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The 7 Basics of Successful Dieting

The more you can make smart choices an automatic part of your life, the better off your body will be in the long run, say Michael F. Roizen, M.D., and Mehmet C. Oz, M.D., authors of YOU: Losing Weight: The Owner’s Manual to Simple and Healthy Weight Loss.

1. Know That Knowledge — Not Willpower — Is the Ultimate Weapon
Most dieters try to defeat their Oreo/Cheez Doodle/custard pie infatuations with will, with deprivation, with sweat, with a “my-brain-is-stronger-than-your-crust” attitude. But trying to beat your body with mind power alone may be more painful than passing a melon-size kidney stone. Instead, you have to learn about the systems and actions that influence hunger, satiety, fat storing, and fat burning to fine-tune your corporeal vehicle so it runs on autopilot and takes you to your ultimate destination: a healthy, ideal body.

2. Appreciate the Biology (and Complexity) of the Body
One of the reasons why most so-called diets fail is because of a psychological and behavioral flaw that many dieters have. We desperately want to believe the simple, comforting promises that diets make — that doing A always gets us B. Because once we see that A (eating wheat germ 24–7) doesn’t always equal B (the cover of Vogue), then we get frustrated and angry and give in to the gods of cream-filled baked goods. Unfortunately, your body and your fat do not have a linear two-step relationship. Instead, think of your body as an orchestra. All of its systems, organs, muscles, cells, fluids, hormones, and chemicals play different instruments, make different sounds(your intestines have dibs on first-chair tuba), and produce different results depending on how you use them. They work independently, but only when they’re played together can you appreciate the magnificent symphony of your own biology. As the conductor of your biological orchestra, you control how the instruments interact and what the final result will be.

3. Let Your Body Guide Your Choices
While we want you to “not think” about eating good foods, we also know that “not thinking” may be how you got into this pants-stretching mess in the first place. When you don’t think about the consequences of ordering football-size calzones, you wind up with such pleasantries as high LDL (lousy) cholesterol, low HDL (healthy type of) cholesterol, a fat-filled liver, inflammation in your arteries, and a higher risk of aging arteries that cause memory loss, heart disease, and even wrinkles, as well as a steady stream of coupon offers from the large men’s department. We want your body to guide you to the right choices — without thinking about them — so that they’ll lead to the results you want. It will take some effort at the start to retrain your habits, palate, and muscles, but this program will serve as a lifelong eating, activity, and behavior plan that will become as routine as going to the bathroom before bed.

4. Know It’s About Waist, Not Weight
Some people haven’t stepped on a scale since Laverne & Shirley played in prime time. And that’s a good thing. For our purposes, you don’t need to know how much you weigh (but if you want to check your progress on this program, then go ahead and peek). All you need is a tape measure. Measure the circumference of your waist at the point of your belly button (suck in; you will anyway), and record the score here. (Depending on how your weight is distributed, you may need to make an adjustment to where you place the tape. If you’re overweight, keep the tape measure parallel to the floor during measurement.)

Your Size: _____

For optimum health, the ideal waist size for women is 32½ inches; once you hit 37 inches, the dangers to your health increase. For men, the ideal is 35 inches, and the dangers to your health increase once you hit 40 inches.

While we emphasize waist over weight, we also know that many of you won’t be able to resist the siren of the scale. When it comes to actual weight, you do need to stop thinking about one specific number. (“I want to get down to 130.”) All of us have an ideal playing weight — not a weight for running marathons or making All Pro linebacker or posing for an airbrushed-anyway centerfold. This ideal playing weight is a range in which you live lean and healthy, and one in which you significantly reduce the risks of aging diseases associated with being overweight.

5. Draft Your Team
You have to stop thinking that this game is you versus a stadium full of rib-loving opponents. Sure, you need to be the quarterback of your waist control team, but you won’t achieve success without a team that can block for you, high-five you when you’re doing well, and give you an encouraging smack on the butt when you’re not. Your starting lineup should include your doctor, maybe a nutritionist, maybe a personal trainer, and certainly scads and scads of fans like your family and friends (online or in person) who can push you, support you, and yank the bowl of candy corn away from you. But you shouldn’t be the only one relying on other people; you should use this opportunity to find a support partner who needs you as much as you need her. After all, the best kinds of satisfaction shouldn’t come from the sixth spoonful of cake batter, but from sharing knowledge and support, and helping others lose inches.

6. Small Changes = Long-Term Success
The average woman gains 24 pounds between the ages of twenty-five and sixty-five. Considering that the total food intake of a woman over forty is more than 40,000 pounds of food in the rest of her lifetime, the difference between food intake and food expenditure that produces such a weight gain is .06 percent — or just 8 calories a day. And if you want to lose weight, the whole fight comes down to a measly 100 calories a day — that’s 10 permanent pounds and roughly 3 inches off your waist every year.

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