Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2003;67(1):142

What kind of diet will help me lose weight?

Many diets can help you lose weight. However, “going on a diet” is not the best answer to losing weight. Usually you gain the weight back after you “go off” the diet. If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you have to change much more than just what you eat. You have to change how and when you eat, and you have to start exercising or exercise more often. Most people who lose weight and keep it off do three things: first, they find out why they are overweight; second, they follow a healthy eating plan; and third, they exercise regularly.

Why am I overweight?

There may be many reasons for your weight problem. Weight problems often run in families. Or you may be eating to make yourself feel better when you are sad, stressed, or lonely. Sometimes a low body metabolism (the rate you burn calories) or a problem with hormone levels may be the cause.

A new diet may help you lose weight for a little while. But the weight often comes back unless you find new ways to deal with the problems that make you gain weight. This may mean learning new ways to handle stress, finding ways to feel less lonely, or talking with a counselor about your feelings.

What kind of diet should I follow?

You should follow a diet that you like and that you can stay with. The diet should be low in fats and sugars, and high in fiber. Remember to watch portion sizes. A healthy portion of meat is the size of a deck of cards. A healthy portion of rice or pasta is about the size of your fist. Most restaurants tend to double or even triple these amounts.

Read the nutrition labels on foods before you buy them. If you need help understanding the labels, ask your doctor or a nutritionist to explain them.

Won't it be hard to change my diet?

It might not be hard, but it will take time, so try not to get discouraged. The key is to keep trying to eat the right foods. Here are a few suggestions to help you change your diet:

  • Make small, slow changes. Then it will be easier to make the changes a part of your everyday life.

  • Every few days, write down what you eat and drink that day. Use this record to help you see if you need to eat more from any food groups, such as fruits, vegetables, or low-fat dairy products.

  • Think about asking for help from your family doctor or a nutritionist, if you haven't already done so—especially if you have a medical problem that requires a special diet.

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