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Choosing a Diet Program

The Basics of a Diet

The basics of a diet focus on healthy, balanced eating. A safe and effective weigh-loss program should include a sensible eating plan that cuts down on calories without eliminating entire nutritious foods or food groups. It should encourage regular physical activity and provide guidance on behavioral and emotional issues that impact your weight. Once you've lost weight, the program should provide a plan for keeping the weight off. Some questions to ask include the following:

Is it low in calories?

This is key to losing weight and is even more important than the proportion of carbohydrate, protein, and fat in the diet. A low-calorie diet also makes weight loss more efficient, as long as it isn't so low that it causes your body to conserve energy.


Does it teach new eating behaviors that can be continued after you lose the weight?

Without this change in perspective, the weight may be regained if you resume your old eating habits.

Does it differentiate between different types of fat?

A diet should emphasize the health benefits of monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat over saturated fat and trans fat. If the diet is not low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol, your efforts to lose weight may not pay off in lower blood cholesterol.

Is it nutritionally sound?

A diet has to be balanced, with enough foods from each of the major food groups, or it may not provide adequate vitamins and minerals. The diet should include nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, nonfat or low-fat dairy products, and lean meats, fish, poultry, or legumes.

Is it safe?

Be sure to ask what are the potential risks of following the weight-loss program. If diet drugs or supplements are part of the program, ask about the possible side effects. If you have a medical condition or are taking medications, talk to your doctor about the program and your weight-loss progress, and ask your doctor to make any adjustments in medications, as needed. It simply does not make good sense to exchange the health problems caused by being overweight for a whole new set of problems brought about by an ill-conceived, potentially nutrient-deficient weight-loss diet.

You should also ask whether a certain diet would fit your lifestyle. The next page offers some questions to help determine if a certain diet is a good fit.

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.
  • Different Types of Fat: Fat is an essential nutrient, but some forms are more harmful than others. Learn about saturated fat, trans fat, and other types of fat.
  • Weight Loss: To stay healthy, you should take off weight gradually. Learn about the medical ramifications of weight loss.