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    Stage One: Orientation continued...

    Next, try to spend a little time each day on our site. Read the columns and articles, find a new recipe to try, post a question or comment on one of the message boards, or join a scheduled chat. The site offers a wealth of information to help motivate and support you, whatever stage you're in.

    It's important to get familiar with our interactive journal and start tracking your meals, physical activity, fluid intake, and weight. This serves two purposes: It lets us give you feedback on how well you're doing, and it helps you acknowledge your own eating habits. The first step toward change is recognizing what you need to change, and patterns and habits are easier to recognize when you write them down. Journaling is a powerful tool, both in helping you lose weight and in maintaining the loss. Consider it a new health habit.

    Now is the time to break free from patterns or foods that cause weight gain. So no more skipping meals! Breakfast really is one of the most important meals of the day; don't leave home without it. A good strategy is to divide your eating plan into three or more meals, so you eat nutritiously and often. All your meals and snacks should contain both lean protein and complex carbs (such as fruit and yogurt) to help you feel satisfied until the next meal.

    Learning to manage hunger is another centerpiece of weight control. You know what happens when you don't -- you get so ravenous that you eat everything in sight. Distributing your food intake throughout the day will help you stay away from the cookie jar. Use the journal to get familiar with your own eating patterns, and find foods on your plan that help you get through the day without bingeing. I reach for spicy tomato juice or a hot cup of tea when I feel hungry between meals. Find the foods that work for you -- and don't forget to plan nourishing snacks to enjoy during the day.

    Since we're changing unhealthy habits, this is also the time to say goodbye to a sedentary lifestyle. Getting started might simply be moving more during the day (for example, fitting in 10-minute walks whenever you have time) -- or it could mean joining a gym for formal workouts. You get to choose. All we ask is that you commit to do a little something each day, and aim for getting the national recommendation of 60 minutes a day.

    That may sound like a lot, but remember that several short bouts of activity can add up to your daily total. Just do the best you can, and remember any activity is better than none! For suggestions tailored to fit your lifestyle and physical needs, visit our fitness guru Rich Weil

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