It's swimsuit and shorts season. For far too many Georgians, that means it's crash-diet season, too.
"Most of the weight initially lost on crash diets is water. But that weight will come back," said Gail Hanula, a nutrition specialist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.
"The best strategy for long-term weight loss," Hanula said, "is to eat a balanced, reduced-calorie diet and exercise regularly."
Short-term weight-loss strategies such as fasting or eliminating one food group will likely backfire, Hanula said. An unbalanced diet can cause vitamin deficiency problems. And special shakes or prepared foods don't help people learn healthy eating habits.
To lose one pound of body weight, Hanula said, you have to either eat 3,500 fewer calories or burn that same amount during physical activity. Break that down to 500 calories a day, and it's much more manageable.
Research shows people who lose one to two pounds per week are more likely to reach their weight-loss goal and keep the weight off.
"Probably the easiest way to take in fewer calories is to make small changes in what you eat and stick with them," she said.
Try a piece of fresh fruit for dessert instead of a sweet baked treat. And eat lots of filling, low-calorie foods such as vegetables with meals and as snacks.
Vegetables are probably a dieter's best friends, Hanula said. Fresh vegetables contain almost no fat, have lots of vitamins and supply fiber. Research shows that eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day helps prevent some types of cancer. And fresh veggies are in season now in Georgia.
Extension horticulturist Terry Kelley said Georgia farmers grow more than 175,000 acres of vegetables. Among their crops are cabbage and other leafy greens, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, okra, carrots, squash, snap beans, sweet corn and tomatoes.
"The environment has been a little against us this year," Kelley said. "But our farmers are doing the best they can to get the crop harvested and to the market."
The unusually cool spring and too-frequent rains have pushed some veggie prices up this year. But the quality of Georgia's produce remains high, he said.
"We're right in the middle of harvest for most of our summer vegetables," Kelley said. You can find Georgia vegetables in many grocery stores and at roadside stands.
Hanula said vegetables are easy to prepare in low-fat ways. "One of my favorite ways to prepare vegetables is on the grill," she said.
Carefully wash veggies in clean water. Cut them into bite-size chunks, spear them on bamboo or metal skewers and cook them on the grill over medium heat until tender. "Grilling adds no fat to the dish," Hanula said. "And it's quick, easy and doesn't heat up the house."
Exercise is another key in weight control. But Hanula said it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing exercise plan. "Many people don't have an hour they can devote to exercise every day," she said.
Again, make small changes. Climb the stairs instead of riding the elevator or park farther out in the lot and walk the little extra distance. "But it's important to make the change and stick with it," she said.
Hanula's last piece of advice is to drink plenty of fluids -- six to eight 8-ounce glasses every day.
"Water is best, but juice or caffeine-free drinks or sodas are fine, too," she said. "Remember that juices, though fat-free and nutritious, still contain calories."