If you're one of the 120 million Americans who has gained weight over the years, chances are you've tried at least one "diet." You may have even shed some of the weight, but if you are like most people, you have also regained it.

We all want to believe there is some magic formula or trick to losing weight. Unfortunately, the only way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories than what your body uses. Weight gain happens when we eat extra calories from any source: protein, fat, or carbohydrate. If you eat too much food for the amount of activity that you do, your body stores the extra calories from the food as body fat. To lose weight, you can cut down on calories, increase your activity level - or better yet, do both. To keep the weight from coming back, balance the calories you eat with your activity level.


Research shows that losing just 5 -10% of your starting body weight - and, most importantly, keeping it off - can help you reap substantial health benefits by preventing or controlling diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and many others.

s Set realistic goals. If you have a lot of weight to lose, focus on losing it in 5 pound blocks. Small goals are more doable and can mentally help you keep going when the going gets tough.
Aim for a gradual - but steady - loss of ½ to 2 pounds per week. The weight didn't arrive overnight so try not to expect to lose it quickly either.
s Make small changes that become lasting habits. A habit is something you just do without thinking about it- like brushing your teeth. Simple changes in your diet (eating half a sandwich instead of a whole) and activity level (taking the stairs instead of the elevator) need to become routine.
Slow and steady wins the race. Trimming a mere 250 calories a day from what you usually eat will result in a loss of about ½ pound a week. Add an hour of walking each day, and you'll lose another ½ pound each week for a total of one pound. After 6 months, you may lose up to 25 pounds.
Get Moving. Shoot for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each day. All activity counts: cleaning the house, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking further from your destination. You don't even have to do it all at once: you can take a 15-minute walk at lunch, and another one after dinner. Smaller activity sessions have the same effect as longer ones, from a weight management standpoint.  
Keep a record. Keep a journal and write down everything you eat and activities that you do before deciding to make any changes. That way, you will know your patterns and can decide on what changes will work for you. Check out the chart below for some sample suggestions on how to painlessly cut calories.  

Switch from Switch to
Calories Saved
1 tablespoon regular mayonnaise on sandwich 1 tablespoon lowfat mayonnaise
12 oz. can of regular cola 12 oz. can of sparkling water or diet cola
Tuna salad sandwich (2 oz. tuna made with 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise on 2 slices of whole wheat bread) Turkey sandwich (2 oz. sliced turkey breast with 2 teaspoons of mustard and 1 tablespoons of mayonnaise on 2 slices of whole wheat bread)
½ cup premium ice cream ½ cup low fat frozen yogurt
1 cup orange juice 1 orange
Plain bagel with 2 tablespoons plain cream cheese 2 pieces wheat toast with 2 tbsp jam
1 cup 2% milk 1 cup skim milk
3 oz. 80% lean hamburger, broiled 3 oz. 90% lean hamburger, broiled
1 whole egg ¼ cup egg substitute
3.5 oz. fried chicken breast (with skin) 3.5 oz. chicken breast, broiled (without skin)

New research shows that boosting protein while reducing calories may help promote weight loss. Scientists are investigating a number of protein's potential roles in the weight loss process, including increasing satiety and helping to maintain lean muscle mass while maximizing fat loss.

One recent study demonstrated the promising power of protein. People following lower carbohydrate/higher protein diets lost more weight than those on a low fat/low cholesterol/low calorie diet over a 6 month period, although differences in weight loss after one year were similar for both diets. Improvements in some risk factors for coronary heart disease were seen in the low carbohydrate/higher protein diet group, including greater decreases in triglycerides and greater increases in HDL-cholesterol, also referred to as good cholesterol, levels. More research is needed to determine the exact mechanisms by which protein may act in promoting weight loss and weight maintenance.

For more information on how different diets may affect weight loss, view the chart below.

Diet Pros Cons
High fat (55-65%), low carbohydrate (<100 grams/day), high protein (25-30%) There is a growing body of research on these types of diets, showing both greater weight loss and improved serum lipid levels (lower triglycerides, higher HDL-cholesterol).

Protein can increase feeling of fullness and satiety, so people eat less.

"Favorite" foods such as beef, cream, butter, etc., often limited on other weight loss diets are allowed without restriction.

Although the most popular type of diet today, there is some concern regarding the potentially high intake of saturated fat and cholesterol and their effect on risk of heart disease. Many plans also suggest severe restriction or elimination of some vegetables and fruits, at least at the beginning of the diet, which can cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies. There is also some concern that high protein intakes can put a strain on kidneys. Long-term adherence can be an issue.

Short-term weight loss is due to greater loss of body water than body fat (although if the diet is maintained, it results in loss of body fat).

Although low carbohydrate/high protein diets suggest it is the food choices that promote weight loss, people lose weight because these diets are lower in calories due to restrictions on some foods.

Diet Pros Cons
Moderate fat (20-30%), balanced nutrient reduction, high in carbohydrate and moderate in protein Based on sound, scientific principles, these types of diets have been studied extensively. Diets are nutritionally adequate, advocating a wide variety of foods in moderation and within the context of a lower calorie diet, typically calculated to provide a deficit of 500-1000 calories per day, which encourages adherence. An increase in physical activity level is encouraged. Weight loss is slow (1-2 pounds per week) but steady. Diets can help improve heart health, partially due to weight loss and partially due to food choices. People may be discouraged by slower weight loss than sometimes seen with other diets, at least in the short term.
Diet Pros Cons
Low fat (11-19%) and very low fat (<10%), very high carbohydrate, moderate protein High fat diets are associated with obesity, possibly certain cancers and with heart disease. This plan encourages a vegetarian-type diet, based on foods naturally low in fats like fruits and vegetables, which provides fewer calories and less fat (particularly saturated fat) which can help people lose weight and improve heart health. There are many packaged foods on the market that are low in fat, but high in sugar and calories - such as cookies, cakes, ice cream, etc. Some people take the low fat diet as license to eat these types of foods in unlimited quantities, not realizing that although the foods may be low fat, they are not low calorie.

Very low fat diets are also difficult for many people to follow over the long-term.

The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) is an ongoing database of people who have maintained a weight loss of 30 or more pounds for at least one year. Here are a few secrets that successful "losers" use to maintain their losses:

Nearly every participant used a combination of diet and exercise to lose weight and most stay active to keep the weight off. Most successful "losers" have a very high level of regular, daily physical activity (one hour per day) compared to the general population. Most report that walking is their exercise of choice.

All of the participants eat a low fat diet. The average fat intake of NWCR members is only 24% of total calories, compared to 33% of most Americans. NWCR participants also consume just 1400 calories per day, far below that of the general population.
d To stay within their preferred weight range, they self-monitor by keeping track of what they eat and weighing regularly. Also, registry members have a game plan in place for getting back on track if the scale is tipping in the wrong direction. Some might increase their level of exercise temporarily; others may cut back on snacks or portion sizes. The methods they choose vary but all have a set plan of action.










However you decide to trim calories, the important thing is to focus on changes that you can easily fit into your lifestyle. That way, you'll be more likely to stick with them until they become routine. Similarly, find activities you enjoy and make time in your schedule to do them. With a little planning, small changes in your eating and activity level can quickly add up to big changes on the scale.

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Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) Research Group. The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP): description of lifestyle intervention. Diab Care. 2002;25(12):2165-2171.

Duyff R. American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. 2nd ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc; 2002.

Foster GD et al. A randomized trial of a low-carbohydrate diet for obesity. NEJM. 2003;348:2082-2090.

Heshka S et al. Weight loss with self-help compared with a structured commercial program. JAMA. 2003;289:1792-1798.

Layman DK. The role of leucine in weight loss diets and glucose homeostasis. J Nutr. 2003;1333:261S-267S

Matthews E. Proteins and amino acids. In: Shils ME, Olson JA, Shike M, Ross AC (eds). Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia: Williams and Wilkins;1999.

Stern L, et al. The effects of low-carbohydrate versus concentional weight loss diets in severely obese adults: one year follow up of a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2004; 140: 778-785.

Westerterp-Plantenga M. The significance of protein in food intake and body weight regulation. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2003;6:635-638.

Yancy WS et al. A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-fat diet to treat obesity and hyperlipidemia. Ann Intern Med. 2004;140:769-777.


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