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Do's and Don'ts of Healthy Dieting: Eat, Exercise, and Lose Weight

At some point in our lives, the vast majority of us go on a diet to lose weight, get in shape. Here are key rules, do's and don'ts, of healthy dieting.

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by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.

Let's face it. We're a society that likes to eat -- and too often eats bad things, typically because of our busy lifestyles. And all too often those busy lifestyles do not include exercise... leading to periods when we decide it's time to examine our bad eating habits and make some changes to our diets. Thus, dieting begins.

What are some of the key guidelines you should follow for healthy (and safe) dieting? Read our do's and don'ts of healthy dieting.

Do find a diet that works best for your body. Everyone's body reacts differently, so you'll have more success with one type of diet over another. The key is finding one that you can live with -- and that works for you. And once you find a diet that works for you, do be realistic about your weight loss goals and patient with your weight-loss results.

Don't fall victim to a fad diet. A healthy diet should allow you to lose about 2 pounds per week -- anything more is dangerous and you should avoid any diets that claim unrealistic (and unhealthy) results. Diets that focus on pills and potions or denial and serious food limitations result in massive boomerang effects in which you gain more weight than you lost. Stick with one of the mainstream diets, including Atkins, The Perricone Promise, South Beach, Sugar Busters, Weight Watchers, The Zone.

Do understand that the best diet is actually a permanent lifestyle change. It's not healthy going on a diet and then going off a diet and then going on a diet, with your weight going up and down -- the dreaded yo-yo effect. More than three-quarters of people who lose weight on a diet regain the pounds after their diet ends. So, don't think temporary diet -- think permanent lifestyle change... eating healthier and incorporating exercise into your daily life.

Don't eat or snack in front of the television or at your desk -- and don't eat standing up -- or on the run. Give what you're eating your full attention and savor it and help your mind and stomach work together. Eating while you're distracted or in a rush will have you snacking more, putting on the pounds rather than taking them off.

Do drink plenty of water and other healthy fluids -- especially when dieting. Drinking water throughout the day is invaluable in so many ways, as the water helps us replenish our bodies. During dieting, drinking a glass of water when you're hungry -- and especially before meals -- will help you feel more fulfilled. Don't drink too many diet sodas -- and especially don't drink any sugary sodas, sports drinks, and energy drinks.

Don't give up if you fall off the diet wagon -- mistakes happen. Take the slip in stride and don't let it change your determination and plan to lose weight and obtain better health. It's easy to find excuses to stop dieting and go back to the same old bad eating habits, so don't let it happen this time. If you slip, just pick yourself back up and move on with your dieting plans.

Do incorporate exercise and fitness into your lifestyle -- but remember the goal is to use exercise to lose weight, not as an excuse to eat more. You should dedicate at least 30 minutes a day to fitness -- at least an hour when you are trying to lose weight. Start with something simple like walking. You can easily add more steps to your day in addition to a walking program. (Learn more in our article, Walking Tips for Life.) You can add biking, swimming, dancing, and strength-resistance exercises too. Strive for both aerobic and strength workouts -- but always get a doctor's approval before you start.

Don't ever skip breakfast as part of a diet. A diet that is doomed to failure is one that has you skipping breakfast. Your body's internal engine resets itself with your morning meal -- and skipping tells your body that you need to go into overdrive to find food, increasing your cravings and the likelihood of snacking. Start with a small, but healthy breakfast (based on whichever diet plan you're following).

Do consume smaller portions -- often that is the only diet you need. Want to lose weight -- and maintain that weight -- without going on a diet? Eat smaller portions for all three meals, cut out the fried foods and white rice and white flour products, and eliminate processed sugar... and snack on fruits or vegetables during the day.

Don't starve yourself by drastically reducing your daily calorie intake. Fasting is part of some religions and cultures, but it is not a recommended method of dieting because it can seriously affect your health and well-being. Instead of something as drastic as fasting, simply try reducing your daily calorie intake. The recommended daily calories if you are in the normal range is 1,940 calories a day for women and 2,550 calories per day for men -- so cut out a couple hundred calories and wait for the results. Don't go below 1,400 daily calories. (For more information on calories, see Calculate Your Daily Calorie Needs.)

Do replace that evening snack with something different, such as meditation time. While some diets are very strict about eating anything after dinner, it is a good idea not eat anything three hours before going to bed... so, if you are used to snacking then, replace the snack with something fun, but different and you'll soon forget about those late-night snacks.

Don't give in to temptation -- willpower is important. You can't succeed at achieving any goal if you don't have the determination and willpower to make things happen. A diet is a struggle, but if you keep focused on the goal, you'll be able to rise above tempting treats.

Do reward yourself for reaching dieting goals -- even if it a sinful indulgence. Just as with any other life goal, you'll have more and longer-term success if you reward yourself for reaching various interim goals. So treat yourself each time you lose another 10 (or 5) pounds. Go to the movies or a ballgame -- or whatever makes you happy.

Don't let the scale or society's view of body images affect how you see yourself. It's important to eat well and get exercise, but there are no rules about what makes the perfect body. We have to live in our bodies -- so it's important that we take care of it and see it as a work-in-progress. If your dieting or eating patterns are from an eating disorder, seek medical help as quickly as possible.

Do consider eliminating other vices, such as smoking and alcohol. If you are going to go to all the trouble of losing weight and getting back into shape, why not go all the way -- especially with smoking -- and kick all your bad habits. Often, bad eating habits are tied to these other bad habits. Of course, some alcohol in moderation, is safe (and healthy) for many people.

Don't go grocery shopping when you are hungry. It's not only true that you will be tempted to buy lots more stuff than you need or should eat on your diet, but if you shop in one of the big markets, the aroma alone (like freshly baked donuts) will torture you.

Do add healthy foods into your diet, especially good fatty acids and foods with high levels of antioxidants. One of the problems with our diets is that we eat a lot of previously processed and packaged foods. Instead, go healthy with more fresh fruits and vegetables. See our list in this article, Live Longer. Eat Healthier Daily. Best Foods for You, A-Z.

Don't eat fast food -- or at least unhealthy fast food. Whether it's a Big Mac or a couple of pieces of Popeye's Fried Chicken, the calories, salt, and fat from most typical fast food products is something that should be avoided -- by everyone. If you do go to a fast food place, try a salad or other healthy alternative.

Do substitute unhealthy foods and ingredients for healthy ones -- starting with the ridding yourself of the sugars, white starches, etc. A good place to start any diet is by going to your pantry and purging it of the many unhealthy items lurking in it, such as the sugar, white flour, and white rice. Read more in our article, Purge Your Pantry to Pursue Health and Wellness.

Don't eat if you're not hungry. Every person has their own optimal eating schedule, and you need to find yours. Don't eat for the sake of eating -- or on someone else's schedule -- or because you're bored, sad, or angry. The key to healthy eating is only eating when you are truly hungry. Having a craving for something is not the same as being hungry.

Do wait at least 20 minutes after eating before consuming anything more. Eating too quickly fills us up physically the same as eating more carefully and methodically, but it takes the brain at least 20 minutes to get the message that you're full -- which is why many of us overeat.

Final Thoughts on Dieting Do's and Don'ts

Each pound of fat that you have on your body is made up of about 3,500 calories, so if your goal is to follow the healthy standard of no more than two pounds lost each week, you'll need to find the right combination of cutting calories and burning calories to reach about 7,000. While it's easier said than done, you can begin cutting the worst foods from your diet while starting your exercise program.

You can choose to eat diet foods, but it's not necessary. You can just as easily use the foods that are readily available to you (and much cheaper than so-called diet brands) -- simply prepare your meals with smaller portions and cook them in a healthy way. Eliminate the salty and sugary snacks and replace them with fruits and vegetables.

Following the dieting do's and don'ts in this article should go a long way to assisting you on a path toward healthy weight loss. Change your eating habits and change your life.

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Avid wellness guru Dr. Randall S. Hansen Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., is an avid bicyclist, adventurist, environmentalist, and student of wellness and photography, with a mission of empowering others to lead great lives. He is Founder and CEO of EmpoweringSites.com, a network of empowering and transformative Websites. Dr. Hansen is also the founder and caretaker of this site, EmpoweringRetreat.com, as well as founder of EmpoweringAdvice.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com or reach him by email at CEO(at)empoweringsites.com. You can also check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

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