Losing Weight Wisely

Melt away those extra winter pounds -- slowly but surely.

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The Best Way

Summer is coming and it's time for taking account of things -- diet-wise, that is. Too may of us are well-acquainted with hibernation poundage: those extra pounds deposited over fall and winter.

When the sun finally comes out, the snow will melt away, but unwanted weight won't. Don't bank on crash diets and fad programs for the answer: They can be uncomfortable, inconvenient, or downright dangerous.

Health professionals agree that the best way to lose weight -- and keep it off -- is the slow way, about a pound a week. Starting today, you can drop up to 10 or 15 pounds of extra winter baggage and fit into a new swimsuit by summertime. It's simpler than you think, and all it takes are two very basic diet and exercise habits: eating a little bit less and enjoying a little bit more activity. You won't need complicated eating programs, expensive exercise equipment, or intricate calculations and ritual weigh-ins. Here's how it works.

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Ideas to Bank On

Early April is a good time to start losing weight for summer. April 1 to July 4 covers 13 weeks, but look at this time span as 13 pounds. If you approach the weight-loss process by thinking of your body as a bank, you'll find it will be as easy as balancing a checkbook. The way to do this is to take your average dietary intake -- that is, the total number of calories you eat each day. Think of them as the "deposit" you make in your bank.

To lose the 13 pounds, you will need to make a "daily withdrawal" of about 500 calories. This adds up to 3,500 calories per week. You'll want to make the withdrawal in the form of both calorie reduction and calorie burn -- that is, food and activity.

Before you begin, you'll need to estimate your energy needs to budget how many calories your body needs to maintain its current weight.

To do this, figure about 13 calories per pound if you are somewhat active and within 20 percent or so of your ideal body weight. (Use this easy calculator to determine your ideal weight.)

Next, split the 500 calories per day you plan to decrease into two portions: the part you want to lose through eating less and the part you want to burn off through a daily activity, such as playing ball, biking, skating, or walking. (These activities burn about 150 calories each per half hour.) By performing these activities with extra vigor, you can double the amount of calorie burn.

Borrowing from the Calorie Bank

Some diets call for meticulous record keeping of all that you eat. Forget that. Instead, look at your daily calorie "bank," that is, your normal daily diet. Borrow a few hundred calories from that calorie bank -- and don't pay them back!

For instance, if you are in the habit of having a couple of cans of soda pop each day, switch to a diet beverage or water. Each 12-ounce can of regular soda pop contains about 150 calories. Two of those per day add up to 2,100 calories in one week.

Some sandwich spreads or salad dressings can tally up hundreds of calories every day. If you "borrow" these calories without replacing them, you'll be two-thirds of the way to your weekly weight-loss goal.

Dime Here, Nickel There

Other places where calories tend to tally up include condiments, spreads, and snack foods. Trimming even a few calories here and there ultimately leads to big savings. For example, using one spoon of sugar in your coffee instead of two eventually adds up -- just like when you bank a dime here and a nickel there.

Fruits are often recommended as substitutes for candy to fill cravings for sweets, and for a good reason: they're mostly water. But watch out for dried fruits -- although virtually fat-free, they are concentrated and can be rich in calories.

When it comes to chocolate, if you can't do without the stuff, enjoy it in smaller disbursements. Two favorites of folks trying to lose weight are miniature-size chocolate bars and milk chocolate kisses. Just be sure to go easy on them. Also, there are no laws requiring you to eat a whole candy bar: Eat half and save the other half for the next day.

Trimming calories from snacks, sweeteners, and condiments is a relatively painless diet technique, but to be truly effective, you can't compensate for calories lost in one place by adding them in another: Stick to the same amounts and portions you used to enjoy. If you do away with high-calorie snacks and beverages, yet eat larger lunches and dinners, you're only transferring calories from one account to another. And for overall health, remember, nothing beats a diet of a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy, and whole grains.

Accounting for Exercise

Calorie trimming is only half of the equation; you need exercise too. But don't panic: You don't have to spend excessive time sweating it out in a gym, climbing mountains, or running marathon races. Simple, fun stuff -- like the aforementioned biking and walking -- will use up those calories.

The best motivation for taking walks is having a dog. Enjoying a brisk walk with Rover after dinner can dissolve dozens of calories. You'll both be healthier and happier. (Chasing the dog around the yard doubles the calorie deficit.)

Of course, you don't have to get a dog to take a walk. Motivation to exercise can also come through teamwork. When the whole family goes for a walk or a bicycle ride, you'll do more than burn calories -- you'll iron out the day's problems and build family values.

For This Summer

Once you're in shape for swimsuit season and you look and feel great, you'll have more incentive to stick with your new habits and avoid banking extra pounds over the next year. Here are a few things to remember.

  • Small steps lead to big changes.
  • Take on weight loss one pound at a time. That way you won't feel overwhelmed trying to lose 10 or 15 pounds as a single-step task.
  • Keep your calorie "account" in balance with exercise all year. Did you enjoy enough activity today? If in doubt--walk it out. Look at walks as good "exercise insurance."

Finally, before embarking on any weight-loss or exercise endeavor, be sure to see your family physician for a clean bill of health.

In your coffee:

2 tsp. sugar = 30 calories

2 tsp. sugar-free sweetener = 0 calories

2 Tbsp. half-and-half = 40 calories

2 Tbsp. 2% reduced-fat milk = 15 calories

On a sandwich:

1 Tbsp. mayonnaise = 100 calories

1 Tbsp. low-fat mayonnaise = 50 calories

1 Tbsp. mustard = 15 calories

On a bagel:

2 tsp. butter = 72 calories

2 tsp. cream cheese = 33 calories

2 tsp. stick margarine = 66 calories

2 tsp. nonfat cream cheese = 25 calories

2 tsp. all-fruit jam = 35 calories

On a salad:

1 Tbsp. creamy dressing = 80 calories

1 Tbsp. vinaigrette dressing = 40 calories

1 Tbsp. fat-free dressing = 10 calories

Sweet snacks:

candy bar = 150 calories/oz.

granola bar = 110 calories/oz.

banana = 26 calories/oz.

Salty snacks:

potato chips = 140 calories/oz.

baked chips or pretzels = 110 calories/oz.

unbuttered popcorn = 80 calories/oz.

Note: Calorie amounts of items are based on averages and not meant to apply to or indicate any specific brands.

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