The Skinny on Scaling Back
How to win at losing

For information on long-term, successful weight loss,
check out The National Weight Control Registry.



The first day of the new year dawns bright for every woman who ever counted a calorie or avoided a carb.

Bathed in the sunshine of good intentions, we craft resolutions with the steely determination of Superwoman: I will jog before dawn…scramble egg whites for breakfast…do aerobics and yoga and kickboxing…skip lunch...switch to black coffee…live at the gym.

On Jan. 1, no goal is too high, no number on the scale too low. Drop 40 pounds by Valentine’s Day? Check. Squeeze into high-school cheerleader uniform for reunion in March? No prob. Wear bathing suit that’s down to there and up to hardly anywhere by Memorial Day? Piece of cake (oops).

There are as many ways to drop excess pounds as there are body types and tastes. Some women swear by swearing off meat. Others won’t go anywhere near bread or pasta. Still others cut fat with a machete.

The number of questions for those who are skinny-minded is mind-boggling: Does pasta make you fat? Can you have too much protein? Is the daily recommendation five servings each of fruit and veggies or five servings combined?

To whittle our waistlines, we often turn to self-proclaimed diet gurus because they promise a magical solution to plumpish problems.

Soon, though, the stresses of everyday life interrupt our fantasies of looking like a Vogue cover girl. And then we start dieting all over again.

How can intelligent women who want to slim down in a healthy manner avoid this annual exercise in futility?

To find the keys to the kingdom of thinness, I’ve consulted with well-credentialed experts at Triangle medical facilities. Their prescription is simple: Eat less and move more.

I can attest from personal experience that it’s not as easy as it sounds. So I asked for some tips. I can’t be held accountable for personally putting all these ideas into practice in 2010. But hey, there’s always next year.

• Be realistic.
Magazine and runway models are thinner than 98 percent of American women.

• Set achievable goals.
Maybe you’ll never dust off those dorm-room denims. But you could go down two sizes and buy a fabulous new pair.

• Savor food.
The days when dieting meant gnawing on melba toast are long over. There’s a world’s worth of cuisine that can be enjoyed by those willing to cook low-cal versions.

• Pass on fad diets.
Don’t starve yourself, restrict yourself to one food group or pop miracle pills.

• Devise a realistic food plan.
Come up with one that provides several hundred calories fewer than the amount needed to sustain your current weight. You’ll reduce, perhaps slowly…but surely.

• Eat three meals a day.
That includes breakfast, which really is the most important meal of the day.

• Consider adding as many as three snacks a day.
Make them small and measured yet yummy.

• Steer clear of getting too hungry.
Consume enough throughout the day so you’re never ravenous.

• Go for volume by preparing lots of lower-calorie items.
This includes salad, veggies and broth-based soups.

• Take in lots of fiber and fluid.
Both help you feel full.

• Recognize that healthy sounding doesn’t equal slimming.
This is otherwise known as the “avocado-and-Swiss-on-hearty-wheat-with-aioli” delusion.

• Give your kitchen an extreme makeover.
Dispose of seductive comestibles over which you have little control.

• Chew slowly and mindfully.
Take the time to love every bite.

• Avoid things that are suggestive of chowing down.
A good example is TV commercials — they induce hunger.

• Get everyone involved.
For instance, make sure restaurants aren’t slathering butter on your hamburger roll or bathing your chicken in oily marinades.

• Know yourself.
You could jump out of bed at the crack of dawn this morning and spend hours sweating at the gym, but would you do it again… and again?

• Set reasonable, short-term goals.
You should be able to meet your goals in a short period of time — one month at most. That will keep frustration at bay.

• Schedule a firm date and time to begin working out.
Make sure the date is realistic and that exercise is a priority for that day.

• Find something you love.
Think about what you would enjoy. Some people like using a treadmill at home. Others benefit from the interaction at an aerobics class. The more you get a kick out of what you’ve chosen, the greater the odds you’ll stick with it.

• Try different activities.
The best exercise is the one you’ll do. Take into account cost, weather, schedule and the availability of facilities.

• Start slowly.
Go easy to decrease the risk of injury and to avoid disappointment.

• Include more action in your everyday life.
Stroll or ride a bicycle to local stores. Pace when you’re on the phone. Park far from entrances. Bank, buy lunch and get your dry cleaning the old-fashioned way: walk in.

• Think of fun ways to get cracking.
It could be as simple as playing with the kids or the dogs.

• Leave your sneakers in the car.
Use spare moments to take a quick ramble.

• Use the buddy system.
Sharing a workout can be a great motivator. Some people thrive with a pal to spur them on.

• Be flexible.
It’s all very well to find an exercise to call your own, but what do you do when it’s pouring outside, the gym is closed, your tennis partner is busy or your hamstrings are sore? Do something else!

• Devise a serious exercise schedule for certain times of the year.
It should include cardio, as well as strength and flexibility, several times a week.


• Keep a journal.
Reflecting can be instructive, even inspirational. There’s no set formula for the information you record.

For food, you might write down what you eat, how much you eat and the calories. For exercise, you might note what you did and how difficult it was on a scale of 1 to 10.

• Monitor your progress.
Weigh yourself once a week; take your measurements once a month.

cheer• Avoid all-or-nothing thinking.
After indulging in a slice of birthday cake, don’t decide you’ve blown the diet and will, therefore, continue overeating until you start another diet tomorrow.

If you oversleep and miss this morning’s run, try to hoof it around the neighborhood this afternoon.

• Stay away from using exercise as a punishment for overeating.
Swimming a few extra laps to burn off a cookie isn’t a super psychological pattern. You’re better off exercising consistently, rain or shin, cookie or no cookie.

• Be kind to yourself.
Don’t criticize your slips. Think about why they happened and use that information as data that’ll help you do better the next time.

• Reward yourself.
Fitness may be its own reward, but there’s nothing wrong with going to the mall.

• Celebrate even slight improvements.

Every time you order a lighter entrée at a restaurant, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or go for a walk after lunch, you’re on the road to fitness. And for that, you deserve credit.