Health Encyclopedia

Healthy Strategies for Weight Loss

Are the following three statements myth or fact?

  • Fad diets work for permanent weight loss.

  • Skipping meals is a good way to lose weight.

  • Low-fat or nonfat means no calories.

All of the above are dieting myths.

Long-term success at weight loss requires a balance between diet and physical activity. Losing one-half to two pounds per week by eating better and exercising more is the best way to lose weight and keep it off.

Before you begin a weight-loss program, talk with your health care provider. He or she may give you an exercise stress test to see how your heart responds to increased physical activity. You also may want to consult a registered dietitian about a menu based on your weight-loss goals and food preferences.

Learn about food labels

A sensible goal for weight loss is to lose a pound a week. To do this you need to eat 500 fewer calories or burn 500 more calories per day than you normally do, which works out to a drop of 3500 calories per week to equal one pound. One step to cutting back on calories is to pay attention to food labels when selecting foods at the supermarket. Choosing foods that are low in calories and/or low in fat can help you meet your daily calorie goal.

Some food labels can be confusing. Just because a product says it's low-fat or low-carb doesn't mean that it's low in calories or is healthy. Food labeling is regulated by the FDA and is required for most prepared foods, including breads, cereals, canned and frozen foods, snacks, desserts, and drinks.

Here are some common food label terms:

  • Fat-free. Less than 0.5 gram of fat per serving

  • Low-fat. Fewer than 3 grams of fat per serving

  • Reduced or less fat. At least 25 percent less fat than the full-fat version

  • Lite products. A product with fewer calories than the regular version; the sodium content is 50 percent less than the regular version; or the food is clearer in color.

  • Calorie-free. Fewer than 5 calories per serving

  • Low-calorie. Fewer than 40 calories per serving

  • Reduced or fewer calories. At least 25 percent fewer calories per serving than the regular version

The food labels also list the number of calories per serving, and the amount of calories that come from fat, carbohydrate or protein. It's important to note the serving size on the label when determining the number of calories you're eating.

Start to exercise

Exercise is the other key component in losing weight. Physical activity can help to control weight loss by burning up excess calories that would otherwise be stored as fat.

Your weight is regulated by the number of calories you eat and use. Therefore, you gain weight when you eat more calories than you use, and you lose weight when you burn more calories than you store.

Playing in the yard actively with your kids, mowing the lawn with a push mower, and raking leaves are moderate-intensity activities. On their own, they don't burn many calories, but when a combination of such activities lasts at least 60 minutes a day, they can make a difference.

More strenuous activities burn more calories than moderate ones. A brisk walk, swimming, and riding a bicycle are all good weight-loss activities.

For you to gain maximum health benefits from physical activity, your exercise program should include:

  • Aerobic activity for 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week

  • Strengthening activities, such as weight training

  • Flexibility exercises, such as stretching

Losing weight doesn't, and shouldn't, mean starvation. Losing weight in a healthy way consists of eating better and being more physically active. And it should be tolerable, and perhaps even fun.



Medical Reviewers:

  • McClintock, Heidi, RD, LD