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By Nancy Kim MS RD, NASM-CPT

Losing weight is challenging, but keeping it off is even more difficult.  Most people who lose weight tend to gain it right back again within a year, especially if the weight loss is quick and severe.

The key to maintaining a healthy weight is by making changes in your lifestyle.  These changes do not mean depriving yourself of the things you enjoy, but making small healthful changes that turn into permanent habits that make a healthier you.

Eat breakfast and avoid skipping meals:  Skipping meals causes a decrease in metabolism and encourages over-eating during your next meal.  Carry healthy snacks such as roasted almonds, fruits or energy/meal replacement bars with you for when you don’t have time to eat.

Eat smaller frequent meals:  Eating frequently helps increase your metabolism.  Eat every 2-3 hours.

Drink plenty of water:  Strive for 8 to 10 glasses of water a day.  Avoid drinking your calories, such as regular soda and juices that contain a lot of sugar.  By cutting these items out of your diet, you save 120 to 150 calories.

Keep your food simple and read the food label:  Avoid food that’s highly processed.  They’re usually higher in calories, fat and sodium.  Choose whole-grains, fruits and vegetables.  The closer the food is to its natural state, the better.

Portion control:  Using smaller plates and avoiding second servings also help cut back on calories.  The amount of food served in most restaurants far exceeds the caloric needs of an individual.  Eat half the food and save the rest to take home for later.

Add protein at every meal:  Protein takes longer to digest and is more satisfying.  It helps to normalize blood sugar levels and avoid spikes.  It also helps in burning fat and preserving muscle mass.

Cook at home more often, limit eating out:  Although it may be more convenient to eat out, foods at restaurants are high in calorie, sodium and fat. Most grocery stores now carry pre-washed and pre-cut fruits and vegetables, or you can use pre-cut items in the salad bar to prepare your meal.  They’re perfect for when you’re pressed for time. Prepare ahead and have grilled meats and cut-up vegetables on hand so when you’re in a hurry, you can make a quick salad, wraps, stir-fry or sandwiches.  When you do have to make a trip through the drive thru, choose healthier options such as a side salad instead of fries, milk instead of soda and grilled chicken rather than fried.  Skip condiments such as mayonnaise and cream-based dressings and don’t be afraid to ask for extra vegetables in your burger, wraps and sandwiches.

Eat the colors of the rainbow:  Foods that are colorful are higher in antioxidants. The darker the color, the more nutrients it contains.  Aim for at least 2-3 servings at every meal.  People who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables have decreased risk of chronic disease and better able to manage their weight.

Add greens:  Dark leafy greens are loaded with vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber, low in calories and high in water content.  It tastes great and fills you up without adding too many calories.

Increase your fiber intake:  Fiber rich foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables provide bulk and help you feel full and satisfied and eat less.

Eat slow:  Take your time to chew food and put your fork down between bites.  It takes about 30 minutes for your brain to register that you’re full.  When you eat fast, you are more likely to overeat and take in extra calories.  Also, you’re more likely to gulp in air and cause gas and indigestion.

Avoid emotional eating:  Learn to differentiate between physical vs. emotional hunger.  Identify triggers that may set off binge eating.  Find other ways to cope with your emotions rather than turning to food for comfort.

Increase physical activity:  Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day (check with your doctor first).  Rather than trying to park closest to an entrance, park your car far away and walk to increase physical activity.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator.  Household chores such as vacuuming, sweeping, raking and mowing the lawn count too.

Get plenty of sleep:  Lack of sleep leads to increased cortisol level, poor decision making, impaired performance, weight gain, fatigue and moodiness. Make sleep a priority just like any other daily activity.

Focus on the positive:  Rather than focusing on restrictions and things you’d have to give up, think of all the health positives you gain by making small lifestyle changes such as having more energy, better health and clothes fitting better.