Many individuals feel their weight loss efforts are unsuccessful, when in actuality it may be their weight loss expectations are unrealistic.  Unrealistic weight loss goals often lead to failure.  

If your goal is weight loss, focus on improving health through small weight losses that are achievable and maintainable.  For people with a BMI above 25 a "healthier weight goal" would be to decrease body weight by 1 to 2 BMI units (approximately 10 to 15 pounds).  While this may seem small, a loss of 1 to 2 BMI units can provide significant health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and lowering blood glucose and blood cholesterol levels. 

A healthy weight loss also requires a healthy time frame.  Healthy weight loss is slow and gradual, about 1/2 to 2 pounds per week.  Individuals who expect to lose weight rapidly are likely to be disappointed.  Recommendations are to aim to lose about 10 to 15 pounds over about 6 months.  Once a modest weight loss has been achieved a strong attention is focused on maintaining that loss.  Recommendations are to maintain a modest weight loss for 6 months before attempting to lose more weight.  Two major components of weight loss are healthy eating and healthy physical activity. 


Healthy eating, not "dieting" is a key component of weight loss.  No food plan is magical, and no specific food must be included or avoided.  Dieting usually lasts for a short term and rarely produces long-term success.  Healthy eating for weight loss focuses on a non-restrictive approach to eating including a variety of foods from the Food Guide Pyramid food groups with a moderate reduction in calories. 

Eating plans that require unusual eating patterns, such as emphasizing only a few types of foods, or omitting whole groups of foods such as carbohydrates or proteins deviates from the principals recommended by the Food Guide Pyramid.  These diets may be harmful because they do not include all nutrients necessary for good health.  No one food is magical, and no specific food must be included or avoided.

Moderate Calorie Reduction
The Food Guide Pyramid
How Many Servings Are Right For You
Serving Sizes
The Nutrition Label
Healthy Eating Strategies

Moderate Calorie Reduction 

To lose weight fewer calories should be consumed than expended.  There are about 3,500 calories in one pound of body fat.  Thus, to lose one pound, your calorie intake needs to be 3,500 less than your calorie expenditure.  A modest reduction of 250 to 500 calories per day from your daily calorie intake is recommended for weight loss.  This would result in about a 1/2 to 1 pound loss per week.  Increasing physical activity can further increase the rate of weight loss. 

For good healthy only a modest calorie reduction is recommended because you don’t want to reduce calorie input below the minimum number of servings recommend by the Food Guide Pyramid.  A modest reduction in calories promotes healthier and more successful weight loss than severely restricting calories.  Severely restricting calories can decrease the body's metabolic rate, which can hamper weight loss efforts.  Weight loss resulting from severely restricting calories usually results from a loss of lean muscle tissue and water not from fat, and lost weight is often regained. 

Lowering calorie intake doesn’t mean severely restrictions in food intake.  Limiting foods high in fat and/or simple sugars, watching portion size and between meal snacks may be the only dietary modifications needed to reduce calories by 250 to 500 per day. 

Limiting fat intake is usually a major focus for reducing calorie intake, because fat is the most concentrated source of calories (9 calories/gram) compared to 4 calories/gram for carbohydrates and protein.  Lowering dietary fat intake doesn’t mean you have to omit all fat from your diet.  You do need some fat in the diet, but just not too much.  Some general guidelines for fat intake in the diet are: 

  • Choose lower fat alternatives more often.
  • Use lower fat cooking methods.
  • Eat smaller portions of high-at foods.
  • Eat high-at foods less often.
  • Balance foods high in fat with foods low in fat. 

If you are trying to lower simple sugars in your diet, the answer is not to cut out all foods such as milk, fruits, and vegetables that naturally contain sugar.  The body needs nutrients found in these foods.  The better place to start cutting sugar from the diet is from foods that contain large amounts of added sugar but are not sources of other nutrients, such as sweetened soft drinks, candies, desserts, sweets, and bakery foods. 

The Food Guide Pyramid 

You need to get more than 40 different nutrients from food for good health.  Nutrients include vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrate, fats, and water.  These nutrients should come from a variety of foods.  Foods are also your best source of fiber.  Any food that supplies calories and nutrients can be part of a nutritious diet. It's the overall content of the diet that counts. 

The Food Guide Pyramid is an outline of what to eat each day.  It is not a rigid prescription, but a general guide that lets you choose a healthful diet that's right for you.  The Food Guide Pyramid calls for eating a variety of foods to get the nutrients you need and the right amount of calories to maintain a healthy weight. 

The Food Guide Pyramid emphasizes foods from the five major food groups shown in the lower levels of the Pyramid.  Each of these food groups provides some, but not all, of the nutrients you need every day.  Foods in one group can't replace those in another.  No single food group is more important than another.  For good health you need them all. 

Breads, Cereals, Rice and Pasta Group 

These are all foods from grains.  You need the most servings of these foods each day. These foods provide complex carbohydrate (starches), which are an important source of energy especially in low-fat diets.  These also provide B vitamins, protein, iron, and fiber. The Food Guide Pyramid suggests 6 to 11 servings of these foods each day. 

Vegetable Group 

The vegetable group provides vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, magnesium and iron.  These are naturally low in fat and good sources of fiber.  The Food Guide Pyramid suggests 3 to 5 vegetable servings each day. 

Fruit Group 

The fruit group provides important amounts of vitamin C, vitamin A and potassium.  They are high in fiber, but low in fat and sodium.  The Food Guide Pyramid suggests 2 to 4 fruit servings each day. 

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs and Nuts Group 

Meat, poultry, and fish supply protein, iron, zinc, vitamins B6, and B12.  The other foods in this group - dry beans, eggs, and nuts - are similar to meats in providing protein and most vitamins and minerals.  The Food Guide Pyramid suggests 2 to 3 servings each day of foods from this group.  The total amount of these servings should be the equivalent of 5 to 7 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish per day. 

Milk, Yogurt and Cheese Group 

The milk, yogurt, and cheese group provides calcium, protein, phosphorus, vitamins and minerals.  Milk, yogurt, and cheese are your best source of calcium.  The Food Guide Pyramid suggests 2 - 3 servings each day, 2 for most people and 3 servings each day for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, children, teenagers, and young adults to age 24. 

Fats, Oils and Sweets 

At the tip of the Pyramid are fats, oils, and sweets.  These are foods such as salad dressings, oils, cream, butter, margarine, sugars, soft drinks, candies, and sweet desserts.  These foods provide calories but few nutrients.  By using foods from the tip of the Food Guide Pyramid sparingly, you can have a diet that supplies vitamins and minerals without excess calories. 

Some food choices in the Food Guide Pyramid food groups can also be high in fat or added sugars.  When choosing foods for a healthful diet, consider the fat and added sugars in your choices from the food groups, as well as from the fats, oils and sweets from the Food Guide Pyramid tip. 

How Many Servings Are Right For You 

The Food Guide Pyramid shows a range of servings for each major food group.  The number of servings that are right for you depends on how many calories you need, which in turn depends on your age, sex, size, and how active you are.  Almost everyone should have at least the lowest number of servings in the ranges. 

1,600 calories is about right for many sedentary women and some older adults.  2,200 calories is about right for most children, teenage girls, active women, and many sedentary men.  Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may need somewhat more.  2,800 calories is about right for teenage boys, many active men, and some very active women. 


1,600 Calories

2,200 Calories

2,800 Calories

Bread Group Servings





Vegetable Group Servings





Fruit Group Servings





Milk Group Servings





Meat Group Servings2 (ounces)





1Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, teenagers, and young adults to age 24 need 3 servings. 2Meat group amounts are in total ounces. 

Serving Sizes 

In this age of super-size everything, it's easy to lose sight of what a serving size actually looks like.  The following are a few guidelines. 

Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta group

  • 1 slice of bread
  • ½ hamburger or hotdog bun
  • 1 ounce of ready-to-eat-cereal
  • ½ cup of cooked rice or pasta
  • ½ cup of cooked cereal
  • ½ bagel

One cup is about the same size of a small fist.

Vegetable Group

  • 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
  • ½ cup of chopped raw or cooked vegetables
  • ¾ cup of vegetable juice 


Fruit Group 

  • 1 medium apple, banana, orange, pear, or peach
  • ½ cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit
  • ¼ cup of dried fruit
  • ¾ cup of fruit juice


Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry beans, Eggs and Nuts Group

  • 2 to 3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish is a serving. Three ounces is about the size of a deck of playing card
  • ½ cup of cooked beans, 1 egg, or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter is equivalent to 1 ounce of lean meat, or about 1/3 serving 


Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese Group 

  • 1 cup of milk or yogurt
  • 1½ ounces of natural cheese
  • 2 ounces of processed cheese. One ounce is about the same size as a four stacked dice.


Fats, Oils and Sweets 

  • 1 teaspoon butter, margarine, or oil. One teaspoon is about the same size as four stacked quarters.
  • 2 tablespoons salad dressing


The Nutrition Label 

The Nutrition Facts Label along with the Food Guide Pyramid are tools that can help you choose a healthy diet.  The Nutrition Facts label tells you about the nutrients you are getting in a food product. 

The nutritional information presented on the Nutrition Facts label is based on the serving size.  The Nutrition Facts label tells you the serving size and the number of servings per container.  When evaluating the nutritional content of a food product it is important to consider how the serving size compares with the actual amount eaten.  For example, if the serving size is 1/2 cup and you eat 1 cup you need to double the nutrient and calorie values.  

Total calories and calories from fat are given per serving.  The % Daily Values per serving is given for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugar, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron, based on a 2,000 calorie diet.  Some labels list the percent Daily Values for both 2,000 and 2,500 calorie diets at the bottom of the Nutrition Facts label.  The ingredient list is a list of the ingredients in the product in descending order of predominance by weight. 

Foods that claim to contain fewer calories or less fat than similar foods must show the difference on the Nutrition Facts label.  For example, on a container of low-fat cottage cheese, the label would show a serving of the low-fat product contains 80 calories and1.5 g of fat while regular cottage cheese contains 120 calories and 5 grams of fat.  Use caution; however, when choosing foods that are labeled fat-free" and "low-fat" some of these foods like low-fat cookies and cakes may still be high in calories because of added sugars. 

Healthy Eating Strategies 

How you eat can be just as important as what you eat.  Healthy eating habits can set you up for success. 

  • Apply the "90% Rule."  Make the right choices most of the time.  Don't expect that you will always eat the right foods.  No one can be perfect all of the time, what really matters is what you do most of the time.
  • Include favorite foods.  Feeling deprived and developing cravings can lead to over eating.  Instead of all-or-nothing, let yourself make food choices that are within reason.
  • Eat at the table.  It's easy to not be aware of how much you are eating if you eat while driving, watching television or working at the computer. 
  • Eat slowly.  It takes time for your brain to recognize you are full.  If you eat fast you can eat past the point of fullness.  Try chewing each bite ten times before swallowing, laying down your fork between bites, or drinking sips of water to help slow your pace.
  • Keep a food diary.  Record daily food intake for 2 weeks, including the time, place, activity associated with, and thoughts and feelings you have surrounding eating.  Writing down what, when, and how you feel when you eat will help alert you to times you eat when you are not hungry.  It will also show you how much you really eat each day.  Reviewing your food diary can help you discover difficult problem situations, problem foods, and hidden sources of calories that may threaten your weight management efforts.
  • Plan ahead.  Planning ahead can help you make healthy choices.  Keep high-fat, high-calorie foods out of the house and work area.  Have healthy snacks on hand.  Take a sandwich, fruit, vegetable and/or yogurt with you if you'll be away from home at lunch or staying late at work.

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