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Want weight-loss success? Cut calories and increase exercise

Published Aug. 28, 2005

(ran SP, NP editions)

Losing weight has become the "great American obsession." With more than 30,000 diet plans available nationally, weight loss is a $34-billion a year industry.

For 10 years, the National Weight Control Registry has been gathering data from people who have lost more than 30 pounds and kept the weight off for at least one year.

"With few exceptions, people who manage to lose significant amounts of weight and keep it off don't follow extreme diets," says Rena Wing, founder of NWCR, a weight-loss expert and professor of psychiatry at Brown University. "They reduce fat, decrease calories and increase their physical activity."

Many people continue the diet cycle because they are searching for a quick fix and they want an almost magical way to shed pounds. Most do not realize the negative health effects of chronic dieting because the fundamentals of nutrition are often compromised in favor of a "one size fits all" approach to weight loss.

If you are considering your umpteenth diet this year, here's a short list of why diets alone do not work:

Eating plans are full of restrictions, which eventually become boring and create feelings of deprivation.

When you drastically reduce the caloric intake, the body, fearing starvation, goes into a protective mode to prevent excessive calorie shortage. While you may be eating fewer calories, your metabolism will slow down and you will burn or utilize fewer calories.

If your body isn't receiving the nutrients it needs, it begins to take protein and other nutrients from your bones and muscles. This lowers the basal metabolic rate (calories your body requires for normal functioning) because you will have less lean muscle tissue to burn up calories.

Dieting without exercise will eventually lead to weight being regained. More than 90 percent of dieters regain all or more of the weight they have lost within two or three years.

If you are determined to diet you should be aware of these health concerns:

Most diets reduce the caloric intake to below 1,200 calories per day. In the American Heart Association's Guidelines for Weight Management Program in Healthy Adults, the recommended safe weight loss is 1 pound a week.

According to the guideline, women should not consume less than 1,200 calories per day and men should not eat less than 1,500 calories per day; you lose healthy nutrients when calories go below the recommended amount.

Today's mantra for losing weight appears to be low carbohydrates. Yes, you should stay away from simple carbohydrates found in sugars and processed foods, however, many following the low-carb diet will also restrict grains, fruits and veggies _ foods loaded with essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

These complex carbohydrates are low-fat foods our bodies need to fight off diseases. The fiber, antioxidants and isoflavones in them play an essential role in combating cancer, osteoporosis, high blood pressure and heart disease. Remember that carbohydrates do not make you fat, excess calories do, and excess calories from any food source will cause weight gain.

Most doctors and nutritionists and all the professional health organizations recommend healthy eating habits combined with regular exercise as the best method for reducing weight.

Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. Write her in care of Seniority, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731; or send e-mail to