Ah yes…we’re in the peak of diet season, that lovely time when we vow we will finally get in shape, once and for all. But it’s so easy to get snowed under a blizzard of books, all claiming to offer the perfect slimming solution. Which one to choose? And most of those books are pretty unrealistic anyway. If I really had the time or money to buy and cook all those gourmet diet meals, and do all those complicated workouts, I’d be doing it already. I’m looking for something realistic – a diet and fitness plan that I enjoy and is easy and cheap to do.
So off I went, scouring the net for something suitable. It was harder than I thought. Most of the good online diet planners or software cost money, and I insisted on a price of zero. But I did finally find a couple of good sites, where, if you invest a little time, you’ll have a diet filled with all your favorite foods – a diet you’ll more likely stick to. Here are my top picks:
WEBMD FOOD AND FITNESS PLANNER
WebMD is a leading and trustworthy site for health information. Chances are you looked up your kid’s latest illness here, but did you know they offer lots of great nutrition and fitness help? Get started with their Healthy Eating and Diet page: WebMD Healthy Eating and Diet They have a Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator, a diet evaluator, healthy recipes, and best of all, a Food & Fitness Planner: WebMD Food & Fitness Planner
You’ll need to enter your gender, height, current weight, age, activity level, and weight loss goals. Then the planner will calculate what your goal weight range should be, your ideal fitness activity level, and how many daily calories you need in order to achieve that goal. Then the real fun begins. You can add foods to your plan; just enter the name in the search box on the site. For example, enter "apple" and you’ll see a long list that includes fresh apple, applesauce, etc. Choose whichever one you actually want to have on your menu, and the site will add the corresponding calories and nutritional counts to your personal plan. Keep doing this until you have a full day’s worth of meals and snacks. You can tweak it to make sure you meet your goals.
Overall, it’s a great site but they unfortunately don’t give you the ability to plan more than one day at a time, so you’ll have to repeat the process to create different menus for different days, and that can be tedious.
U.S. GOVERNMENT MY PYRAMID TRACKER
You might remember that the USDA, with some fanfare, introduced the nutritional pyramid a while back. The various food groups (grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, meat & beans) are depicted as sections of the pyramid, with a set of stairs along one side of the pyramid to indicate the need for exercise. I’m not sure I ever fully grasped the concept. But anyway, the government’s site also happens to have an excellent online menu planner called My Pyramid Tracker: My Pyramid Tracker
As with the WebMD site, you search for the foods you would like to add to your plan. Your chosen menus will be compared to your ideal daily nutritional goals. The cool thing with this site is that you can do full-week menus pretty painlessly. You can duplicate a day’s menus to additional days, edit as desired, and print out a copy to take with you everywhere.
The downside of this site is you can’t adjust your goals too well. After you input your height, weight, age and activity level, the program gives you a calorie goal that may not be what you want. For example, my plan told me I should eat 1800 calories a day to lose weight, which I thought was a little too high. So I had to just enter daily meal plans that totaled the 1500 calories that I thought I should have, and the program told me my calorie count came up short, but I just ignored that.
NATIONAL HEART LUNG AND BLOOD INSTITUTE INTERACTIVE MENU PLANNER
Okay, this one doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the WebMD or MyPyramid sites. But if you don’t have the patience and just want to spit out a quicker and more simple diet menu, this planner is for you: Interactive Menu Planner
This site operates through simple drop-down menus where you choose from several pre-determined options. For example, you choose a desired level of 1200, 1400, 1600, 1800 or 2000 calories per day. You choose from a set list of fruits, vegetables, milk, grains, meats, beverages and fats. Presto, you have a plan! As with WebMD, you can only plan one day’s worth of meals at a shot.
DIET BITES: FREE ONLINE DIET PLANS AND RECIPES
Maybe you just don’t care to have a personalized diet and fitness plan at all; you’d rather just look up your ideal weight, find a canned plan and be done with it. Diet Bites is a site that offers a lot of free information, recipes, and online tools such as ideal weight charts and lists of calorie counts in various popular fast foods: Diet Bites
This site is not especially well organized or pretty to look at, but it’s free and has a lot of good resources and articles for dieters. My eyes really got opened at the calorie counts listed for various Starbucks beverages: Starbucks Beverage Calorie Counts
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