It is no news flash that weight loss is a major focus in the minds of many Americans. From weight-loss programs to exercise videos and low-fat or low-calorie foods, losing and gaining weight has become somewhat of a national pastime. Looking good and feeling good is important. After all, good health includes not only a healthy body, but also a healthy attitude.

The first component of weight management deals with healthy eating. No food plan is magical and no specific food must be included or avoided. The best dietary recommendation is to follow the guidelines set forth by the USDA MyPlate Daily Checklist. The USDA MyPlate Daily Checklist encourages eating a variety of foods from the USDA MyPlate Daily Checklist food groups.

A simple reduction in calorie intake may be recommended for weight loss. However, severely restricting calories can be counter-productive. Calorie intake needs to provide adequate nutrition without being excessive. There are about 3,500 calories in 1 pound of body fat. Therefore, to lose 1 pound, your calorie intake needs to be 3,500 less than your calorie expenditure. This would result in about a 1- to 2-pound loss per week. Adequate nutrition is difficult to achieve on fewer than 1,200 calories a day, and most healthy adults should not consume less than this amount.

Although underweight is a less common problem than overweight, for some people, the struggle to gain weight is as difficult as weight loss is for others.

Some healthy weight gain strategies are to eat regular meals, eat larger portions, eat extra snacks and beverages and increase physical activity to build muscle. A person will gain weight by increasing calories alone, but it will be mostly body fat.

The second component of weight management is to increase physical activity. Regular physical activity is a great way to increase the amount of calories expended, and aerobic activity is one of the best. With aerobic activity you can burn calories and at the same time receive the cardiovascular benefits.

The Dietary Guidelines physical activity recommendations for adults are 150 minutes of moderate-intensity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity per week. For additional health benefits, you should increase your activity each week.

Some people may need to consult with a health care provider before participating in physical activity. Activities to maximize calorie expenditure should be those that are lower intensity, but performed for a longer period of time. This is one reason walking is promoted so much for individuals interested in losing weight.

Muscles burn more calories than fat. So the more muscle someone has, the more calories they will burn throughout the day. Physical activity helps reduce the amount of fat and at the same time tones and strengthen muscles. Physical activity is also beneficial for people who want to gain weight. Strength training in particular helps build muscle mass so that weight gain comes from both muscle and body fat.

Physical activity helps you feel and look healthy and so can improve self-esteem. Feeling good about yourself can help motivate you to stay with your weight management plan. Change should be slow and gradual, look for changes that will last, and weight management is an ongoing process.

Rapid weight loss is more likely to lead to a rapid regain of the weight. Remember, when your "willpower" wears down, you may feel frustrated and defeated. There is nothing wrong with using specific events or rewards as an incentive to make weight changes. Weight management should be viewed as a process. The person who has not been doing any regular activity should not decide to go out one day and run 10 miles, but should gradually work toward a specific goal.

For more information or to schedule a program locally about financial management, nutrition, health and wellness, parenting education, or Oklahoma Home and Community Education clubs, call the OSU Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County at 918-456-6163.

Heather Winn is a family and consumer sciences educator for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County.

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