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Diet success? Think 10 percent!

Being overweight puts a body at risk for developing many diseases, especially heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. Nevertheless, 133 million Americans are risking their health and their lives by remaining overweight.

For those who struggle with excess weight, it’s no surprise. Losing weight requires a lot of effort and permanent changes in lifestyle, diet and activity. It’s hard work, and for the very overweight, a far-off goal is discouraging. For these reasons there has been some rethinking about how best to lose weight.

An attainable goal

Experts and groups like the National Institutes of Health are recommending overweight people focus first on losing just 10 percent of their total body weight. If you weigh 200 pounds, a 10 percent weight loss would be 20 pounds. If you weigh 160 pounds, your first and perhaps final goal would be a weight loss of 16 pounds.

It’s not a recommendation designed just to cheer you up. Research has shown that a moderate 10 percent weight reduction can lead to significant health benefits, such as lowered blood pressure and blood cholesterol. In fact, a sustained 10 percent weight loss can help reverse the negative effects of obesity so that people can live healthier and longer lives.

Furthermore, achieving this realistic goal and experiencing its positive results (10 percent will feel and look better for most people) can be highly motivating to those who should continue to lose more weight.

How to lose weight

Despite fads and trends in dieting, most experts agree that weight falls when you eat less and burn more calories with physical activity. Ask your doctor for guidelines or a referral to a weight-loss group. In the meantime, here are a few suggestions to keep in mind:

Calories do count. While limiting your fat intake to no more than 30 percent of your overall calorie intake for the day is a healthy step, loading up on lots of low-fat but high-calorie goodies will hamper your weight loss.

Pick the right kind of fat. When you do include fat in your diet, it should be of the monounsaturated or polyunsaturated variety. Hard to remember which is which? If you limit red meat and eggs; trim fat and skin before preparing any kind of meat, poultry or fish; bake or broil rather than fry; and increase lean sources of protein such as turkey, chicken and fish, you’ll be avoiding the saturated fat that’s not good for you.

Reduce your portions at meals. In this era of supersized meals, we’ve lost our ability to judge how much is enough. Measure your foods for a week to see what a half-cup of pasta and other single-serving portions really look like. More reasonable portions mean fewer calories, which leads to weight loss.

Eat more fruits and vegetables. The current recommendations are that we eat at least five portions of fruits and vegetables a day—a goal from which many of us fall short. Not only does fresh produce provide needed vitamins, minerals and fiber, it is generally low in fat and calories, too.

Drink sugar-free beverages—especially water. Even fruit juices contain a lot of unnecessary calories and carbohydrates. Better to eat the real fruit, get the benefit of the fruit’s fiber and feel more satisfied. Diet sodas are no bargain either. While they are noncaloric, they don’t quench thirst and can contribute to retaining fluid. Your best bet? Good old water—eight glasses of eight ounces a day.

Don’t forget to exercise. No weight-loss program can work, no matter what it is, without simultaneous attention to increasing physical exertion. In fact, some experts think exercise may be an even more important component than dieting to overall health and a successful weight-loss strategy. Ask your doctor for advice on a safe and effective exercise program. Most guidelines recommend moderate aerobic exercise (like walking) for 30 minutes a day, at least three to four days a week.

Weigh yourself only once a month or, at most, once a week. Weight can fluctuate dramatically from day to day because of fluid retention. That said, keeping track of your weight every day will only be discouraging. Real weight loss will make itself apparent over the long term. Avoiding a daily tally will also keep your mind on the bigger picture—making significant and long-lasting lifestyle changes.