Simple Slimming

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Spring is right around the corner and retailers have already begun stocking their floors with warm-weather goods -- including swimsuits. Besides looking great on the beach, commonsense tells us that one of the best things you can do for your overall health is to drop a few pounds. Or maybe more than a few pounds.

Being overweight significantly increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer ... the list seems almost endless. Plus, if you do get sick or need surgery, being overweight can make any treatments riskier.
You know the drill when it comes to losing weight -- take in fewer calories, burn more calories. But you also know that most diets and quick weight-loss plans have about as much substance as a politician's campaign pledges. You're better off finding several simple things you can do on a daily basis -- along with following the cardinal rules of eating more vegetables and less fat and getting more physical activity. Together, they should send the scale numbers in the right direction: down.

1. Once a week, indulge in a high-calorie-tasting, but low-calorie, treat. This should help keep you from feeling deprived and binging on higher-calorie foods. For instance:
  • Lobster. Just 83 calories in 3 ounces.

  • Shrimp. Just 60 calories in 12 large.

  • Smoked salmon. Just 66 calories in two ounces. Sprinkle with capers for an even more elegant treat.

  • Whipped cream. Just 8 calories in one tablespoon. Drop a dollop over a bowl of fresh fruit for dessert.

    2. Treat high-calorie foods as jewels in the crown. Make a spoonful of ice cream the jewel and a bowl of fruit the crown. Cut down on the chips by pairing each bite with lots of chunky, filling fresh salsa, suggests Jeff Novick, director of nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa in Florida. Balance a little cheese with a lot of salad.

    3. After breakfast, make water your primary drink. At breakfast, go ahead and drink orange juice. But throughout the rest of the day, focus on water instead of juice or soda. The average American consumes an extra 245 calories a day from soft drinks. That's nearly 90,000 calories a year -- or 25 pounds! And research shows that despite the calories, sugary drinks don't trigger a sense of fullness the way that food does.

    4. Carry a palm-size notebook everywhere you go for one week. Write down every single morsel that enters your lips -- even water. Studies have found that people who maintain food diaries wind up eating about 15 percent less food than those who don't.

    5. Buy a pedometer, clip it to your belt, and aim for an extra 1,000 steps a day. On average, sedentary people take only 2,000 to 3,000 steps a day. Adding 2,000 steps will help you maintain your current weight and stop gaining weight; adding more than that will help you lose weight.

    6. Add 10 percent to the amount of daily calories you thinkyou're eating, then adjust your eating habits accordingly. If you think you're consuming 1,700 calories a day and don't understand why you're not losing weight, add another 170 calories to your guesstimate. Chances are, the new number is more accurate.

    7. Eat five or six small meals or snacks a day instead of three large meals. A 1999 South African study found that when men ate parts of their morning meal at intervals over five hours, they consumed almost 30 percent fewer calories at lunch than when they ate a single breakfast. Other studies show that even if you eat the same number of calories distributed this way, your body releases less insulin, which keeps blood sugar steady and helps control hunger.

    8. Walk for 45 minutes a day. The reason we're suggesting 45 minutes instead of the typical 30 is that a Duke University study found that while 30 minutes of daily walking is enough to prevent weight gain in most relatively sedentary people, exercise beyond30 minutes results in weight and fat loss. Burning an additional 300 calories a day with three miles of brisk walking (45 minutes should do it) could help you lose 30 pounds in a year without even changing how much you're eating.

    9. Find an online weight-loss buddy. A University of Vermont study found that online weight-loss buddies help you keep the weight off. The researchers followed volunteers for 18 months. Those assigned to an Internet-based weight maintenance program sustained their weight loss better than those who met face-to-face in a support group.

    10. Bring the color blue into your life more often. There's a good reason you won't see many fast-food restaurants decorated in blue: Believe it or not, the color blue functions as an appetite suppressant. So serve up dinner on blue plates, dress in blue while you eat, and cover your table with a blue tablecloth. Conversely, avoid red, yellow, and orange in your dining areas. Studies find they encourage eating.

    11. Clean your closet of the "fat" clothes. Once you've reached your target weight, throw out or give away every piece of clothing that doesn't fit. The idea of having to buy a whole new wardrobe if you gain the weight back will serve as a strong incentive to maintain your new figure.

    12. Downsize your dinner plates. Studies find that the less food put in front of you, the less food you'll eat. Conversely, the more food in front of you, the more you'll eat -- regardless ofhow hungry you are. So instead of using regular dinner plates that range these days from 10-14 inches (making them look forlornly empty if they're not heaped with food), serve your main course on salad plates (about 7-9 inches wide). The same goes for liquids. Instead of 16-ounce glasses and oversized coffee mugs, return to the old days of 8-ounce glasses and 6-ounce coffee cups.

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