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The sane, effective way to lose weight

So you’ve heard about the crazy cabbage soup diet that’s going around. Or maybe a couple of friends have been talking up the latest high-protein, low-carbohydrate plan—the kind where you can eat as much steak and butter as you like. Suddenly you’re thinking, “What the heck—maybe a wacky diet will work!”

Stop right there!

Wacky might work for a while. You could even lose 10 pounds or more, but most of it will be water, if not lean muscle mass. And in the end, you won’t have learned much to help you eat smart for the rest of your life—the key to permanent weight loss. Chances are, you’ll go back to your old ways before you can say “cabbage soup,” putting those 10 pounds back on … and then some! (See “The Low-Down On Slim-Down Promises.”)

One step at a time

What’s the answer? Be patient, for starters. (Losing a pound or two a week really is the best way to keep fat off!) And make sure this is the right time to start a new eating plan. (It’s not if you’re facing a crisis.)

Second, figure out how much you need to lose, if anything, and decide on a realistic weight goal. (By the way, it’s probably a bit more than you weighed at the senior prom!)

Third, determine how many calories you can eat each day to lose about a pound a week. To do that, just multiply your current body weight by 10. A 160-pound woman, for instance, can eat 1,600 calories a day and still lose weight.

Bargain hunting

Just like the dollars in your wallet, you want to spend your calorie budget wisely. For example, 1,600 calories a day may sound very doable—until you splurge on a couple of cream-filled doughnuts and realize you’ve only got about 1,000 calories left. Your best bet: Shop for bargain foods—low-calorie complex carbohydrates (fiber-rich fruits, veggies and whole grains) that satisfy you without blowing your budget. (And remember, increasing your physical activity will give you more calories to spend!)

To keep from feeling deprived, spend 50 percent to 60 percent of your calories on carbohydrates, another 20 percent to 25 percent on protein (choose lean meats, skinless poultry, fish and soy products) and 25 to 30 percent on fat (avoid saturated fats like butter, bacon and coconut oil).

Don’t forget to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Water fills you up, prevents dehydration and gives you something to put in your mouth.

Cut the fat

At nine calories a gram, fat packs more than twice the calories of protein and carbohydrates, each of which provide four calories a gram. Try these tips to trim the fat in your diet:

  • Remove fat and skin from meats. Use racks when roasting and nonstick pans when sautéing. Use broth instead of oil or butter to sauté.
  • If you haven’t done so already, switch to low-fat dairy products—1 percent or skim milk; nonfat yogurt, sour cream and ice cream; and low-fat cheese. Try sherbets or fruit ices instead of ice cream.
  • Use nonfat or reduced-fat mayonnaise and salad dressings.
  • Read labels. Packaged goods are notorious sources of hidden fats. Check for coconut oil, palm oil and other tropical or hydrogenated oils, and avoid products that contain them.

Check your attitude

For many of us, eating fulfills an emotional as well as a physical need. It may help to:

  • Ask yourself a few questions each time you dine. Am I really hungry, or am I eating because I’m angry, frustrated, bored or depressed? Am I full or nearly full? Do I truly need this next bite?
  • Sit down at the table to eat. Yes, the hunks of cheese you eat while preparing dinner do count! So does the box of fat-free cookies you devour in front of the TV set. That’s why it’s a good idea to confine your eating occasions to the table.
  • Take human bites! Are you usually the first one to clean your plate? Do you always clean your plate? Are you chewing your food completely, or not at all? Slow down and savor your meal.

What’s your reward?

Incorporate rewards into your weight-loss plan. That makes the effort more fun and keeps motivation high. Set mini goals—each five-pound loss, for example—and treat yourself when you reach them. On the other hand, don’t punish yourself if you have a lapse—they’re to be expected. It may help to focus on your ultimate goal: adopting healthful eating behaviors you can keep up for life.