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Is extra weight the bane of your existence? Did rich holiday meals leave you moaning with guilt? Take heart. Shedding pounds needn't be as grueling or as complicated as you think. Test your knowledge of how to design a basic weight-loss plan with this quiz; the answers may surprise you.

1. True or false? Dieters, especially those with a sweet tooth, should eliminate cake, cookies, ice cream and candy from their diet because these items are high in calories and low in vitamins, minerals and fiber.2. It's best to lose weight at a weekly rate of 1-2 to 1 pound, 1 to 2 pounds, 2 to 5 pounds.

3. True or false? A two-day fast or near-fast at the start of your diet helps clear the body of metabolic debris and accustoms you to eating less.

4. Aerobic exercise such as jogging, swimming and brisk walking increases weight loss. Experts recommend a minimum of 20 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week, 30 minutes four times a week, 45 minutes five times a week.

5. True or false? The bulk of calories on a weight-loss diet should come from foods high in protein.

6. The minimum number of daily calories generally considered safe for weight loss is 500, 800, 1,200.

7. True or false? If you eat a particularly heavy dinner and the next morning weigh 2 pounds more than you did the day before, it means the extra food caused you to become 2 pounds fatter.

8. True or false? Snacks between meals are taboo because they focus even more attention on food and lead to caloric overdoses - since many snackers have trouble stopping once they start.


1. False. No foods should be totally off-limits, especially for people who love them. A successful weight-loss plan incorporates changes that can be made comfortably and fosters eating habits you can live with forever. Otherwise, once the targeted weight is achieved, the diet may be abandoned and the pounds regained. Unrealistic, rigid goals may only backfire in the end.

It's fine to avoid favorite foods initially if you plan on finding ways to include them later on. Cake, cookies and candy shouldn't be dietary mainstays. But it's perfectly appropriate for a dieter to decide not to give up sweets but instead to eat them less often or in smaller amounts.

2. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services recommend shedding no more than 1/2 pound to 1 pound weekly. Weight lost slowly is more likely to stay off, and it's more likely to be made up of fat. Pounds shed quickly and early in "crash" diets tend to be losses not of fat but of water and lean body mass.

3. False. Our bodies don't need fasting to "purify" them; they already work nonstop to eject unwanted substances. Fasting longer than a couple of days can actually hinder the process, since in order to conserve energy during what the body perceives as a famine, it slows down all its activities, including those that detoxify and eliminate potentially harmful chemicals.

Fasting also causes fatigue, dizziness, irritability and depression, making it harder for dieters to "stick with it."

4. Just 20 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week is the minimum amount needed to stay fit, says the American College of Sports Medicine. Working out longer more frequently would improve aerobic capacity (the combined strength of heart and lungs) even more and burn many more calories. But for people unused to vigorous physical activity, 20 minutes every other day or so is a reasonable effort.

5. False. The bulk of calories in any diet should come from foods high in complex carbohydrates, including pasta, bread, rice, corn, cereals and other grain-based items. Such foods should contribute 55 percent to 60 percent of total calories.

6. At a level below 1,200 calories a day, it's difficult to take in sufficient vitamins and minerals.

7. False. One pound of fat contains 3,500 calories, more than are in 20 chocolate cupcakes. You'd have trouble consuming more than twice that amount at one meal in order to gain 2 pounds. The extra weight shown on the scale the morning after a big meal is probably water retention. Frequent weighing causes dieters more harm than good; real losses and gains of fat happen over time.

8. False. Rather than eating three square meals, some people prefer light meals and in-between snacks. Either they feel uncomfortably full if they consume all their calories at meals or they become ravenously hungry if too many hours go by without eating. For them, snacking makes sense. Not having snacks throws off their internal signals of hunger and satiety, and they could end up eating more than they need. Simply put, different strokes for different folks.

1992, Washington Post Writers Group