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Why wait for January? Fall is the perfect time to launch a diet and fitness program.

During the free-form days of summer, vacations, picnics, and carefree attitudes can all get in the way of healthy eating and weight control. January may be the traditional time to start a weight loss program, but with kids back in school and routines becoming more structured, fall is the perfect time to launch a diet and fitness regimen.

Even the fall weather can serve as an inspiration to be active and eat more healthfully. It's the perfect time of year to hit the hiking trail, or bite into a crisp, delicious apple. Just breathing the fresh fall air makes you feel healthier.

In fact, in a survey of 1,500 moms conducted by the National Dairy Council's "3-A-Day of Dairy" program, participants said fall is the ideal season to jump-start healthy eating and exercise programs.

The moms said they look forward to getting back to their regular routines (53%) and having more time to focus on themselves (41%) when their kids go back to school. They ranked summer second (behind the winter holidays) as the time of year when they tended to put on the most weight.

"Routines are ideal for helping people, especially moms, find time to fit in fitness, prepare healthier meals and make sure they take care of their own personal health needs," says Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman.

"The combination of more free time, regular routines, and the beautiful fall weather is an inspiration to eat better and be more active outdoors."

A Bounty of Fall Foods

Sass suggests seeking out farmers' markets to select from the nutritious bounty of fall produce.

"Eating foods in season tastes best because of the peak flavors," she says. "Find a new recipe, or use a food in a different way than before."

For example, pumpkin is great for far more than pie. How about pumpkin soup, toasted pumpkin seeds, or even a pumpkin smoothie?

"Toss some pumpkin, skim milk, and pumpkin pie spices into a blender for a nutritious breakfast or snack loaded with protein and lots of nutrients," suggests Sass.

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