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New Year means new effort for many to drop those unwanted pounds

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

SIKESTON -- Losing or maintaining weight is a year-round struggle for most people, and for many of them, the decision to get serious about shedding pounds begins in January with their New Year's resolutions.

According to a new survey commissioned by Weight Watchers, about 45 percent of Americans say losing weight will be their New Year's resolution for 2009.

And, unfortunately, there's no magic formula or secret to weight loss, said Myra Gunn, registered dietitian for Mississippi County Health Departments in Charleston and East Prairie

"People don't realize the weight didn't come on overnight, and it won't come off overnight," Gunn said.

Gunn said losing weight is about making small changes in eating habits that make a big difference.

"The first thing we recommend for people who participate in our weight loss counseling program (at the health department) is to keep a food journal so they can see and be aware of not only how much but what they're eating and all aspects of it," Gunn said.

Gunn said she has the most weight loss success with people who keep a food journal.

"Food journals should include writing down everything you eat or drink in a day. Include portion size, how the food was prepared, the amount, the calories (if you have access to calorie counting) and the time you're eating," Gunn said.

Besides keeping track of what they eat, those looking to shed some pounds should also make good calorie food choices like whole grains, lean meat, lowfat dairy and vegetables, Gunn said.

Gunn said online tools can also be useful. The registered dietitian recommended the following user-friendly Web sites which offer "very good and sound advice" for healthy living: calorieking.com and sparkpeople.com.

"Eating is just one part of the calorie equation; physical activity is another part," Gunn said.

Kenny Stone, health and fitness director at YMCA of Southeast Missouri in Sikeston, said there are things to consider when beginning an exercise regimen.

"If you're starting a new exercise plan, gradually work into it instead of going full force and getting sore the next day and then being discouraged with it," Stone said.

Individuals should find an exercise they like to do instead of trying to do whatever the latest trend is, Stone said.

"There are so many things out there they can do. You might like to play frisbee or run with the dog," Stone said.

Stone also suggested making a plan and scheduling exercise into the day.

"If you just say, 'Sometime during the day I'm going to exercise,' then chances are you won't. Set a specific time, plan and know what you're going to do and when you're going start," Stone said.

Keep a log of workouts to see what exercises have already been done and to prevent getting stuck in a rut, Stone said. He suggested individuals get at least 20 to 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise each day.

Most people beginning to exercise like to start out with walking on a treadmill, Stone said.

"They tend to like the treadmill because it's similar to activities of daily living like walking and jogging. Then they get into the elliptical trainer (a stationary exercise machine use to simulate walking or running without causing major pressure to the joints) because it's different and fun," Stone said, adding individuals also incorporate weights and plyometric exercises into their routines later on.

Losing weight happens by eating slightly fewer calories than someone needs, Gunn said.

"Losing one to two pounds a week is recommended, and anything more than that is too drastic," Gunn said.

Stone noted to lose one pound, there has to be a daily calorie deficit of 3,500 calories, which can seem daunting.

The key is to combine exercise with better eating habits -- and to take it slow, Stone said.

"Take out 250 calories of your diet and burn an extra 250 calories a day and that would be equal to losing one pound a week," Stone said. "Within a year, you could lose 52 pounds."'

When Dana Copeland of Sikeston began her quest to lose weight in September 2007, she found a Web site where she entered her weight and how many pounds she wanted to lose. It told her what her daily calorie intake should be, and Copeland said she just monitored what she ate by writing it down and planning her meals in advance. She also said switching from regular to diet sodas helped cut calories.

Within eight months, Copeland had lost 65 pounds and reached her ideal weight. Copeland has since maintained her weight and has also incorporated exercise into her daily routine.

"It wasn't hard. I never looked at it as a diet. If I eat something like a piece of cake, then I'll try to cut something else out at my next meal," Copeland said.

Copeland said she just knows how many calories she needs in a day and sticks to that number.

"Just plan ahead and jot down your calories," she advised.

Getting started

-- Experts recommend at least three 20 minute sessions of exercise per week. If you are trying to lose a significant amount of weight, 5 times a week may be what you need.

-- Remember, the elderly or people with health problems should consult with their doctor before doing anything strenuous.

-- Some winter chores and activities are good forms of exercise, for example, moderate snow shoveling and ice skating.

-- Take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator.

-- The President's Counsel on Physical Fitness and Sports has many publications about how to design your own exercise regimen. Fitness.gov (the Web site of the PCPFS) also has tips about exercise and weight control.

-- Make exercise part of your daily routine.

Source: Federal Citizen Information Center Getting Started (USA.gov)