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Pyramid Diet Secrets

What are the best foods to reach a healthy weight?

Creating a Customized Eating Plan

Meet Jeanette Doe, a hypothetical dieter. She's 35, 5 feet 6 inches tall, weighs 140 pounds and, like most Americans, she spends fewer than 30 minutes exercising a day.

Logging onto MyPyramid.gov and clicking on "MyPyramid Plan," Jeanette enters her vital statistics. The program calculates that she needs about 2,000 calories a day to meet her current energy needs.

To make sure those calories include the nutrition she needs, the program also calculates the ideal serving amounts from the five major food groups. In Jeanette's case: 6 ounces of grains, 2.5 cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruit, 3 cups of milk, and 5.5 ounces of meat or beans.

To translate those amounts into a satisfying menu, Jeanette can click on "MyPyramid Menu Planner" and enter particular foods she likes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

With each entry, an online graphic shows how the item meets the recommended servings in each category. The program also keeps track of her calories. If MyPyramid indicates that her day's menu falls short on vegetable servings, she can add a side salad at lunch or another serving of vegetables at dinner. If it shows her overstepping her recommended calorie count, she can look for places to cut back.

As an alternative for meal planning, MyPyramid also offers a week's worth of sample menus that total 2,000 calories a day and meet all the recommended amounts of grains, fruits, vegetables, plant oils, and other categories.

Using the Pyramid to Lose Weight

MyPyramid is designed to create an eating plan that balances calories in and calories out -- a plan that will maintain your current weight. To lose weight, you can tweak that plan in several ways, experts say.

  • Cut back slightly on serving sizes.  If your MyPyramid plan includes a 6-ounce glass of orange juice, for example, cut back to half a glass and you'll save 52 calories a day. 
  • Don't spend all your discretionary calories. MyPyramid allocates a certain number of "discretionary calories" for sweets and treats. That's important, since diets that force people to say no to treats usually don't work. But you don't have to use all your discretionary calories. Skipping a treat now and then will further reduce your caloric intake. 
  • Establish a sensible "first step" weight goal. Let's say you currently weight 185 pounds. Instead of entering your actual weight in MyPyramid, enter a sensible goal you'd like to reach on your way to a healthy weight -- 175 pounds for example. The program will automatically recalculate your eating plan, reducing its calorie content. Once you've reached your goal, you can enter a new goal. It's always wise, if you plan to lose a significant amount of weight, to talk to your doctor first. 
  • Be more active. Physical activity burns calories. Your body burns roughly twice as many calories during a brisk walk as it does sitting on a sofa. If you follow the pyramid eating plan but burn an additional 500 calories in exercise, chances are you'll slowly lose weight. By exercising more, you can eat more -- a trade-off many dieters are happy to make.

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