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Expert Q&A: Getting Started With a Weight Loss Plan

An interview with James O. Hill, PhD.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

So you’re gearing up to eat better and lose some weight. Good for you. But how do you get started? With the hundreds and hundreds of diets out there, how do you choose the best approach?

To find out, WebMD turned to James O. Hill, PhD, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado in Denver. Much of Hill’s research has focused on the habits of people who manage to achieve what we all want: stable and sustained weight loss. So how do these people lose weight and how do they keep it off? Hill has some answers.

 

I want to lose weight but have no idea where to start. What should I do?

Before you try to make any changes to your habits, first you need to see where you are right now. Find out what your body mass index (BMI) is. See how it compares to a healthy weight. Start keeping a record of what you eat each day and how much exercise you get.

Now people say, “Why bother? I already know what I’m eating right now!” But you really don’t. Eating is something that we do every day without really paying any attention. Once you start writing it down, you may learn things you never knew about your habits. You could be drinking five pops a day and have no idea. Taking stock of where you are now gives you a sense of what needs to change.

The next step is really important. You have to make a long-term commitment. If you’re going to change your eating and exercise habits, you won’t be done after six weeks or six months or six years. You have to decide that you’re motivated to make changes that will last for the rest of your life.

Which commercial diet books, programs, or plans really work?

Basically, almost any diet plan will work for weight loss. Go to a bookstore and buy any diet book. It will give you tips on eating less and you can lose weight. But the problem is that almost none of them work for weight loss maintenance.

If you want to lose weight, I don’t think it matters how you do it or what plan you use. But to keep it off, you will probably have to use different strategies.

I co-founded the National Weight Control Registry, which tracks about 6,000 people who have, on average, lost 70 pounds and kept it off for seven years. What we’re doing is trying to learn how these people manage to do it. What strategies really work? We’ve found some common factors. People in the Registry tend to do a lot of physical activity. They tend to eat a low-fat diet and pay attention to overall calories. They self-monitor: they weigh themselves and keep periodic food diaries. And they eat breakfast every day.

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