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Lose weight, improve your health, and get fit with these tips on diets.

Feel great with a well balanced diet. [© Shutterstock, 2010]
© Shutterstock, 2010
Feel great with a well balanced diet.

Diets are designed to either facilitate weight loss or control other health conditions. Typically, diets focus on calorie-counting, sugar and/or fat reduction, portion control and lifestyle changes. Many specialty diets claim to help people lose weight in a certain amount of time or by eating only certain kinds of foods -- cutting out carbohydrates, for example, or by eating grapefruits. While they may show results in the short term, these types of diets are not always the most well-balanced or beneficial for one's health. Diets should be carefully planned and healthy in order to be a useful tool for anyone struggling with a weight problem or managing other health issues.

Beginning a Diet

According to the Mayo Clinic, person should predetermine his or her willingness to make the necessary changes required to be successful with a diet plan. An individual who is ready to begin a diet:

  • Is motivated to make long-term lifestyle changes and alterations in food choices
  • Has limited problems or diversions in his or her life that will prevent the success of the diet
  • Expects gradual results rather than an immediate effect
  • Has realistic expectations and goals
  • Has time to keep accurate records of food consumed and exercise habits
  • Has a strong network of friends and family to encourage and support dieting efforts

The next step in planning a healthy diet is to decide the meal plan that best fits with one's lifestyle and tastes. Choosing a diet rich in the proper nutrients and low in unnecessary calories is the basic rule of thumb.

Planning a Safe and Effective Diet for Weight Loss

When it comes to weight loss efforts, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) recommends that individuals who wish to begin a diet consult a healthcare professional first in order to select a safe and responsible weight-loss plan. This means the diet should focus on an eating plan that is healthy and easy to follow. It also means that physical activity should be an adjunct to the plan. Healthy and safe diets include:

  • Nutritious meal plans that decrease calories yet don't prohibit particular foods
  • Advice regarding the incorporation of exercise into one's lifestyle
  • Suggestions pertaining to healthy eating practices which bear in mind cultural needs and low-fat varieties of the person's favorite foods
  • Physician involvement if the diet is based on a special formula, such as extremely low-calorie diets
  • A strategy for maintaining the weight loss

The Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid Tool is a free, online interactive instrument that individuals may find helpful during the course of dieting. By entering one's age, weight and height, the weight pyramid tool will show proper amounts of each food in the pyramid, including sweets, carbohydrates, dairy, grains, fats and fruits. It also indicates the number of calories a person should eat daily, as well as the amount of daily exercise needed to lose weight. Foods that should be eaten most often are at the bottom of the pyramid, while foods that should be indulged in less are at the top.

Specialty Weight Loss Diets

Many people find diets difficult to maintain due to the general requirements of staying away from certain foods, feeling forced to load up on other less-appealing options, and feeling continually hungry. Consequently, diets are often temporary, and the weight returns as soon as the diet is discontinued. Selecting the strategy that best fits the dieter's lifestyle, tastes and goals may be the key to weight loss success. Specialty diets offer a variety of approaches to weight loss:

  • Low-carb diets operate on the theory that reducing one's carbohydrate intake lowers insulin levels, causing the body to burn fat reserves for energy. Popular examples of this type of diet include Atkins, the Zone and Protein Power.
  • Meal replacement diets, such as Slim-Fast, require users to substitute one to two meals per day with a low-calorie, nutritionally complete shake or food bar, followed by a healthy, low-calorie dinner of his or her choice.
  • Meal providers, like NutriSystem and Jenny Craig, offer premade meals for dieters to eat at home.
  • Group programs, such as Weight Watchers, offer participants advice, moral support, recommendations and diet plans.

Success with any of these diets requires sustained lifestyle changes in terms of food consumption and activity level. This means dieters will usually achieve better results by selecting a strategy to which he or she can make a life-long commitment.

Diets for Other Health Conditions

People who have certain health conditions benefit from diets targeted toward their medical needs. Diabetes meal plans must balance food choices with insulin levels and medications. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH Diet, has been scientifically proven to lower high blood pressure. The March of Dimes recommends that pregnant women follow a nutritious diet that includes 300 extra calories per day to sustain healthy fetal development.

Whether it is used to improve one's overall health or to lose weight, a carefully planned and healthy diet can be a powerful tool. With a little patience and a lot of commitment to change, a person can select the diet that fits his or her lifestyle and achieves results that last.

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