"Lose weight fast!" say hundreds of commercial dieting programs. The promise sounds appealing. Inevitably, though, lost pounds return once old habits resurface, and in spite of all the hype, Americans are fatter than ever.

A refreshing attempt to counteract this mayhem is the Behavioral Approach to Weight Loss. This method is based on the theory that eating and exercise are learned and that being overweight results from unhealthy habits. By changing your daily behavior, the B.A.W.L. maintains, you'll improve the odds of keeping weight off over the long term.

Step One

Upset the balance: Take in fewer calories, and expend more calories by exercising.

  • First, determine your daily caloric needs. Then, subtract 500 calories from that number. This amounts to a one-pound weight loss per week.
  • Second, set a weekly exercise goal. Start slowly and eventually build up to expending at least 1,000 calories in exercise per week -- for example, through walking 10 miles.

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  • Third, monitor your daily caloric intake by keeping a food record.

Although tedious, this is the best way to correctly assess what you're eating. Start with your calorie-intake goal for the day, and subtract the number of calories found in each food you eat. You'll subtract calories from your goal just as you would withdraw money from a bank account. If you're under your goal at the end of the day, you can bank the unused calories; if you go over it, you can cut back the next day.