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When Your Diet 'Disconnects'

If you’re like most American adults, you really do mean to lose weight. But exactly how you're going to do it has stumped you.

The results of the 2007 International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation Food and Health Survey found that 75 percent of Americans are concerned about their weight. In addition, 70 percent have made dietary changes “to lose weight,” and 56 percent are “trying to lose weight.”

Yet, even with some basic knowledge about how to accomplish these goals, 66 percent of us are still overweight. Researchers conclude there’s more work to be done.

“This survey indicates Americans have a pretty good knowledge of what constitutes a good diet and how much they should exercise, but putting this into daily practice is another story,” says Susan Borra, R.D., president of the IFIC Foundation. “We call this behavior a ‘diet disconnect.’ ”

According to Borra, uncovering these “disconnects,” and then making the proper “connection,” is what's important to achieving a healthy lifestyle.

Calories count

Sixty percent of Americans who are trying to lose weight are making an effort to cut back on the number of calories they consume.

“But, only 11 percent of Americans know the number of calories they should consume each day,” says Borra. “And only 31 percent correctly understand that calories from any source contribute equally to potential weight gain.”

All of this makes it difficult to cut the calories needed to drop pounds.

Diet and exercise are the key to weight loss

A clear majority of Americans reported being physically active at least once a week.

“But, nearly half of those who reported being physically active said they don’t balance diet and physical activity to manage their weight,” Borra reports. “And this balance is key to losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight.”

Fat matters

Americans are concerned about the types and amounts of fats they include in their diets and are trying to consume less trans fat.

But, many people are unclear about which fats are healthy. For example, Americans report trying to consume less polyunsaturated fat. But polyunsaturated fat is one of the fats recommended for health benefits.

To get the right types of fats in your diet, cook with healthy oils such as canola, safflower, sunflower, and olive oils. These are high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

Consider your carbs

Americans are getting the message that the right kind of carbs can improve the overall healthiness of their diets. But more than 50 percent remain concerned with the overall amount of carbohydrates they consume.

Healthy carbohydrates are found in a wide range of foods—such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. They contain a variety of important nutrients, including phytochemicals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber.

High-carbohydrate foods made mostly of sugars or refined flour, including cakes and cookies, can add calories without much nutrition.

So what’s a consumer to do?

Don't attempt a complete diet overhaul, which can be discouraging and difficult to accomplish. Borra recommends you “identify those foods in your diet, or behaviors such as skipping breakfast, that you could realistically improve on, and make a change or two a week. Over several months, you’ll find your health and your weight will improve.”