The New Year has arrived, and like many Americans, you may be trying to lose some extra weight gained over the holidays. While there are many different “crash diets” that people try to quickly shed pounds, maintaining your weight over the long-term is more challenging. The key to maintaining a healthy weight is to follow a nutritious diet and to balance your energy intake.
First, be sure to make healthy food choices from every food group. The USDA MyPlate recommends that half of your plate be filled with fruit and vegetables, ¼ with lean proteins, and ¼ with whole-grains. Be sure to include low-fat dairy as well. When you are stocking up on groceries, choose the following foods:
• Fresh and colorful fruits and vegetables
• Whole grains, such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, and oats
• Low-fat milk and yogurt
• Lean proteins, such as chicken, fish, and legumes
• Healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids from fish and monounsaturated fats from avocados, nuts, olives and olive oil
You should be skeptical of fad diets that recommend that you cut out an entire food group. These types of diets are restrictive, tend to result in loss of muscle and fluid, and are nearly impossible to maintain in the long term. Once people go off of the diet and begin to eat normally again, the weight they have lost is usually gained back as fat. In addition, all of the food groups are important and a healthy balance of different foods provides essential nutrients.
It is important not only to pay attention to the foods you eat, but to portion sizes as well. Many people eat portion sizes that are too large. Cut back on your portion sizes of foods with little nutritional value. Be mindful of your portion sizes when consuming high-fat, high-sugar, and processed foods, including sugar-sweetened beverages, snack foods, and desserts. It can make a big difference to simply reduce the amount of these foods that contain empty calories. For example, cut back on sugary soda and drink water more frequently. Eliminating one can of soda cuts out 150 calories and 40 grams of sugar, which equates 15 pounds over a one year period.
Be realistic about your weight loss goals. Remember that you can improve your health with a minor weight reduction of 5% to 10% of your body weight. A gradual weight loss of ½ to 1 pound per week is an achievable goal. Furthermore, following a healthy diet can improve your health even if you don’t lose any weight.
It is important for weight maintenance and overall health to include daily physical activity. An initial goal may be 30 minutes of moderate activity each day or adding a 15 minute walk to your lunch break. To lose weight, you may need to increase your physical activity up to 60 minutes each day or increase the intensity of your work-out. To be successful, try to find physical activities that you enjoy.
When you are deciding if a diet is right for you this year, keep in mind that rigid meal plans are likely not sustainable. Ask yourself, “Can I eat this way for the rest of my life?” Successful weight maintenance needs to be something you can maintain lifelong. The key to success is to follow a healthy diet that incorporates a balance of all the food groups and to incorporate physical activity into your day.