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DITCH DIETS FOR PLAN TO IMPROVE HEALTH

If you've been bouncing from one weight-loss diet to another, never permanently reaching your goal, maybe what you need isn't a quick-fix diet, but a plan to improve your overall health.

As you incorporate more fruits, vegetables and whole grains into your menus, make exercise a priority and find ways -- other than eating -- to deal with stress, you're more likely to drop excess pounds, say medical and nutrition experts.

It's challenging to find a source for balanced advice on health and diet, but two excellent new books provide help you can use in easy-to-understand terms.

"Make it flexible, interesting and easy," says Dr. Howard Shapiro, a leading weight loss specialist. His book, "Dr. Howard Shapiro's Picture Perfect Prescription" (Chamberlain Bros., 2005), follows his mantra.

"I'm a weight-loss doctor, but I know weight loss isn't enough. People with the least illness and the most energy are able to deal with stress, eat healthy, exercise and enjoy the company of others," says Shapiro. Surprisingly of all the areas, it may be most difficult to establish friendships, says the physician.

"We may drift away from our families, and don't take time to give back to the community. Being more open helps build your immune system. You'll feel better for it," he says.

Although Shapiro's book jacket says you can take 11 days and add 10 years to your life, you may want to take that with a grain of salt. It may take you considerably longer to develop a healthy routine, and there's no guarantee you're going to live longer. But you can find strategies to get started.

Barbara Rolls is a leading weight-loss researcher and a nutrition professor at Penn State University. Her studies on how you can eat a greater volume of low-calorie foods, be satisfied and lose weight are influencing weight loss strategies among health professionals.

In her book, "The Volumetrics Eating Plan" (HarperCollins Publishers, 2005), Rolls turns her years of work into a practical strategy for healthier eating.

Despite her background, Rolls intentionally left the word "diet" out of her book title. She wants readers to find an eating plan they can live with lifelong, not just for a month or two.

"Psychological hunger is a big deterrent (to dieting). The American Dietetics Association did a survey on the biggest obstacle for going on a diet and it was giving up favorite foods. People set themselves up for failure because they give up their favorite foods," says Rolls.

"The Volumetrics food plan lets people eat the way they're used to eating," says Rolls. "It's all about understanding where the calories are (in foods) and making decisions about what you can eat."

Her book covers all the favorites, including macaroni and cheese, pizza and banana splits prepared by substituting reduced-fat or lower-calorie dairy products for full-fat versions and adding more fruits and vegetables for bulk.

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