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Health Information A Realistic Approach to Getting Healthy

It's only March, and already you may have given up on your New Year's resolution to get fit or lose weight. But don't be discouraged. Instead of swearing off junk food completely or promising to work out every day, cut your goal into more manageable chunks. Jennifer Ventrelle, MS, RD, CPT — a registered dietitian at Rush who's also a certified personal trainer — advises making small changes that you can realistically incorporate into your life. That way, you can achieve short-term goals that will help you make long-term, sustainable changes.

The following nutrition and fitness tips that Ventrelle offers to her patients can help you accomplish your resolution before another year goes by:

Become aware of what you eat. "Awareness is the first step toward change," says Ventrelle. Before planning how you're going to change your eating habits, keep a food diary of everything you eat for one week, and then review it. This will give you a realistic picture of what you're eating and when.

Eat every four hours
When losing weight, the body may try to compensate by going into storage mode, which can slow down metabolism. "The body doesn't like to change and tries to make up for it," explains Ventrelle. By eating small amounts more frequently, you can counteract this effect. Eat breakfast within one hour of waking up and don't let four hours pass without eating, recommends Ventrelle.

Pair up for healthy, filling snacks
Snacks can help curb your appetite between meals. The right snack combination, according to Ventrelle, is to pair a carbohydrate with a protein. When eaten by itself, a carbohydrate, such as fruit, gives you energy but is quickly digested and converted into sugar. If that sugar is not used for energy, it's stored as fat. Protein, on the other hand, is broken down more slowly and therefore keeps you feeling full for a longer period of time. Pairing the two together, such as eating an apple with some peanut butter, helps the carbohydrate to also break down more slowly. Not only do you feel less hungry, but your body has more time to use the energy before it's converted into fat.

Increase your physical activity gradually
Walking more throughout the day is a great way to increase your daily physical activity. Some studies suggest that people should take 10,000 steps a day — that measures out to about five miles. "For someone who averages 2,000 steps a day, 10,000 steps can be an unrealistic goal to start out with," says Ventrelle. Instead, find a goal that suits your current level of activity. Ventrelle recommends wearing a pedometer (a device that counts your steps) for one week while you go about your normal routine. Calculate your daily average from that and use it as your starting point. Each week, make it your goal to increase that number by 2,000 steps each day. Eventually you may reach 10,000 steps a day, but you've done it at your own pace.

Don't be afraid to build muscle
Many of the women Ventrelle sees are afraid of lifting weights because they don't want to "bulk up." Since women produce less testosterone than men, this is very unlikely. Think Michelle Obama arms rather than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Gaining muscle tone, however, is crucial to losing weight and keeping it off. The more muscle mass you have, the faster your metabolism will be. "As you lose weight, you need to maintain or build muscle to preserve your metabolism," says Ventrelle.

Whether you want to lose weight or get in shape — or both — remember to be realistic with yourself and adjust your goals accordingly. "You're not in competition with anyone but yourself," says Ventrelle.

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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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