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Food, Nutrition and Wellness

Family & Consumer Sciences



12 Steps for a Healthy Weight


Step 1: Keep a record. It's a lifestyle, NOT a diet.

Now that you've survived the holidays, it's dieting season again. Newspapers, magazines, and the airwaves are filled with weight loss ads – each one promising a miracle solution for the perfect body.

"The key to a healthy weight is definitely not another diet," says Debi Miller, registered dietitian (RD) with the Team Nutrition Program and chair of the Eat Right Montana coalition. "The real solution is to make healthful eating and physical activity a way of life. The key to a healthy weight is to ignore those misleading weight loss ads – and focus on taking permanent steps toward a healthy lifestyle."

During 2004, Eat Right Montana (ERM), a statewide coalition promoting healthful eating and active lifestyles, will offer Montana families a dozen ways to reach, and maintain, healthy weights forever. Each month, ERM's website ( will feature sensible advice, practical tips, and effective resources for taking simple steps toward a healthy weight.

According to Miller, the first step to a healthy weight is to keep a record. "Study after study has confirmed the benefits of keeping track of the food you eat and the activity you do. That's why every successful weight management program suggests that you keep a food diary and/or an activity log."

Your personal nutrition and fitness record can be simple, or detailed, whatever works for you. The simplest record is to keep track of one or two things on a regular calendar. For example, you could keep track of what you eat for breakfast and the number of minutes you walk. "Eating breakfast and 30 minutes of walking per day are habits that help adults and kids maintain healthy weights," notes Miller.

Some people like to keep more detailed food and activity records. Several different formats can be downloaded free from the Internet, like one from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's Healthy Weight Program at

"Keeping a record can help in several ways," explains Miller. "Sometimes just writing things down helps people eat better; they feel more accountable when they see things in black and white. It is also a great way to identify problems areas – and see which habits you need to starting working on first."

Step 2: Develop a routine. Regular routines are important for families.

Humans are creatures of habit. We develop routine, standard ways of living our lives, and then we stick to them for many years. Establishing healthy routines is actually easier than you might think.

"Regular routines, for eating and activity, are especially important for young children," says Lori Rittel, registered dietitian (RD) with Montana's WIC Program (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children). "Kids thrive on a healthy routine of meals, snacks, and active play. Establishing early, healthy patterns is a simple way to prevent eating and weight problems later in life."

Healthy routines can also help with parenting problems, like fighting over food at dinnertime. Small children do need to eat more frequently than adults. However, unstructured grazing on snack foods means that kids will not be hungry, or interested, when dinnertime rolls around. A healthy routine, like a nourishing mid-afternoon snack, helps kids come to the table with a healthy appetite and attitude.

According to Rittel, healthy routines help kids and their parents maintain a healthy weight. "The world is full of appealing, high-calorie foods – everywhere from the gas station to the mall. Without an alternative, it's easy to eat and drink things just because they are there. Making it routine to carry some healthy snacks, like string cheese or trail mix, helps you resist temptation – and it saves money too!"

Developing healthy routines isn't difficult. In fact, there are many simple steps that families can take to establish healthy habits. "Since we tend to eat or drink the first thing we find, making it routine to have cut-up fruit in the fridge makes it easy to snack smarter. Having milk and a pitcher of cold water on the top shelf makes it easy to choose a healthful beverage instead of a soft drink." says Rittel.

Eat Right Montana, a statewide coalition promoting healthful eating and active lifestyles, urges all Montanans to develop some new routines for health in 2004. Over the course of a year, one or two simple changes can make a big difference in your health and your weight.

"Making physical activity routine is important too," explains Rittel. "Children naturally love to move their bodies. Turn off the TV – and take a few minutes every day to play with your kids. If the weather is nice, take a walk outside. If it's cold or snowy, turn on the music and dance in the house."