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Keeping weight off requires life changes

By Keryn Page

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Keeping one of the most common New Year's resolutions sometimes seems as elusive as that winning lottery ticket.

Weight-loss experts have long recommended lifestyle changes over quick-fix diets, and Mississippi State University Extension Service experts echo that sentiment.

"An effective diet involves a change in eating behaviors that you can maintain for life," advised Cynthia Wilson, Webster County Extension director. "Look at what you're eating and see what you can give up without feeling deprived. Dieting is not a matter of being deprived -- it's just a change in a learned behavior."

In weight-loss programs across the state, Extension Service agents help participants understand that simple lifestyle changes can make or break an attempt at losing weight. The most common advice is to follow the recommendations of the Food Guide Pyramid.

The Pyramid calls for eating a variety of foods to get needed nutrients and the right amount of calories to maintain a healthy weight. Start with at least six servings daily of breads, cereals, rice and pasta, three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruits. Add two to three servings from the dairy and meat groups. Go easy on fats, oils and sweets -- the foods in the small tip of the Pyramid.

"People need to be aware of serving sizes as well," Wilson said. "What many people consider a 'helping' of food is actually several servings. For instance, a dinner portion of spaghetti would count as two or three servings of pasta."

Losing weight -- and keeping it off -- often requires "unlearning" behaviors that over time developed into unhealthy habits. For example, switching from regular to fat-free or no mayonnaise, sweet to unsweet tea, fried to baked foods, and regular to diet sodas or plain water can make a big difference.

"People often make the mistake of thinking they have to eat everything on their plate, but that's not true. We have to stop eating when we're full," Wilson said. "Try to start out with a small amount of food on your plate. Then you can go back for seconds -- but only if you're still hungry."

Drinking water regularly throughout the day also can aid weight-loss efforts. Often people eat when they are actually thirsty, and a glass of water would satisfy the craving.

Another lifestyle change necessary for losing weight and keeping it off is making a commitment to exercise at least three times a week. Start out slowly, and work up to walking 1 mile in 15 minutes.

"Remember that you didn't go to bed skinny and wake up fat, so the weight isn't going to disappear overnight either," Wilson said. "If you can lose 1 pound a week, that's 52 pounds in one year. And taking the weight off slowly means you're more likely to keep it off."

The most important thing to remember is that losing weight is not an easy task and it will take time, patience and lifestyle modification, Wilson said.

To find out about individual weight-loss programs offered in Mississippi counties, telephone the local county Extension Service office.

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Released: Nov. 25, 2003
Contact: Cynthia Wilson, (662) 258-3971

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