When my daughter was 14, I remember telling her she couldn't take the bus into Manhattan alone. She screamed at me, "Mom, let me live!" When I think of dieters, I imagine they must want to yell that out too sometimes. After all, doesn't it seem like weight loss goes hand-in-hand with deprivation? People lash out when they don't get what they want -- and that includes food. But embracing the Mediterranean diet, which is more a way of life than a diet, can change all that. It entails eating fresh, savory food and wine with friends and family in an unhurried atmosphere -- and being physically active. Sounds a lot like "living" to me!

The Mediterranean Diet vs. A Low-Fat Diet

The traditional Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and wine. Poultry, eggs and dairy are eaten in moderation, along with scant amounts of sweets and red meat. Although it includes fats, the Mediterranean diet has been shown to help people shed pounds. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, about 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease could be prevented in high-risk people if they switched to a Mediterranean diet. In contrast, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, low-fat diets -- which tend to be high in carbs -- do little to take off weight and can increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Here are some guidelines, based on how much exercise you get. (Being active is an integral part of the "diet" and isn't negotiable.)

GOOD

Your Fitness Profile: You know you need to move more but you've no clue where to start. "Find a beginner class -- it doesn't matter what," says Kristen Anderson, a personal trainer in Hollywood, California. "Tell the instructor you're new and to let you go at your own pace. The physical boost you'll feel, combined with the bonus of meeting new people, will motivate you to take that class again in two days, and so on until you're in a groove." If you don't like the class, try something else. 

Your Weight-Loss Plan: Until you start exercising in earnest, you have to eat less. However, "by simply swapping butter and cream for small amounts of olive oil with herbs and spices, you'll cut a lot of calories easily without sacrificing flavor," says Jae Berman, a registered dietitian at the San Francisco Bay Club.

How Much: Try not to eat more than two tablespoons of olive oil a day, or consume more than three servings of nuts, fish and legumes. Eat some fresh fruit once a day, two servings of whole grains and at least six veggie servings a day. As for the "good stuff," have some white meat at least once a week and one glass of wine a week.

BETTER

Your Fitness Profile: You play an organized social sport such as tennis, golf or Ultimate Frisbee twice a week, and you do weight training once a week, either with a trainer, in a class or with a DVD. You walk five to 10 miles a week. 

Your Weight-Loss Plan: "Increase your strength training to twice a week," says Anderson. "After a month you'll be able to kick up that walk to a run or switch from doubles tennis to singles." An exercise boost could also make you hungrier. If that happens, pig out on vegetables. "They're full of fiber so they fill you up, but they're low on calories. Eat vegetables at every meal; make them 50 percent of your lunch and dinner," says Berman.

How Much: Limit the EVOO to three tablespoons a day, and cut nuts and legumes to three servings per week. Snack on some fresh fruit at least twice a day and include three servings of whole grains a day. Load up on vegetables at least six times a day, fish at least five times a week, white meat at least twice a week and four glasses (lucky you!) of wine a week.   

BEST

Your Fitness Profile: You run 10 miles a week and take a variety of classes almost every day (CrossFit, yoga, Pilates).

Your Weight-Loss Plan: If you're heavier than you should be, the culprit is likely your eating habits. "Just by switching to this plant-based diet, you'll start to slim down," says Berman. "For instance, instead of granola and protein bars filled with sugars, snack on whole nuts and seeds. Swap candy and cookies for fresh fruit."

How Much: Limit olive oil to four tablespoons a day and go crazy on nuts and fish: You can have as many as five servings a week. Make sure you have at least three servings of fresh fruits every day. Load up on whole grains four times a day, and make sure you have at six servings of vegetables daily. You can stuff yourself on four servings of legumes each day. And the best part?  A glass of wine a day! To the (fitness) victors go the spoils!


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