

Beverage Approx. Calories/ Fluid Oz.
Example Volume
Approx. Calories*
Beer (regular)
12
12 oz.
144
Beer (light)
9
12 oz.
108
White wine
20
5 oz.
100
Red wine
21
5 oz.
105
Sweet wine
47
3 oz.
141
80 proof distilled spirits (gin, rum, vodka, whiskey)
64 1.5 oz.
96


Source: Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (SR), Release 17. Calories are calculated to the nearest whole number per 1 fluid oz.

*The total calories and alcohol content vary depending on the brand. Moreover, adding mixers to an alcoholic beverage can contribute calories in addition to the calories from the alcohol itself.

Once you've totaled your food and alcohol consumption over a multiday period, it is time to analyze your diet inventory. The next section will focus on interpreting what all the data you've collected really means.

Analyzing a Diet Inventory

As you've totaled your quantities in your Diet Inventory over the three-day period, you probably noticed some patterns in your eating and activity behaviors. Perhaps you found that you always snack at a certain time of day or that you don't eat nearly the number of vegetables that you imagined. Not all the patterns will be that obvious, but if a few have jumped out at you, you've already begun the process of identifying your major dietary downfalls. Further analysis of your inventory will reveal habits that already promote a healthy lifestyle, as well as areas that you can improve.

Let's look at one category at a time:

How Was Your Timing?
When and how often did you eat? Did you eat within two hours of getting up to keep your metabolism revved up -- or did you skip breakfast, eat a small lunch, and practice the "See Food Diet" (eating everything in sight) in the evening because you were starving? Ideally, you should eat three moderate meals, including breakfast, and two small snacks each day to keep your metabolic engine running and to avoid getting so hungry that you binge.

How Was Your Food Prepared?
Did you eat breaded and/or fried foods, or items served with sauces? If so, just changing the preparation method or substituting a low-fat topping for a high-fat one can significantly cut calories. Consider baking, steaming, broiling, or sauteeing, rather than frying food.

Were You Really Hungry?
This section will give you insight into your emotional reasons for eating. Knowing your emotional triggers will help you resist them or substitute other activities for eating. Also notice what kinds of food you ate when you weren't really hungry. You may not have realized how often you tend to reach for junk food.

Quantity By Category
This is the nitty-gritty of the food log, where you will find out how your current food consumption compares with the Dietary Guidelines' recommendations for your desired calorie intake level. After completing this section you'll know which foods your diet lacks and which foods you tend to overeat. You'll also find out how active you are and how that compares with the Guidelines' recommendations for physical activity.

Before you begin, you'll need to set a daily calorie intake goal. That's the number of calories that you want to consume each day. Then find the same or similar calorie intake amount on the USDA Food Guide chart and follow the column from top to bottom. This will give you the recommended food pattern for that calorie intake level.

Now record the recommended amounts for each food group in the row called "Recommended Amounts from USDA Food Guide for My Calorie Level" near the bottom of the log. When recording the amount for the Vegetables and the Grains groups, just list the total amount recommended, which you'll find in the top row of each of those groups. There is no recommended intake for alcoholic beverages. These will be accounted for in the context of your discretionary calorie intake. Finally, write 60 minutes in the "Recommended Amount of Activity" row. This is the minimum amount of physical activity the Dietary Guidelines recommends for weight loss.

How Did You Do?
With this last step, you'll find out how your typical eating patterns compare with the Dietary Guidelines' recommendations. Subtract the "Recommended Amount from the USDA Food Guide" from the "Amount Consumed" for each food category. The numbers you get will tell you whether you are meeting, exceeding, or lacking in the recommended food intakes. Negative numbers mean you didn't eat enough to meet the recommended amount. These are foods you need to eat more of. Positive numbers mean you ate more than the recommended amounts. These are foods you need to cut back on -- unless you went overboard on vegetables; you can't eat too many of them! If the total is zero, then you've eaten the recommended amount.

Consider all three days together to see which foods are abundant in your eating routine and which ones are scarce. Then write down the food groups you need to eat more of to be in alignment with your new food pattern. Finally, total up the amount of time you spent in moderate and vigorous activity for each of the three days. Did you meet the Guidelines' recommendations or your goal for the number of calories you need to expend to balance your calorie scale?

The next section will talk about setting achievable goals. When it comes to setting goals, they need to be realistic and attainable for your own situation.

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.

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.

Weight-loss Truths and Misconceptions

Weight-loss plans can be extremely difficult to stick to, especially with the growing number of fads and bogus products that are advertised around every corner. One way to ensure that you stick to your weight-loss plan is to fully understand how weight is lost and gained. If you know all of the facts, you’ll be much less likely to stray outside of your plan or try to take shortcuts.

Everybody thinks that they know the best way to lose weight and, because tall tales spread quickly, there are many common misconceptions about how to lose weight properly. But most people's weight-loss plans are ineffective, and some of them can actually make you gain weight. But if you’re having trouble shedding unwanted pounds with diet and exercise, there may be another factor in the equation that is keeping you from reaching your goal.

One major misconception about weight loss is that skipping meals is a great way to cut calories and lose weight. While skipping a meal, such as breakfast, will cut down on your caloric intake, it can also slow down your metabolic rate, which is the rate at which your body converts calories into energy. So even though the number of calories you ingest in a day may decrease, your body will not be able to convert all of the other calories into energy as quickly as it would have if you had eaten a light breakfast.  

It’s also important to avoid weight-loss products that make it seem like an easy process. Losing weight is not something that just happens magically; it takes a lot of effort, so be wary of anything that guarantees results without diet and exercise. Topical creams and body wraps may seem like groundbreaking developments in weight-loss technology but that’s just what advertisers want you to think. There’s a lot more money to be made in product sales than there is in providing people with the truth—that diet and exercise is the only path towards healthy weight loss.

One modern cause of weight-loss difficulty is the rising popularity of antidepressants like Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil, which can cause weight gain in some people. Studies have shown that antidepressants can decrease a patient’s metabolic rate as well as cause hormonal changes that can increase appetite. So, if you’re taking an antidepressant and you’re having trouble controlling your weight with diet and exercise, remember that you’re not doing anything wrong. It’s just a side effect of the medication and may not be related to the effectiveness of your weight-loss efforts.

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