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Here’s how to adjust your diet, modify recipes—and find your way to a healthier weight.

Let’s face it: One year is ending and another’s about to start, and there’ll be plenty of holiday feasting in between. Which leaves us with the inevitable challenge: how to lose those extra pounds that will probably creep on—and how to keep them off in the months ahead. In this article we’ve served up lots of good info and winning strategies for weight loss. To get started on the road to smarter and healthier eating, all you have to do is read on.

The Skinny on Dieting

John Muir Health dietitians answer some FAQs

Q: There are so many diets and food plans to choose from—how can I know what’s right for me?

Beware of diets that promise a quick fix, cautions Angie Hunt, a John Muir Health dietitian. “Improvements may not last if you don’t learn how to change your behavior for the long term,” says Hunt. “For real success, focus on a permanent shift to healthier eating, featuring fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products

Shift to lean meats, poultry and fish, beans and eggs and away from saturated fat, trans fat, salt and added sugar.” Other winning ways: Boost physical activity, shrink portions, acknowledge fullness and emotional eating.

Q: Can drinking water help me lose weight?

Actually, it can. “We often recommend this,” says Patty Campbell, a registered dietician at John Muir Health. “It can make you more satiated so you eat less. People can also mistake thirst for hunger, causing them to overeat.”

FYI: One recent study of middle-aged and older adults found that those who drank two cups of water before meals consumed fewer calories and lost nearly 30 percent more weight than those who skipped drinking water.

Q: Does tracking what you eat really work?

If you pinpoint when and what you actually eat—at certain times of the day, when bored or tired—you can identify and avoid triggers that impact your food habits. Research backs up the theory. For example, one recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that dieters who journaled lost twice as much in six months—18 pounds versus 9 pounds—compared with those who didn’t keep a food diary.

Q: How do you get back on track with your weight loss efforts if you’ve strayed?

“I always recommend picking up the exercise,” says Hunt. “Start journaling again if you’ve stopped, and figure out why you backslid. Don’t punish yourself. This is a long-term process.” And if you wiped out on pumpkin pie at dinner, she adds, “call it a vegetable, and move on.”

Recipes: Cut Calories and Fat

  • Replace shortening, butter or oil in muffins, breads and other baked goods with applesauce or mashed banana.
  • Avoid frying—instead bake, grill or roast, using cooking sprays.
  • Olive oil has benefits, but also calories, so don’t overdo.
  • Use skim milk, or replace half the milk in a recipe with water.
  • Try evaporated nonfat skim milk or low-fat sour cream in sauces, cakes, etc.

For the holidays:

  • Nix marshmallows on sweet potatoes.
  • Limit fat in stuffing, and serve quarter-cup helpings. Stuff turkeys with orange, apple or celery for no-fat flavor.
  • Use egg whites or substitutes in baked goods. For example, try cocoa powder (12 calories per tablespoon) instead of baking chocolate (73 calories per half-square).

When Weight Loss Surgery Is the Answer

At the John Muir Health Weight Loss Surgery Center, bariatric (weight loss) surgery is an option for those who are at least 70 pounds overweight and have not had success with diets or other nonsurgical methods. These procedures help patients slim down by reducing the size of the stomach; some procedures also impair the absorption of calories through the intestine. Today’s weight loss surgery is usually done through tiny incisions, requiring just one or two days in the hospital.

A Weight Loss Surgery Success Story

When 35-year-old Julie Heim of Danville considers her life prior to weight loss surgery, she recalls a completely different existence. “I was in bad health,” she says, “not feeling good about myself and not on a good path.” Having lost 110 pounds after minimally invasive weight loss surgery at John Muir Health last May, Heim says she feels transformed and empowered. “It’s a life changer. Now I see food as fuel, not as a coping mechanism.” She’s no longer a self-conscious person who avoids physical activity and now does more than she once thought possible—including long-distance cycling of 50 miles in a day.

“From the first visit, I knew John Muir [Health] was the right place for me,” says Heim. “There was so much support. It’s a team approach—from my surgeon and the nurses to the nutritionists.” And results were even better than she expected. “It was the best decision of my life,” says Heim, “and opened up a whole new world to me.”

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