FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. - Everywhere we turn it seems there is always some new diet plan that promises successful weight loss. The weight loss industry has tried for years to find the ultimate diet plan or pill, but alas, there is no such diet plan or pill that causes rapid weight loss in a short period of time.

The only proven weight loss treatment involves lifestyle changes to diet and exercise.

When preparing to start a lifestyle modification of dietary and/or exercise habits, many feel they have to change everything at once. Research has shown that people are most effective with long term success when they make one or two changes at a time. Making only a couple of changes at a time helps to create permanent habits that are not overwhelming.

Unfortunately, when people make several lifestyle changes at once, most are not able to keep up with the changes for an extended period of time. They become frustrated and then give up on the lifestyle change.

Because it is often difficult to decide where to start, begin by asking yourself these two questions.

1) What are some of your major obstacles that prevent me from losing weight?
2) What can I realistically change right now?

Over-eating is a common obstacle, especially when people wait until they are so hungry they feel faint or sick to their stomach. People may do this because they get busy and don't make time to eat throughout the day.

They may also do this if they are trying to follow a calorie restrictive diet that is too restrictive. Usually, they quit when they become too hungry.

When a person gets too hungry, they become desperate to satisfy their hunger and will eat until they feel full. But it takes the brain 10-20 minutes to realize the stomach is physically full.

So, people will likely continue to eat for an additional 10-20 minutes after their stomach has reached capacity. Their stomach does not have any room for the extra food so they feel bloated or even nauseated.

Eating like this over a period of time can cause weight gain.

Registered Dietitians often recommend that people who over eat, because they are this hungry, follow the hunger scale as a means to reduce their portions.

The hunger scale is based on a scale of 1-10. One (1) represents when a person is so hungry they feel lethargic (little energy), dizzy, and/or sick to their stomach. Five represents a neutral feeling when they are neither hungry nor full. Ten represents when they have eaten so much food they feel bloated and/or nauseated.

A good example of a level 10 feeling is after a Thanksgiving meal when many Americans eat so much they have to either loosen their pants or take a nap.

When people wait until they are at a level 1 before they start to eat, they do not have much control over their food choices; they often reach for quick and convenient foods that are often high in calories. They eat large portions, and they eat until they reach a level between 8 and 10.

For those who want to lose weight, it is recommended that they eat when they are at a level three and stop at level six.

When a person begins to feel slightly hungry, they are at a level three. At this level, they have maximum control over their food choices and portion sizes. When eating at level three, people are able to recognize when they are becoming full and stop once they reach a level six.

A person is at a level six when they feel satisfied with their meal but will be full with one or two more bites.

When people successfully eat at level three and stop at level six, they often find that their portion sizes decrease. They might also notice that their total daily calorie intake decreases even though they eat more times throughout the day.

The hunger scale helps to control total calories and increase the body's metabolism, which causes gradual weight loss.

So, if you find yourself over eating when you become hungry, want to shed some extra weight, and are ready to make a lifestyle change, try the hunger scale as a means to control your portions and achieve a healthy weight.

Our nutrition care providers are actively engaged with our patients, committed to providing well-coordinated care that promotes and optimizes health. If you have questions regarding the hunger scale or other nutrition issues, please feel free to contact the General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital Nutrition Care Division.

(Editor's note: Cpt. Allison Sweet, MS, RD, LD, is the Chief of Nutrition Education at the General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital)