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Prevention of Obesity

How can you prevent weight gain in the first place?

Avoiding too many calories and making a habit of exercise are both givens, of course. But have you realized that a support system of friends and family who encourage and support your healthy choices can also keep you on the trim and narrow?

You can make weight loss a permanent achievement in many other ways, too. Incorporate the following simple strategies into your life, and the chances are excellent you'll never become overweight.

Count calories

Over the last decade, an emphasis on low-fat eating and the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets have created a misconception that calories don't count. But while all calories are not, nutritionally speaking, created equal (some provide more fiber or vitamins, others more fatty acids), all calories provide energy. When you take in more energy than you use up, that extra energy becomes excess weight.

Put portion size in perspective

Between 1991 and 1996, the number of calories Americans consume daily increased by about 10%. According to the researchers who gathered this data, Americans' distorted concept of serving size is probably to blame. In fact, studies have shown that Americans underestimate how many calories they eat in a day by 25% or more.

You can counteract burgeoning portion sizes and make lifelong weight control a reality with this rule: Make quality more important than quantity. Heard so much about that pasta dish that you're dying to try it? Order an appetizer portion, or split the entree with your date. And it's OK to treat yourself to some M&Ms every once in a while — but put the kibosh on the king-size bag.

Read more about portion sizes in Introducing Low-Fat to Your Family.

Be an energy spender

While "calories in" is half the energy equation of weight gain, the "calories out" component is equally important. To maintain a healthy weight, you need to balance your energy intake and your energy output. In other words, weight gain is not just a matter of how much energy you consume by eating, but also how much energy you expend by exercising.

The office of the U.S. Surgeon General recommends that you get at least of 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise, such as brisk walking, most days of the week. Of course, the more physical activity you get or the more intense that activity is, the more health benefits you'll reap.

Include some muscle-building activity

As you age, your muscle mass naturally declines, and weight gain can sneak up on you. But you can turn back the hands of time by building muscle. Lifting weights burns calories in two ways: first because it involves physical activity, but also because it revs up your metabolism — and a faster metabolism means you burn more calories, even at rest.

Here's why: Lean tissue, or muscle, requires more energy to sustain than fat. So the more muscle you have, the more calories you'll burn all day long — whether you're walking the dog or just watching tv. Learn more about making muscle in Strength Training.

Make healthy choices a regular part of your life

To prevent weight gain, make healthy habits the rule — not the exception. Pack your gym shoes and workout clothes when you travel. Learn low-fat cooking, stock up on vegetables at the farmer's market, and keep healthy snacks handy at all times. If running errands all weekend keeps you from running around the track, make an exercise date with your partner or family member for Sunday evening.

Offer to bring a fruit-and-veggie platter to the next potluck dinner you attend, so there will be at least one healthy option. If you plan to treat yourself to a decadent dessert now and then, that's fine — but allow for those extra calories that are coming up after dinner as you make food and activity choices throughout the day.

Involve family and friends

Letting the people close to you know that you're trying to maintain a healthy weight will help you in several ways. First of all, they may offer encouragement and support — they might even make some changes for the better themselves. They can also help make your new habits more doable; perhaps your kids will do the dishes so you can take an after-dinner walk, and maybe your spouse or partner will give up that nightly dessert to keep from tempting you.

Involving other people also means you're more accountable for your decisions. When you've agreed to meet a friend for an early morning yoga class, hitting the snooze button isn't an option. And your weekly group bike rides or family trips to the farmer's market will be setting a healthy example for your children.

Start with small changes

Make small changes you can live with for the rest of your life. Even just switching from mayonnaise to mustard, or parking farther away from the mall so you walk a little more, can help you keep from gaining weight — provided you can stick with it. But remember: Even small changes become overwhelming if you make too many at once.

Try adopting just one healthy habit at a time. Then when you master that step, celebrate with a healthy reward (maybe a massage or a new pair of running shoes) before tackling the next.

Involve family and friends

Preventing weight gain means keeping an eye out for trouble. If you're concerned that a medical condition or a prescription drug might be causing you to gain weight, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.

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