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Small Change, Big Weight-Loss Payoff

We are a fat nation obsessed with losing weight.

According to a 1999 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study, 35 percent of America's adults (75 million) are slightly or moderately overweight, and 26 percent (56 million) are obese or grossly overweight. Anyone up to 30 pounds above the target weight for their body size is overweight, says the CDC, and another 30 pounds over target weight is considered obese.

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The CDC notes that half of us are trying to lose weight, not only through diet and exercise but by using commercial weight-loss products and services worth $33-$50 billion a year.

There may be a better way: eating 100 less calories a day. We put on 1.8 to 2.0 pounds each year, calculated professor James Hill of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, in an article published in Science (February 7, 2003).

How can we prevent this weight gain? Since each pound is equivalent to 3,500 calories, creating a deficit of about 100 calories daily - the equivalent of 10 potato chips - should allow us to stop gaining at least 1 pound each year, contends Hill.

Eat Less Than You Need

But losing weight is different from not gaining weight, points out Katherine Tallmadge, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association in Washington, D.C. Assuming your body needs 2,000 calories a day to meet its energy requirements - the average for most women - and you consume 300 fewer calories than 2,000 daily, you could shed 30 pounds a year. That's because your body will take the extra 300 calories it needs for energy from stores of fat.

Now, that may sound extreme, but, Tallmadge, like Hill, believes "small changes can make a big difference." Consider this: By halving that 200- to 300-calorie nightly snack, you could drop 15 pounds a year. Step up your level of activity by walking around the office instead of shooting out emails nonstop and you could strip away another 100 calories daily, or 10 pounds a year.

How to Knock Out Calories

Of course, if it were that easy, you wouldn't be reading this now. So how do you hunker down and continuously knock out those 200 to 300 calories a day? The often-repeated formula is to combine eating less calories with regular cardiovascular exercise. Do all three, and you're guaranteed to melt away fat. But be forewarned: Your body can only metabolize a certain amount of fat - 1 to 1.5 pound(s) a week - on a low-calorie diet, says Tallmadge. At some point, the fat will turn to muscle, which is why you want to build muscle when losing weight.

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"You don't have to feel like you are on a diet or depriving yourself when eating fewer calories to lose weight," says Tallmadge, author of Diet Simple. She has rarely met a woman who cannot lose weight and keep it off on 1,800 calories a day, she says, especially if she eats a good breakfast.

It's All About Planning

Tallmadge's No. 1 weight-loss tip is to plan. You have to grocery shop with a list in hand so you can prepare the tasty breakfast above, or bring your 600-calorie lunch to work. Otherwise, you're going to grab Chinese takeout or a burger and mistakenly plough through a 1,000-calorie dinner and 1,800 calories a day.

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Save food preparation time by buying frozen fruits and vegetables. Not only is frozen more convenient, but the food can actually be more nutritious than fresh produce, Tallmadge says. Frozen foods are picked when ripe and frozen immediately, whereas fresh produce is often picked early, so it can sit longer on grocers' shelves.

Storing prepared meals in one-serving-size plastic containers also aids in controlling portion size in the land that prizes super-sized, biggie everything!

Stick With It

A surefire way to stick with fewer calories each day, says New York City dietitian Julie Walsh, is to maintain a written record of what you eat and when you eat it. Nothing piles up the calories faster than "mindless eating," which is when you consume food - not because you are hungry, but because your body is fatigued or your mind is bored. Simply becoming conscious about your eating habits can jolt new eating behavior, says Walsh.

To reinforce new eating habits, Walsh suggests that you weigh yourself about once a week. Since so many women live in mortal fear of stepping on the scale, the knowledge that the dreaded event is approaching can help keep your eating in check.

Finally, stay happily engaged and busy with work, hobbies, friends and family, advise both Walsh and Tallmadge. The truth is, when you have a fairly wonderful life, you're not as interested in overeating.

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