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Health Team

Ask Dr. Mask: What's the best way to lose weight and keep it off?

Posted November 17, 2017 8:00 a.m. EST
Updated July 13, 2018 1:40 p.m. EDT

There seem to be a million diets and products to help people lose weight, yet many Americans still struggle with the number on their weight scales.

The weight loss equation is always the same: burn more calories than you consume. But as many people try to count calories to lose weight, the pounds don't seem to budge.

"(People) bring their food journal and I say, 'Great, you're exactly on calorie count, and you did it all without a vegetable,'" said registered dietitian Shelly Wegman.

Wegman, who works at the University of North Carolina's Rex Healthcare, is more concerned with helping clients choose high quality, nutrient-rich foods while still enjoying the other foods they love—in proper portions.

She said at least half of your plate should be filled with nutrient-rich vegetables.

"Then a quarter of your plate from whole grains or fruits, and a quarter of your plate (made up of) lean protein from beans, tofu, meat, fish, poultry, something like that," Wegman said.

She doesn't recommend a restrictive diet that ends when you reach a weight loss goal. Instead, a diet should be a change in the way people live.

"It's a matter of balancing your habits so that it's a permanent lifestyle change," Wegman said.

Big calorie savings can be found by only drinking water or other unsweetened beverages. Cut back on fried foods, butter and higher fat proteins like bacon, sausage and red meat, too. And choose lower fat or fat-free dairy options, Wegman said.

But don't forget about movement.

"Exercise is really key as a way to maximize weight loss and, more importantly, maintaining muscle," said UNC sports medicine researcher Dr. Abby Smith-Ryan.

Smith-Ryan says the more intense the exercise, the more fat melts away.

All you have to do is start your sensible eating and exercise plan.

"People, I think, are waiting for that perfect time, and I would say, that perfect time is today," Smith-Ryan said.

WRAL Health Team's Dr. Allen Mask said to consult with a physician before making any changes in your eating patterns or exercise program.

During the holiday season, dietitians promote the idea of not worrying about losing weight until after the New Years holiday.

Instead, focus on maintaining your current weight. So, consider choosing a smaller plate for your holiday meal and eat smaller, single portions of the traditional calorie-rich foods you love, Mask said.

Mask recommends storing more food as leftovers to enjoy another day, and making sure to move more, even if it's just walking.