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How to Make a Diet Work
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How to Make a Diet Work

Health Care


It's six days into the New Year, and we're wondering how you're doing on that diet you promised yourself you'd go on in 2007. Still sticking with it, despite the candy bars calling out to you from the office vending machine, and the invitations to catch up with co-workers over great, greasy fast-food lunches? And there are still a couple of dangerous football games ahead and the overflowing snack trays that come with them.

To get some tips for sidestepping those diet hazards, we've called Miriam Nelson. She's the director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts University. She joins us from member station WGBH in Boston.

Happy New Year's resolution to you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Professor MIRIAM NELSON (Director, John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition, Tufts University): Happy New Year's to you as well, Linda. Thank you for having me.

WERTHEIMER: Now, my sense is that diets don't really work. Now, I offer that based on half a life of trying to lose the same 10 ugly pounds. What is wrong with dieting?

Prof. NELSON: Well, you know, the reality is is that diets can work. But you need to think of them not really just as a short term, eat this, eat that for a very specific amount of time and prescribed types of foods. The trick is changing the way you think about food and where you eat it and how you eat it, and the types of food that you eat. The trick is that you need to put a little bit of mental energy into it at the forefront, and then you'll be very successful over the long haul.

WERTHEIMER: Okay, give us some tips. What are you talking about here when you say changes in food, changes in habit?

Prof. NELSON: Well, the first thing is that you need to plot it out. You can't just say I want to lose 10 pounds. First is you need to assemble your support team. You need to figure out who is it that can help you. Then there are a couple of important tips to keep in mind. Don't let your car be your dining room, or your desk be where you have lunch. Eat at a table and preferably with the television off. Certainly, you can have National Public Radio on…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. NELSON: …but you want the television off. Writing everything down. This self-monitoring tool is probably the best thing that you can do. You don't have to write down the amount, just literally the foods that you ate during the day and the activities that you participated in - your physical activity. Snack smart and you got to exercise.

WERTHEIMER: Is it really true that you cannot lose weight without substantially increasing your exercise?

Prof. NELSON: That's a great question. In reality, with long-term weight control, is that it is absolutely a combination of eating smart and exercising more. Too many people think it is really putting on your running shoes and going out for a run, but it can be lifestyle. You can use it for commuting. If you live in a city, walk more. The best is really to mix up your activities -some strength training, aerobic activity. Mixing up your activities can be much more fun, and also very health promoting and help with long-term weight control.

WERTHEIMER: What about sabotaging your diet? For example, I'm a really good cook, and I can't stand it when I make a really good meal. I want to eat a lot of it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: That not only sabotages me, it also sabotages my husband.

Prof. NELSON: But I bet your meals are very wholesome.

WERTHEIMER: No question.

Prof. NELSON: You know, the trick is not usually one meal that does it. The biggest problem is really the what we call sort of mindless eating that we have amidst the bowl of candies that's at the secretary's desk that you walk by. It's the increase in snacks and availability of foods that are cheap and quite palatable, really. So…

WERTHEIMER: So you notice that you're doing that, presumably if you keep that list.

Prof. NELSON: Exactly. For many people, their diets become very monotonous. And there's just a few foods in them everyday, along with tons more snack foods and dessert foods. We need to get back to basics.

WERTHEIMER: Miriam Nelson is an associate professor at Tufts University. She's the author of several books on nutrition and wellness, including “Strong Women Stay Young,” and “Strong Women Eat Well.” That sounds good.

Dr. Nelson, thank you.

Prof. NELSON: Thank you very much, and happy New Year.

WERTHEIMER: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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