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The Sensible, Simple Route to Slim

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When was the last time you tried to lose weight, whether 5 pounds, 15 pounds or a whole lot more? Were you successful in keeping the pounds off? If you were, congratulations. If not, you probably tried an extreme approach to improve your looks, rather than focusing on the bigger picture: your long-term health.

We've all heard the stories about how so-and-so knows someone who lost 15 pounds in one week. What we don't hear about is that the person probably resorted to extreme measures and dehydrated their body, as well as slowed down their metabolism, in the process.

In the long run, repeated episodes of unhealthy weight-loss attempts are more likely to cause damage to our body and outweigh the health benefits of short-term weight loss. Now don't get me wrong; I am not saying that it is better to stay at an unhealthy weight. We just have to make sure that we are losing weight in a healthy way and are able to maintain that weight loss. Most people who require repeated aggressive dieting are yo-yo dieting. Our bodies do not respond well to unhealthy attempts at deprivation followed by unhealthy excessive eating that gains the weight back because we feel deprived.

For example, visualize a plant that is left to dry until it is withering; then having gallons of water poured into its soil until it is overflowing. What tends to happen to these plants? They cannot survive even after the over-watering occurs. This is because living things require a steady stream of healthy nutrients, not extremes – the same dangerous cycle we sometimes put our bodies through to achieve weight loss. The key message to keep in mind when it comes to losing weight in a healthy way is to take the steps necessary to keep our metabolism humming, along with providing appropriate amounts of necessary nutrients and minerals for that to happen. How can we do that? Here are a few tips.

Burning Calories at Rest

In general, it is recommended that you not go below 1,200 calories per day (if you're an average-sized individual) so your metabolism doesn't slow down and you are able to maintain basic cellular and metabolic functioning. If you want to be more exact, you can use the Mifflin formula (see sidebar on facing page) to calculate your resting metabolic rate (RMR; energy needed to produce vital body functioning at rest).Just keep in mind that if you exercise or are active, you are going to be burning more than this calculated amount on a daily basis. (The RMR designates what you need to function at rest.)

The equation at right sounds pretty complicated, so here's a quick example from the real world. If you're a 40-year-old woman, 5' 6," 140 pounds, then your resting metabolic rate would be approximately 1,700 (calories burned per day) if you're essentially sedentary (desk job; little or no daily exercise). It could be significantly more depending on how active you are.

Guess What? Healthy Weight Loss Takes Time (Sorry!)

It takes about a 500-calorie deficit per day to lose about 1 pound per week. If you incorporate exercise that burns an additional 500 calories per day, then you can lose 2 pounds per week. My recommendation would be to aim to lose no more than 2 pounds per week on average. "On average" takes into consideration that the initial weeks may result in greater weight loss because of the loss of retained fluids from exchanging fatty, salty foods for a healthier, more balanced diet. But overall, you should average out to about 2 pounds per week. If you are losing more than that, then you are more likely resorting to less-healthy methods of weight loss, which can hurt your metabolism and health in the long-term.

Believe it or not, people who lose weight at a slow, steady rate tend to keep the weight off longer because they are incorporating new, healthier habits instead of taking drastic measures to get the weight off. When we shift our focus from '"dieting" to "creating a healthier lifestyle," we are more likely to succeed in keeping the weight off for good.