Diet guidelines image Ask not what your body can do for you, ask what you can do for your body. The government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize that we have a duty to our bodies. Do you skip breakfast? Visit the vending machine more often than the gym? Or get most of your vegetables from ketchup? You may be a candidate for lifestyle boot camp. Shaved heads and olive green attire are optional here; the only requirement is a commitment to improving your health.

Welcome, Recruits

By enlisting in lifestyle boot camp, you are taking control of your health. Eating right and exercising can reduce your risk of ]]>obesity]]> , ]]>heart disease]]> , ]]>type 2 diabetes]]> , many other chronic diseases, and certain cancers.

Our nine-week regimen is based on the key recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 . Based on the latest scientific studies on food, physical activity, and health, the Department of Human Services updates these guidelines every five years. Each week of boot camp, work on one recommendation until it becomes standard issue, then move to the next.

For a list of the key recommendations, click here . For the complete listing, including recommendations for specific population groups, click here .

Week One: Adequate Nutrients Within Calorie Needs

The drill: Choose a variety of foods that are rich in nutrients such as protein and vitamins, while being low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, salt, and alcohol. For more specifics, use the DASH Eating Plan or USDA Food Guide Pyramid.

Drop and give me…5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Produce is nutrient rich and low fat, as are legumes (hummus, black bean dip, rice and beans), low-fat dairy products, lean meats (light-meat produce with no skin), and whole grains (oatmeal, brown rice).

Week Two: Weight Management

The drill: Maintain body weight in a healthy range by balancing calories from food and drinks with calories you expend.

Drop and give me…18.5 to 24.9 This is the range for a normal body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight status. If you’re above or below normal, a registered dietitian can help you achieve a healthful weight.

Week Three: Physical Activity

The drill: Be physically active on most days of the week to promote physical and mental health. Include cardiovascular, stretching, and resistance exercises.

Drop and give me…30-60 minutes of activity, on most days. To stave off chronic disease, 30 minutes per day should do it. To lose weight or prevent gain, 60 minutes is better, and to keep off lost weight, 60 minutes is best. Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

Week Four: Food Groups to Encourage

The drill: Build your diet around these nutrient-rich foods: fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Eat green and orange produce, as well as legumes, several times a week.

Drop and give me…2 cups of fruit, cups of vegetables, at least 3 one-ounce equivalents of whole-grain foods, and 3 cups of low-fat dairy each day. Examples of one-ounce whole-grain equivalents are: 1 slice of whole-wheat bread, ½ cup of oatmeal, or 1 cup of popcorn (air-popped is best).

Week Five: Fats

The drill: Reduce saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol. Choose healthier unsaturated fats, found in fish, nuts, and vegetable oils. Butter, full-fat dairy, and fried foods contain saturated fat. Trans fats are in margarine and packaged cookies and other snacks (listed as hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list).

Drop and give me…20%-35% of calories from total fat, less than 10% from saturated fat, and less than 300 mg/day of cholesterol. Cook and bake with oil instead of butter or margarine; bake, broil, or grill instead of frying; and choose low-fat or fat-free foods.

Week Six: Carbohydrates

The drill: Choose fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains often. Minimize foods with added sugars, such as soda, fruit drinks, candy, and other sweets. Brush twice and floss once daily, as sugary and starchy foods lead to cavities.

Drop and give me…20-35 grams of fiber per day. Raisin bran cereal (¾ cup) has 5 grams, baked beans (½ cup) gives you 3 grams, and strawberries (1 cup) packs 4 grams.

Week Seven: Sodium and Potassium

The drill: Minimize your sodium (salt) intake, while increasing potassium. Fruits and vegetables are high in potassium. Foods such as sandwich meats, canned soups, fast food, and processed foods are packed with sodium.

Drop and give me…2300 mg of sodium (or 1 teaspoon salt) per day. Choose fresh and homemade foods over processed, prepared, or fast food. Buy low-sodium products and go light with the shaker.

Week Eight: Alcoholic Beverages

The drill: If you drink, do so in moderation. Abstain entirely if you are an adolescent, pregnant or lactating woman, problem drinker, or if you have a medication or medical condition that may interact with alcohol. When in doubt, discuss the issue with your doctor.

Drop and give me…1 drink for a woman and 2 drinks for a man each day. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of distilled spirits.

Week Nine: Food Safety

The drill: To avoid food-borne illness, wash hands, food contact surfaces, and produce. Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods. Cook foods to the appropriate temperature to kill microorganisms. Also, don’t eat raw or unpasteurized foods.

Drop and give me…170° —the temperature you should cook chicken breasts to to ensure any little buggers have been killed. Invest in an oven and/or meat thermometer to check temps.


Congratulations, you’ve made it through lifestyle boot camp! You are well on your way to improving your daily health and preserving your long term health. Now, if you can just propel yourself over that ten-foot wall using only a rope…