Essential information for permanent weight loss

No quick way to shed pounds and keep them off

To reach a healthy weight and maintain it, people need to know certain things. First they need to learn that there is no magic bullet for weight loss, and each person must learn what works for them in an environment of good nutrition, says Andrea Dmitruk, RD, MA, clinical coordinator of Food and Clinical Nutrition Services at New York Presbyterian Hospital/ Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City.

They must learn to strike a balance in their daily diet, making sure that they eat a variety of nutritious foods without depriving themselves of "fun" food. For example, their diet might consist of 95% nutritious food and 5% junk food.

Before people can eat a balanced diet, they must understand nutrition; therefore, some education about nutrition is needed, says Dmitruk. "I think a lot of fallacies about nutrition have been passed on," she says.

It’s a good idea for people to learn how to read labels so they know whether they are eating nutritious food. Dmitruk urges people to look at the calcium in each serving size because Americans are not taking in enough calcium through the life cycle. Also, people should pay attention to the amount of fiber they are getting in a serving of cereal or bread. There should be three to four grams of fiber per serving, and that is difficult to find.

One simple strategy people can try for increasing the healthfulness of their diet is to shop the perimeters of the grocery store, says Dmitruk. There they will find the fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy products and bread. "With a little education — like selecting higher-fiber items in the bread and cereal categories and meat that is lower in saturated fat — I think people would lose weight," she says.

Another important element of education is to make sure people understand that to lose weight, they must eat fewer calories than they burn. "Calories in have to be less than calories out if we are going to lose weight. That means exercise is a key part of it. People have to move," says Shirley Kindrick, PhD, RD, LD, a team leader for Comprehensive Weight Management at the Center for Wellness & Prevention at The Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus.

To make sure people do not overeat, they must understand portion sizes. "I don’t know many women who would sit down and eat four slices of bread, but you can’t go to a bagel shop and get a bagel that is less than that," says Kindrick.

Also there is a need for people to learn a few simple and quick food preparation techniques. "If we are going to be dependent on the food industry to provide our needs for food — whether it is from vending machines, fast food restaurants or regular restaurants — we will have a problem with weight," says Kindrick.