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Ready to lose weight in '07? 4 steps to success

So you want to shed pounds — now what? How to get moving already

Like so many people, you have made a resolution to lose weight in the new year. Now what? Are you like the reader who sent this plea? “I can’t lose weight. I just don’t know where to start.”

So much conflicting advice is out there that it is no surprise if you are confused. Here are the basic steps to get started.

Are you ready?
Long-term weight management requires new eating and activity habits. Change takes effort. Failure is demoralizing. Before you start, first ask yourself why you want to lose weight. Your reasons need to be specific, for example, to improve your health, to increase your energy level, to look better. Are your reasons important to you? Important enough to sustain you when choosing between a cheeseburger with fries and a grilled chicken sandwich with a salad? Will your resolve keep you going against the reality of your everyday life? Ask yourself:

* Do you have a lot of stress in your life? If, for example, you are in the middle of a job change or a move, these may undermine your weight loss.
* Do you have the time to learn new eating habits and to fit physical activity into your day?
* Do you have the support of those around you?

If your motivation is high, and the support and timing are right, let’s get started. If you are not ready now, you can still strive to make some healthy changes.

What kind of loser are you?
Should you do it on your own? Many people who have successfully lost weight use books or the Internet. There are hundreds of choices, so you should be able to find advice that fits your needs.

If you don't think you can do it on your own, consider joining a commercial weight-loss program such as Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers or TOPS (Take off Pounds Sensibly). These are all balanced programs that will provide guidance and praise for your achievements.

Before you begin, talk to your doctor. This is important to ensure that you are healthy enough to change your diet and increase your activity. Most medical practices can give you advice about diet and exercise, and should be able to tell you if a book or a commercial program is sound. Keep in touch with your doctor as you lose weight. You are likely to see health improvements, and these may require changes in the medications you take for weight-related disorders such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

Barbara Rolls, Ph.D.