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Using the Food Pyramid for Weight Loss

2 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of Healthy Weight Loss

After you have a general idea of which foods belong in which food groups and what their nutritional benefits are, you can start to plan your weight-loss diet. First, determine your calorie needs. Then, using the information in the following table, determine the number of servings from each food group that you’re allowed, based on your calorie level.

Food Group Servings for Various Calorie Levels
About 1,200 About 1,500 About 1,800
Bread group servings 5 6 8
Vegetable group servings 3 3 5
Fruit group servings 2 3 4
Milk group servings 2 2 2
Meat group 5 ounces 6 ounces 7 ounces
Fats, oils, and sweets Use very sparingly

The Weight-Loss Pyramid is just like the Food Guide Pyramid, except that the number of servings from each group is decreased to the minimum amount needed for good health. When you’re dieting and cutting calories, it’s more important than ever to choose nutrient-dense foods and not waste calories on “extras” or high fat/sugar/calorie foods that provide little in the way of vitamins and minerals.

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For the 1,200 calorie diet, you may notice that the number of bread servings allowed is 5 — less than the usual minimum of 6 servings for the traditional Food Guide Pyramid. But don’t worry; cutting back on a serving of bread won’t put you at a loss for nutrients. You get plenty of the B vitamins and fiber that your body needs from five servings. Just make sure that your choices from this group are whole grain and high in fiber.

It’s also sometimes difficult to get the 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium required from just two servings of dairy. To help boost your calcium intake from other food sources, include a serving of dark green, leafy vegetables; drink a glass of calcium-fortified orange juice as one of your fruit servings; and, for health insurance, include a calcium supplement.

Meeting all your nutrient requirements is difficult when drastically limiting calories. If your calorie intake is 1,200 calories or lower, be sure to take a multivitamin-mineral supplement.

How do you keep all these portion sizes and food groups straight? A simple sheet of paper can help. Make a grid like the one shown here, placing the days of the week across the top and the food groups down the side. Next to each food group, write the number of servings that your calorie level allows. Then, each day, make Xs in the appropriate columns until you reach your daily allotment. Not only is this chart a quick visual reference for you, but studies show that dieters who track what they eat each day are more successful in losing weight and keeping it off.

Sample Week at 1,200 Calories
Food Group M T W T F S S
Bread (5) xxxxx
Fruit (2) xx
Vegetable (3) xx
Meat (5 ounces) xxx
Milk (2) xx
Fats, oils, and sweets x

If you see that you’ve had all your meat and dairy for the day, for example, and you want something to snack on, try a piece of fruit or a few raw vegetables if you haven’t had all your servings for the day.

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