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Maintain your balance when weighing a diet

Tips emphasize common sense, not deprivation

For those trying to lose weight, all the sermonizing can be a turnoff.

Who doesn't already know that vending machine chocolate bars are bad, that whole grain is good? That fad diets don't work and getting fit doesn't come quick?

There's no magic formula for losing pounds and keeping them off, but there are strategies that work. Last year, The American Heart Association published the second edition of its bestseller No-Fad Diet (Clarkson Potter, $27.99), a no-nonsense bible for anyone looking to lose weight, eat healthier and move more.

It's a collection of advice culled from a review of current research in nutrition, weight management and behaviour modification. Much of the same advice is available from the Dietitians of Canada and the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation, from Health Canada and Quebec's health ministry: Exercise more and eat a healthy, balanced diet that is low in fat and includes a variety of food from each of the four groups.

No-Fad Diet puts it all together in a way that is simple and straightforward. At its core is the concept of energy balance: To keep from gaining weight, you must balance the calories you eat (calories in) with the calories your body uses up (calories out). To lose weight, change the balance in favour of "calories out."

That's it. No outlawed food combinations or powders, herbs, meal-replacement bars or pills. No three-week ab-building regimens. Just some common-sense advice for the road ahead.

Here's a compilation of useful tips for losing weight from No-Fad Diet, the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation and Nutrition Quebec, a healthy-eating blog by dietitian Charlotte Geroudet:

Think smart. Be aware of your inner voice. Think about how the running dialogue inside your head encourages or excuses bad behaviour. As in: "I'll have these french fries now, but just a salad for dinner," or "It's too icy/cold/hot/ humid/late/early to go out for a walk."

Practise saying "thanks, but no thanks" to colleagues who bring in baked goods or dinner party hosts who offer yet another glass of wine.

Learn to recognize true hunger. Before each bite of food, ask: "Am I so hungry that I would eat this even if it were something I didn't like very much?"

Be especially vigilant around people you love. Research shows that adults tend to eat more in the company of friends and relatives, especially if they are overweight.

Don't be hard on yourself. It takes about six weeks to form new habits. Be prepared for pitfalls and setbacks. Hitting a plateau is part of the process , the body's way of readjusting to a reduced food supply. If you stick with it, you'll start losing again.

Keep a food diary. Know exactly what you eat and why. Record everything you eat and drink for a week, even if it is just a mouthful. Also record what prompted you to eat and why you chose that food. Once you've collected a week's worth of information, read it over and look for patterns.

Plan ahead. Good planning, not willpower, is the key to successful, sustained weight loss. Plan meals for the next few days to avoid "unconscious eating." Shop with a detailed grocery list and don't linger in the supermarket.

Cook extra. Leftovers are a great way to avoid the fast food perils of the food court at lunchtime.

Eat more soup. A container of homemade vitamin-packed soup in the fridge is also excellent "emergency food" for evenings when you're ravenous but don't have time to cook.

Set reasonable weight loss goals. Begin by aiming to lose 10 per cent of your body weight. Losing one to two pounds a week is healthy and sustainable.

Start with small steps. Make gradual, manageable changes. Have a low-calorie lunch twice a week. Cook a healthy dinner once a week. Every second day, replace ice cream with fresh fruit.

Or go full throttle. Some behavioural experts say that starting with a strict regime, as opposed to cutting back just a few calories, helps the new habits become ingrained. Then you can ease back somewhat after two weeks.

Choose the right strategy for you.

A "switch and swap" approach works for some people. Replace margarine or butter on toast with all-fruit spread or unsweetened applesauce; or use fat-free milk instead of whole milk.

The "75-per-cent solution" is better for others, especially those who eat out or travel a lot. Continue to eat most of the things you like - just less of them. Before beginning each meal, mentally draw a line on the plate to portion out three-quarters of what you normally eat. If you always have a muffin for breakfast, eat threequarters of it. If you eat four slices of pizza at your kid's hockey game, cut back to three. Then enjoy the rest, guilt-free.

Gradually, find more nutritious, lower-calorie alternatives.

Get the most return from each calorie. Eat more vegetables and fruits, fibre-rich whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products and fish and lean meat, as well as unsaturated fats and oils.

Visualize your plate divided into fourths, with two sections for vegetables and fruits, one for grains and starches, and one for a protein.

Eat slowly. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register the signal from your stomach that it is full.


Recipe from the American Heart Association's book No-Fad Diet for homemade snacks that are tasty, low-calorie alternatives to junk food.


122 calories per 1/4 cup (50 mL) serving

3/4 cup (175 ml) high-fibre cereal squares

1/4 cup (50 ml) slivered almonds

1/4 cup (50 ml) dried apple slices, chopped

2 tablespoons (30 ml) dried cranberries

1 teaspoon (5 ml) finely grated lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) finely grated peeled ginger root In a large non-stick skillet, stir together the ingredients.

Cook over medium-high heat for two to three minutes, stirring frequently and separating the bits of lemon zest and ginger root.

Spread in a single layer on a large plate to cool. Store cooled mixture in an airtight container for up to two weeks.