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How to Lose Weight and Maintain It

Getting Started:

We have all heard the facts... to lose weight, you have to eat less and move more. But this is often easier said than done. Many people make repeated attempts, often using different fad diets and with loss gimmicks and are unsuccessful.

Did you know that simply losing as little as 10 percent of your current body weight can make a difference in your health?

Achieving this initial weight loss goal will help to lower your risk for heart disease and other conditions, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer.

Did you know that a reasonable and safe weight loss
is 1-2 pounds per week?

While it may take as long as 6 months to lose the weight, it will make it easier to keep the weight off. And it will give you the time to make new healthy lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet and increasing your physical activity level.

Did you know that it is better to maintain a moderate weight loss over a longer period of time than it is to lose lots of weight and regain it?

You can consider additional weight loss after you have lost 10 percent of your current body weight and have maintained it for 6 months.

How to lose Weight:

To be successful at losing weight, you need to adopt a new lifestyle. This means making changes such as eating healthy foods, being more physically active, and learning how to change behaviors. Over time, these changes will become routine. But there are some people for whom lifestyle changes don't work, no matter how hard they try. Weight loss medications and weight loss surgery can be options for these people if they are at increased risk from overweight or obesity.

A Healthy Eating Plan:

  • Emphasis fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
  • Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.
  • Is low in saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
  • Controls portion sizes.

Fat Matters, But Calories Count:

A calorie is a calorie whether it comes from fat or carbohydrate. Anything eaten in excess can lead to weight gain. You can lose weight by eating fewer calories and by increasing your physical activity. Reducing the amount of fat and saturated fat that you eat is one easy way to limit your overall calorie intake. However, eating fat-free or reduced fat foods isn't always the answer to weight loss. This is especially true when you eat more of the reduced fat food than you would of the regular item. For example, if you eat twice as many fat free cookies, you have actually increased your overall calorie intake.

Low Calorie, Lower Fat Alternatives:

When making a food choice, remember to consider vitamins and minerals. Some foods provide most of their calories from sugar and fat but give you few, if any, vitamins and minerals. We stress reading labels to find out just how many calories are in the specific products you decide to buy.

Keep an Eye on Potion Size:
What's the Difference Between a Portion and a Recommended Serving Size?


A "portion" is the amount of a food that you choose to eat for a meal or snack. It can be a big or small - you decide.


A "serving" is a measured amount of food or drink, such as one slice of bread or 1 cup of milk. Some foods that most people consume as a single serving actually contain multiple serving sizes (e.g., a 20-ounce soda, or a 3-ounce bag of chips).

Nutrition recommendations use serving sizes to help people know how much of different types of foods they should eat to get the nutrients they need. The Nutrition Facts Label on packaged foods are not always the same as those included in nutrition recommendations. However, serving sizes are standardized to make it easier to compare similar foods. To get an idea of how big recommended serving sizes really are, log in into Nutrihand and go to WizQuiz to check your knowledge on serving sizes.

Food Preparation - Low Calorie, Low-Fat Cooking/Serving Methods:

Cooking low calorie, low-fat dishes may not take a long time, but best intentions can be lost with the addition of butter or other added fats at the table. It is important to learn how certain ingredients can add unwanted calories and fat to low-fat dishes making them no longer lower in calories and lower in fat. The following list provides examples of lower fat cooking methods and tips on how to serve your low-fat dishes.

Low-fat Cooking Methods - these cooking methods tend to be lower in fat:

  • Bake
  • Broil
  • Microwave
  • Roast - for vegetables and/or chicken without skin
  • Steam
  • Lightly stir-fry or saute in cooking spray, small amounts of vegetable oil, or reduced sodium broth
  • Grill seafood, chicken, or vegetables

How to Save Calories and Fat:

Two tablespoons of butter on at a baked potato adds an extra 200 calories and 22 grams of fat. However, 1/4 cup salsa adds only 18 calories and no fat.

    Two tablespoons of regular clear Italian salad dressing will add an extra 136 calories and 14 grams of fat. Reduced fat Italian dressing adds only 30 calories and 2 grams of fat.

Try These Low-fat Flavorings - Added During Preparation or at the Table:

  • Herbs: Oregano, basil, cilantro, thyme, parsley, sage, or rosemary
  • Spices: Cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, or paprika
  • Reduced fat or fat-free salad dressing
  • Mustard
  • Ketchup
  • Fat-free mayonnaise
  • Fat-free or reduced fat sour cream
  • Fat-free or reduced fat yogurt
  • Reduced sodium soy sauce
  • Salsa
  • Lemon or lime juice
  • Vinegar
  • Horseradish
  • Fresh ginger
  • Sprinkled buttered flavor (not made with real butter)
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Sprinkle of parmesan cheese (stronger flavor than most cheese)
  • Sodium free salt substitute
  • Jelly or fruit preserves on toast or bagels

You can also find other tips to lose weight and maintain it in the Health Center.

Source: National Institutes of Health - U.S. Department of Healthy and Human Services - NIH Publication no. 05-5213 August 2005

Adapted by Editorial Staff, December 2007
Last update, August 2008


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