Under the frost of the January air, you quietly slip out the D-Word. Sort of a closet set of letters, nothing you'd print out bold and post on the front door. A discouraging, doomsday beginning to an otherwise promising year ahead.

The dreaded DIET.Nearly as predictable as the arrival of Baby New Year, January days signal a time for annual redirection, adjustment in attitude and the inevitable need to drop a few holiday- or otherwise-accumulated pounds.

Jane Brody, nutrition writer for the New York Times, suggests a more positive approach.

"Diet is another four-letter-word. It's negative in itself. It's something you go on to go off . . . and return to the eating habits that made you overweight in the first place."

Rather than a dedicated low-calorie regime of any sort, weight loss is best maintained through long-term lifestyle changes.

"The secret to permanent weight control is not a diet but an eating and exercise management plan that you can go on and stay on for the rest of your life," Brody said. "It is not a lifetime of deprivation and self-denial . . . nor is it a matter of swallowing pills or sweating or having your fat sucked out surgically or dissolved by magical enzymes. Rather, it is learning to eat three or more sensible meals a day, with wholesome snacks and occasional no-nos and plenty of satisfying complex carbohydrates, and making exercise as routine a part of your life as brushing your teeth."

A simple statement yet amplified by individual experience, it's a classic easier said than done routine.

Marlene Wooley struggles daily with the longings of her love affair.

"It feels almost immoral to say, but the truth is, food is the most important thing in my life. I live for the pleasure of eating. I finish one meal planning what to eat next," Wooley said.

Wooley also admitted to a lifelong problem with weight. "I was overweight as a child. No, not overweight: I was obese, but being obese never got in the way of what I wanted to do. I was successful at whatever I tried, but in the back of my mind I could never erase the image of my obesity."

Life wasn't as generous to Linnie Spor.

"I don't think my parents ever knew what my grades were in elementary school. When you're a heavy child, the parent-teacher conference is about pounds, not grades. Besides, I had to have special clothes made for me. I couldn't ever wear what everyone else was wearing."

Spor grew up with daily negative reinforcement.

Negative reinforcement because of her weight. When being a part of the group was top priority, Spor was alone.

Food is a handy substitute for unfriendliness, and thus becomes an emotional prescription to cure what ails us, to solve our problems and to soothe our troubled times.

Jean Mumford turned to food during the discouraging days of her divorce.

"Food became my drug of choice," Mumford explained. "I ate and ate to cover the pain of my life. But it isn't only profound emotional pain that induces out-of-control eating, it's stress. Stress from any cause creates eating craziness. It may be the kids or the job or the money; but some people use food as an escape like other people use smoking or drugs or alcohol."

It wasn't stress or aesthetics that finally motivated Wooley to tackle the extra pounds. It was a medical diagnosis of gestational diabetes and the memory of her grandmother's painful demise with the effects of progressive diabetes.

"The day I recognized that my weight was a significant health issue, not just for me but for my child, I was ready to lose the pounds," Wooley said.

Wooley, Spor and Mumford, all former students and present instructors in the American Heart Association's "Slim for Life" weight management program, emphasize motivation as a key to successful weight control.

"I lost weight for my sister, for my mom, for my husband, for a party or a wedding, after a pregnancy. You name it; I had a reason to lose," Spor said. "But it wasn't until I lost weight because I wanted to - for me, that I reached my goal. I lost 73 pounds, and I've kept it off through a pregnancy and for over three years."

"The time has to be right," Wooley added. "And you don't need to feel guilty or bad or like a huge failure if the time isn't right for you. It's a huge commitment, and if you can't make a total commitment, start with a small change, like substituting cottage cheese or yogurt for sour cream."

Substitution is a way of life for Lisa Johnson, another "Slim for Life" instructor.

"The holidays are especially difficult. People bring you wonderful goodies, things you don't normally keep in the house. I've learned to accept the generous thought, not the generous serving of calories. I always have fruit or vegetable snacks available for times like this. Then, sometimes I'll have a small portion of the goodie and get rid of the rest. Someone gave us a box of chocolate mint sandwiches; they are my downfall. I opened the box when we had company, passed it around, and by the time it got back to me, there was only one left."

Despite tests of self-discipline, Johnson acknowledges the inevitability of a "crash."

"There will be days when you eat a whole bag of Oreo cookies. The difference now," acknowledged the mother of four, "is that I recognize I ate the whole bag, ask myself if it's worth it, and then go back on my food plan without a heavy-duty guilt trip. I just go on with my day."

Johnson controls her crash with adherence to Lisa's Law.

"I weigh myself once a week, and if I'm up more than 3 pounds, I return to the exact detail of the food plan. By the next week, I'm back at goal. If I let the gain go to 5 or 6 pounds, it will take that many weeks to get back down."

Working within the guidelines of the "Slim for Life" program, students adjust to normal life routines. The food plan is flexible and appealing to family members of all ages. Exercise components are tailored to individual needs and abilities.

Leslie Clark, another instructor who lost more than 100 pounds, explained that being active must become a way of life for permanent loss of unwanted pounds. "Exercise is a natural upper anyway, but when you tie it to weight loss and maintenance, it is a real plus."

Clark noted a psychological plus to being successful at weight maintenance, "I've learned that I am the only person accountable for what I eat. I'm the only one who decides what goes in my mouth, so I can't continue to blame other people for my weight."

A sense of individual responsibility develops with continued weight loss, but each instructor emphasized the importance of keeping the whole family on a healthy eating regime.

According to Wooley, mother of three and a full-time teacher, "I don't have time or money to cook special things for me. This is a real life program and we all participate in it."

And for Spor, the insecurities of childhood participation disappeared. "I can do anything now. All kinds of things I could never do when I was a child, even play basketball."- Note: The Utah Affiliate of the American Heart Association sponsors "Slim for Life" courses under the direction of registered dietitian Susan Ward. The program includes behavior modification, nutrition and weight control. The next session begins the week of Jan. 14 and is available by preregistration at the Heart Association office, 645 E. 400 South, or by calling 322-5601.

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Recipes listed:

Oatmeal Cookies

Applesauce Banana Drop Cookies

Party Delight Dip

Banana Nut Bread

Potato Chips

Leslie's Pumpkin Bread