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How to Design Your Own Diet

Had it with one-size-fits-all diet formulas? Learn how to design your own weight loss plan.

6 Key Questions to Answer continued...

Do you love to dine out? You'll need to account for restaurant food by seeking out the calorie counts of the foods you eat most often.

Will you require a daily treat to feel satisfied? If you can't live without a little something special every day, reserve 100 calories for a single-serve package of cookies or chips, or for a frozen treat, like a fudge bar.

How much exercise can you reasonably do? Experts recommend at least 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity, such as walking, on most days of the week, but you may have to build up to that, especially if you aren't physically active. Ask your doctor what's best for you.

Calculating Calories For Weight Loss

Diets don't work unless you run a calorie deficit by eating less energy than you burn.  Most healthy people without chronic conditions can safely drop no more than two pounds a week on a balanced diet.

Adhering to a daily calorie budget for weight loss is the crux of any successful do-it-yourself diet plan. Your calorie allowance is based on your age, sex, physical activity level, and weekly weight loss goals.

Once you have calculated your calorie level, the next step is figuring out what to eat for weight loss. Bauer says the best diet plans are based on whole foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy foods, because they lay the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPyramid.gov web site provides a blueprint for healthy eating, no matter what your weight goal. The number of servings to include on a daily basis from each of the five food groups, and oils, is determined by the calorie level you choose for weight loss. MyPyramid.gov also provides information about proper portions for foods in each food group.

How to Design Your Daily Meals and Snacks

You know how many servings from each of the food groups you need. Now you need to decide how to combine them to make healthy, satisfying meals and snacks that keep temptation at bay.  Here are some basic rules:

• Have at least three meals a day.  Eating on a regular basis prevents extreme hunger that can wreak havoc on your resolve to eat better and exercise more.

• Stay fuller for longer by combining protein (found in the greatest amounts in foods from the milk and meat/beans food groups) with fiber (found in whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and legumes) at every meal and snack. Noshing on fat-free yogurt and an apple, or a hard-cooked egg and a small whole grain roll, is more satisfying than spending the same number of calories on soda crackers, which are very low in fiber and devoid of protein. 

• Conserve calories. Choose the lowest-calorie choices from each food group. For example, opt for 1% reduced-fat milk or fat-free milk instead of full-fat; 93% lean ground beef instead of 85%; and light popcorn instead of popcorn smothered in butter.

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