Weight is no one’s favorite topic, but it is an important factor in your health. Being overweight or obese puts people at greater risk of being diagnosed with chronic conditions like diabetes, arthritis and heart disease, it puts greater stress on your joints and can make exercise harder and have an overall greater sense of dissatisfaction with your health.

That means maintaining or reaching a healthy weight is key. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, what that number looks like is different for everyone; talk to your doctor to find out what range you should be in, and, as you’re making lifestyle changes, think more about how much energy you have, how your clothes are fitting and how you’re feeling than just the number on the scale.

Healthy weight management will not happen through fad diets or even short-term changes. For most people, it doesn’t mean cutting out certain foods either. If you love cookies, any long-term diet that doesn’t include cookies isn’t likely to be successful for you. Instead, find a lifestyle that includes a mix of healthy eating and regular exercise.

The first step is to determine the number of calories you need in a day. The standard 2,000 recommended daily allowance is more than many American adults need.

Once you know your calorie count, start planning meals that fit into your intake, provide the nutrients you need and taste good. A healthy diet is full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products; lean meat like poultry and fish, as well as other lean proteins like beans, eggs and nuts; and is low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugars.

This necessitates avoiding processed foods, which means more cooking and meal preparation on your part, but there are shortcuts or different methods that will still taste good and be healthy — use frozen, already sliced or canned fruits and vegetables (just make sure canned fruit is packed in juice, not syrup); substitute brown rice for white rice; and find healthier substitutions for ingredients in your favorite dishes or different ways of cooking, such as sautéing instead of deep frying food.

For high-calorie foods like desserts, chips, french fries, cheese and anything with butter, keep them as part of your diet, but cut back how much you eat and how frequently.

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