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10 Diet Tips Doctors Want You to Hear

Your doctor spent several years in school to learn how the human body works. Trust him: He knows how you can shed pounds and get fit. See more food pyramid pictures.
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One pie-crust promise that often tops lists of New Year's resolutions is to get fitter by going on a diet. But most people fall off the health bandwagon just a few weeks after making this weight-loss vow. As many health professionals will tell you, there's no such thing as a temporary or quick fix when it comes to fitness.

Whether he or she tells you the brutally honest truth or takes a more demure approach, your doctor wants you to hear -- loudly and clearly -- that fad diets don't work. One diet tip your doctor may offer is to eat frequent, small meals to boost your metabolism, fueling the fat-burning process. He or she also yearns for your "aha moment," when you realize there's no way to get around exercise to reach your perfect weight (and to maintain it).

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We've got more diet tips from doctors on the next page.

There seem to be so many formulas with which to calculate fitness levels, but what do doctors suggest focusing on: weight or body mass index (BMI)?

At your annual health checkup, you'll probably expect your doctor to comment on your weight, whether it's in the recommended range or not. He or she may also whip out a BMI chart that shows what proportion of your body is comprised of fat. Cornelius Flowers, M.D., a cardiologist who has treated thousands of patients in his 30 years of practicing medicine, says, "Most people have heard of BMI, but few know how to use it for practical results." Instead, Flowers suggests the technique of measuring central obesity, which correlates disproportionate waist size with the risk of having a heart attack or developing diabetes and hypertension. To determine your central obesity, compare your height to the largest circumference at your waist. This measurement should be no more than half your height; anything greater indicates high risk for metabolic syndrome, which includes heart and pancreatic diseases [sources: American Heart Association, Srinivasan, et al]. The central obesity measurement is more accurate in determining risks for people who seem to be in a normal weight range, but who may have a potbelly or an apple shape.

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Find a form of exercise you enjoy, and commit to regular activity -- it's an essential component of losing weight.
Find a form of exercise you enjoy, and commit to regular activity -- it's an essential component of losing weight.
Dougal Waters/Getty Images

If you want to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, you can't do it with dieting alone. You've got to get moving: Exercise is the key to burning off fat, which is stored, excess energy. Doctors like Melina Jampolis, M.D., recommend getting at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise five days a week. This type of exercise includes walking, gardening or stair-climbing.

To jump-start an exercise regimen, or to figure out how to schedule "me time" in your already hectic schedule, you can squeeze in 10-minute bursts of activity three times a day. Be consistent with your routine. After all, you didn't put on the extra baggage overnight, so be patient and don't expect to shed it in the blink of an eye. Not only will regular exercise help you slim down and strengthen your muscles and bones, but it will also reduce your risk of heart disease and help you avoid other physical and mental health problems [source: Jampolis].

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Here's a simple yet powerful tip to aid any diet or fitness plan: Get rid of stress and find more joy. Stress causes your body to release cortisol, a hormone known to increase fat production, foiling your efforts to lose weight.

One important way to reduce stress is to get seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. As we've learned, you need to exercise at least five days a week to make your diet work, but be sure to avoid working out within three hours of bedtime. This gives your body time to wind down so you can have a good night's rest.

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You should also search for more ways to follow your bliss, like developing hobbies that bring you joy. Set goals to do things you've always dreamed of, such as taking a two-week adventure vacation. And in the meantime, employ stress-relief techniques like taking brisk walks, journaling and laughing.

Drink up! Staying hydrated will help you feel full, so you'll eat less.
Drink up! Staying hydrated will help you feel full, so you'll eat less.
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If you're serious about your diet, you need to make drinking water a part of your daily -- or hourly -- habits. Doctors and nutritionists have long advised drinking six to eight glasses of water a day. But in 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed a new standard: You should drink 0.06 glasses per pound (30 milliliters per kilogram) of your body weight, and if you live in a hot or humid climate, you should drink a bit more [source: USDA]. A lack of water results in dehydration, which can throw your metabolism off balance and put you at risk for weight gain [source: Nazario].

An easy way to make sure you're getting enough H2O is to drink a glass of water when you wake up, between each meal and before every meal. By filling your tank with water before you eat, you'll tend to be satisfied with less food. You can also get some of your recommended daily allowance of water by snacking on fresh vegetables or fruit instead of processed foods like potato chips.

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You lead a busy life, so it's understandable that you try to save time by grabbing food on the go, or buying processed foods and prepackaged frozen or canned meals. But by slashing food preparation time, you may be paying the price in the form of excess carbohydrates and salt. Getting too many carbs and salt causes several problems in your body, one of which is fat storage. One study found that people who practiced a low-carb diet for six months shed more weight than their counterparts who opted for a low-fat, calorie-restricted nutritional plan [source: United States Department of Veterans Affairs].

Keep in mind this list of foods and drinks that are loaded with carbs:

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  • alcoholic beverages
  • sweetened beverages, such as fruit juice and soda
  • dessert foods
  • sugared foods, such as dry cereal, some condiments, frozen dinners, canned foods and baked goods

Read food labels when you're shopping, and steer clear of ingredients like sugar, high fructose corn syrup, white or enriched wheat flour, saturated fat and hydrogenated oil. You'll also want to opt for foods with low levels of salt, as there's a strong correlation between sodium and obesity. When you consume salt, you become thirsty, and some of us reach for calorie-laden beverages like juice and soda, which leads us to take in additional and unnecessary calories. If you choose a salty meal or snack, drink a low-sodium beverage with it, and don't season the food with any extra salt. Instead, use lemon or lime to add flavor to food and beverages.

Model healthy habits for your children to create a legacy of fitness and well-being.
Model healthy habits for your children to create a legacy of fitness and well-being.
Katrina Wittkamp/Getty Images

Pulling off a diet to achieve lasting change involves rethinking food. Although you may have been raised with some unhealthy nutritional habits, you can still change the course of your family's history by modeling responsible food choices to your children. Now that you're learning new ways to live by taking time to research doctor-inspired health tips, why not share the love with your family and create a legacy?

You can do this without saying a word. Simply make consistent, healthy choices to positively influence your children and partner. Schedule family meals on a regular basis and serve well-balanced dishes comprised of fresh vegetables and fruits and lean meats. Prepare foods by baking, boiling, steaming, poaching or grilling them [source: Gavin]. Between meals, provide and enjoy healthy snack options like yogurt, string cheese, nuts, berries, apples, celery and carrots.

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Restaurants are all about giving you more for your money, but you need to get the skinny on portions. You're not alone. Not everyone knows what a portion size is or that a 2,000-calorie diet is much more than the typical adult in the United States living a sedentary lifestyle needs [source: Huizinga]. A good rule of thumb is that a portion of protein is equivalent in size to a deck of cards. A serving of fruits and vegetables is approximately the size of your fist, and a serving of grains is the size of an audio cassette tape.

We actually need less food than we think. An immediate way to take action with little inconvenience is to reduce what you're already eating (and drinking) by half. Enjoy half a sandwich or entree; split meals with a friend or save half for a future meal [source: Fontana]. You may also benefit from purchasing a portion plate to see exactly how much and what types of food are acceptable per meal.

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Opt for local, organic produce, like the kind you find at farmers' markets, for optimal nutrition.
Opt for local, organic produce, like the kind you find at farmers' markets, for optimal nutrition.
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Your body needs an assortment of nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein every day. The best way to get the nourishment you need is by consuming five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the course of a day, in addition to the amount of protein appropriate for your age, gender, height, activity level and desired weight [source: NutritionMD]. You'll be more satisfied on less calories, which will support your overall diet strategy [source: Geller]. To get the greatest benefits from your foods, go with locally grown, seasonal produce, and choose organic meats and grains as much as possible.

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To reclaim your svelte physique, you'll need to plan ahead for eating. First, make a point to eat breakfast every day, preferably with in one hour of waking. That sets your metabolism for the day. When you skip breakfast, you may actually gain weight because your body goes into starvation mode, storing rather than burning all of the calories you take in for the rest of the day.

Instead of getting takeout for lunch every day, pack your lunch at home, along with some snacks to eat throughout the work day or when you're out running errands. Use the same concept when you're planning a day trip, going on vacation or relaxing at home. Time the frequency of your meals, munchies and beverages; mini meals throughout the day are known to reduce dangerous binge eating by managing hunger [source: Mayo Clinic].

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If you're the meat and potatoes type, you may be disappointed to learn that you should limit your intake of red meat. Some doctors liken it to alcohol (something your body doesn't need to survive) and recommend eating none at all [source: Flowers]. But by planning ahead (or paying a premium for lean cuts like filet mignon), you can have your beef. Jot out a menu for the week, and schedule one meal that includes red meat. The rest of the days, opt for fish, chicken and plant protein selections.

Savor every last bite, whether you're eating a formal meal or a casual, seaside snack.
Savor every last bite, whether you're eating a formal meal or a casual, seaside snack.
John-Francis Bourke/Getty Images

Wolfing down your food and rushing off to your next appointment is undermining your diet. Instead, slow down and enjoy your food. Take time to eat free of distractions by turning off the TV and stepping away from the computer. Also, avoid eating while riding public transit or when walking.

Give your undivided attention to enjoying and experiencing your food. Sit in a comfortable place, take a deep breath and exhale. Then, look at your plate for a few minutes. Notice the colors and fragrances. Now you're ready to pick up a bite of food with your fork, place it in your mouth, close your eyes and slowly chew for 15 to 30 bites.

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