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What Do You Have to Lose? An 8-Step Weight-Loss Plan

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Adapt and Adjust

You talked, we listened. When you need to lose a lot of weight, reading about how to drop those last five pounds is like getting marriage advice when you're single: It just doesn't apply. Follow typical diet rules and you may shed a few pounds quickly, but you'll end up cranky and hungry. "Trying to do too much too fast is guaranteed not to work. You'll get frustrated, burn out, and be right back where you started," says Martha Beck, PhD, Oprah's life coach and author of The Four Day Win. Instead, the approach on these pages has been designed to help you lose at least 30 pounds in a healthy, sensible way.

Step 1: Adapt and Adjust

Ditching a lot of pounds is as much an emotional process as a physical one. You'll need to lay a psychological foundation for success before you attempt to change your behavior, experts say. "Getting your mind accustomed to, and not afraid of, a new behavior is key," says Robert Maurer, PhD, a psychologist and author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life. Here's how to get your head in the game.

  • Find a new BFF. For many of us, food is a friend — it's what we turn to when we're lonely or upset. Stop thinking of it that way and "allow yourself to grieve for the loss," says Lyssa Menard, PhD, a psychologist in Chicago. She suggests finding a replacement that keeps your hands busy, such as knitting or posting entries on a weight-loss message board. "It should be something that makes you feel good," she explains.
  • Cut yourself some slack. "Think 80 percent, not 100 percent," says Menard. In other words, accept the fact that you don't have to be perfect. Changing your patterns 80 percent of the time is much better than being perfect just occasionally.

Promote Social Change

Step 2: Promote Social Change

Happy hour, girls' night out, office goodies...food is a big part of our social lives. To stay on track, prep your peeps for the switches you're about to make.

  • "Have a serious heart-to-heart with friends and family before you start, and be specific about what you need," says Tara Gidus, RD, a nutritionist in Orlando and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "For example, tell them not to give you chocolates as gifts." At work, ask colleagues to designate an out-of-the way place for candy, cookies, and other tempting treats, rather than putting them in areas you can't avoid.
  • "Mix up the way you have fun," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, a nutritionist in New York City and an ADA spokesperson. Instead of Friday-night happy hour, take a tennis lesson with your pals.
  • Be smarter about eating out. Dinner at your favorite restaurant? Go for it! But choose your food carefully. "Split an entree, or order an appetizer and a salad as your meal," says Taub-Dix.

Eat Healthy

Step 3: Eat Healthy

We're not talking about a lifetime of celery sticks. Just a few simple changes to your shopping and cooking routines can go a long way. Try these:

  • Make a list before you head to the supermarket. A recent study found that writing down what you plan to buy makes you less likely to load your cart with things you don't really need, like potato chips.
  • Tweak your dinner routine. Stock your kitchen with fresh and frozen vegetables, precooked chicken, whole-grain pasta, low-fat cheese, fruit, and herbs for flavor, says Taub-Dix. You'll be able to pull together a healthy dinner faster than Domino's can deliver.
  • Manage your munchies. Carry preportioned snacks in your bag, such as 1-ounce packages of nuts or string cheese, mini fruit cups in natural juice, 100-calorie packs of cookies or protein bars.

Write Your Way to Success

Step 4: Write Your Way to Success

We know, we know, you've heard it before. But when it comes to changing your lifestyle, a food journal is as fundamental as those black pants in your wardrobe. "I always recommend a diary," says Gidus, who believes it's the key to understanding what you're eating and why.

  • Begin by keeping a journal for at least one week. Print out our online food diary here:

Daily Food Diary

When you fill it out each night, make the experience as relaxing and enjoyable as possible: Light a scented candle, sip a cup of green tea, play some soft music.

Each entry should include:

  • the time you ate
  • what you had and how much
  • where you ate
  • who you were with
  • how you were feeling at the time (stressed, lonely, bored, celebratory, etc.)
  • how you felt afterward, physically and emotionally (stuffed, guilty, satisfied, etc.)

At the end of the week, read your journal. You may find surprising patterns, such as that you eat more when you're with certain friends or that you reach for crunchy foods when you're stressed at work.

Do the Math

Step 5: Do the Math

It's time to figure out how many calories you should be eating in order to reach your weight goal. Once you know this magic number, you can choose the food plan that's best suited to your body's needs.

Your weight-loss equation:

655 + (4.4 times your goal weight in pounds) + (4.6 times your height in inches) - (4.7 times your age in years) = base calories

Multiply this number by:
1.2 if you get little or no exercise
1.3 if you're somewhat active

The total is the number of calories you should eat each day in order to reach your goal weight and maintain it.

Check your BMI with FitnessMagazine.com's BMI calculator

Caloric Needs Calculator

Find Your Zone

Step 6: Find Your Zone

Okay, now you know your number, but what the heck does a healthy 1,600- or 1,800-calorie-a-day eating plan actually look like? Our handy chart, here, tells you exactly how many servings you'll need daily of protein, dairy, fruits, vegetables, and grains, and gives you a range of calories for each. (If you're like most of us, you'll gravitate to the higher end of some of the food groups — grains, say — and to the lower end of others, meaning that your calorie count will even out over the day.)

To begin this new way of eating...

  • Compare your food journal and your ideal calorie plan, below, then jot down a list of the changes you'll need to make.
  • Work on one thing at a time. "Your brain looks for consistency. Big changes trigger a fear mechanism that prompts you to try to avoid them," says Maurer.
  • Practice the four-day strategy. "Focus on that one change for about four days, then pick another," says Beck. According to her research, four days of success and a reward at the end — like a few new songs for your iPod — creates a snowball effect that can lead to long-term achievement.

Get Moving

Step 7: Get Moving

Regular activity burns calories, builds muscle, reduces your risk of disease, and sharpens your mind, says Pamela Peeke, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and author of Fit to Live.

  • Move more all day long. Go for a walk around the block. At work, instead of sending e-mail, get up and visit your colleagues.
  • Build up to 10,000 steps a day. To get started, wear a pedometer and figure out how many daily steps you typically take. Then, every couple of days, add 500 extra steps until you reach 10,000.
  • Try more challenging activities once you've boosted your fitness level. To get tips and meet up with other women just like you, join our message boards.

Celebrate Your Success Every Day

Step 8: Celebrate Your Success Every Day

Don't put your life on hold until you hit your weight goal.

  • "Be kind to yourself," says Beck. To keep motivation high, give yourself gifts to mark your progress — a new haircut, a pedicure.
  • Stay positive. Lost two pounds instead of five? Feel good about what you've achieved rather than focusing on what you didn't. "Don't wait to like yourself until you're thin," says Maurer. "Like who you are now."

Daily Intake Calorie Chart

 

Calorie goal per day

Vegetables Fruit Grains Dairy Protein Fat

Total

Calories

1,500 -1,600

3 serv. per day = 75 cal 3 serv. per day = 180-300 cal 5 serv. per day = 300-500 cal 3 serv. per day = 240-360 cal 2 serv. per day = 160-240 cal

3 serv. per day = 300 cal

1,255-1,775

avg 1,515

1,800 4 serv. per day = 100 cal 4 serv. per day = 240-340 cal 6 serv. per day = 300-600 cal 3 serv. per day = 240-360 cal 2 serv. per day = 160-240 cal

4 serv. per day = 400 cal

1,440-2,100

avg 1,770

2,000 5 serv. per day = 125 cal 5 serv. per day = 300-500 cal 7 serv. per day = 420-700 cal 3 serv. per day = 240-360 cal 2 serv. per day = 160-240 cal

5 serv. per day = 500 cal

1,745-2,425

avg 2,085

 

 

Real Women Success Stories

"Being thin is sweeter than any food could taste. I love the new me!"
— Michelle Friedson, 27, New York City, lost about 100 pounds and has kept it off for more than two years

"Friends tell me I look 10 years younger. My cholesterol dropped dramatically. I feel great!"
— Mary Sorlie, 48, Bismarck, North Dakota, lost 30 pounds and has kept it off for a year

Click here for more inspiring success stories!

They did it!

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, June 2007.

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