6-month weight loss plan

It's time to make new year's resolutions, and at the top of most people's list will be to lose weight and start an exercise program.

For the new year, try setting monthly goals to improve your health. Make a resolution to check in at the beginning of each month to assess progress. Here's a plan for the first six months to make you feel great in 2008.

January: Begin the new year by assessing your weight and understanding what your weight means for your health. Calculate your body mass index using your height and weight. See the Web site www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi.

BMI tells you if your weight puts you at risk for future health problems, so aim for a BMI of less than 25. If your BMI is more than 30 and losing a lot of weight seems like a daunting task, don't worry. Aim to lose 10 to 12 pounds over the course of a year. Even a small weight loss can improve blood pressure, blood sugar and blood lipids.

In addition to height and weight, measure your waist circumference with a cloth tape measure. If it's over 40 inches for men and 35 inches in women, set a goal to reduce your apple shape. Your last assessment is to keep a three-day food record and analyze it at www.mypyramidtracker.gov. Set up a profile and use the tracking tool every month to assess your goals.

February. Keep a food diary the first three days of every month and use MyPyramid tracker to assess your intake. This month we turn to affairs of the heart, so focus on saturated fat and cholesterol when you analyze your diet. Easy changes include switching from whole milk to skim milk to save 4 grams of saturated fat and using ground sirloin in place of ground round to save 4.5 grams of saturated fat. For more tips to reduce saturated fat and cholesterol, check out www.americanheart.org.

March. This is National Nutrition Month, so go to www.eatright.org and use the Find a Nutrition Professional tool to locate a registered dietitian in your area to help you fine-tune your goals. Continue with a three-day record and compare it with the food record you kept in January. As the warmer weather approaches, set your exercise goals. Walking is the easiest exercise, so dust off the walking shoes and hit the pavement. Use a pedometer to measure your steps and aim for 10,000 steps each day. If walking outdoors isn't an option, buy a DVD. I like Leslie Sansone's "Walk Away the Pounds." It sounds dorky to walk in place, but trust me, her four-mile super challenge is a great workout in the comfort of your living room.

April. In addition to analyzing your diet, use the MyPyramid activity tracker to monitor your exercise goals. If you've lost weight and have reached a plateau, don't let that deter you. Your smaller body needs fewer calories, so you may have to tweak your diet to burn a few more calories each day. Save 100 calories by dipping chips in salsa instead of cheese dip; switch to light butter; use soft tacos instead of fried crispy tacos; don't ask for extra butter on popcorn at the movies; use chicken broth in mashed potatoes instead of whole milk and butter.

May. Focus on nutrients for bone health, especially calcium and vitamin D. Review your diet analysis for these two important nutrients and visit the Web site of the National Osteoporosis Foundation at www.nof.org to learn more about bone health. Exercise also strengthens bones, so keep up your activity.

June. Check in with your food and activity intake at MyPyramid tracker and use the information to reassess your goals for the next six months. Did you lose weight and improve your body mass index? Did you reduce your waist circumference? Did you stick to your exercise goals? If you've slipped, don't give up. Rededicate yourself for the last half the year to meet the goals you established in January.

Source: http://www.ajc.com/health/content/health/stories/2007/12/21/fit_1227fd.html