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How to make your diet work

When it comes to losing weight, it's hard to know where to start. Do you sign up for a program or try to do it on your own? What are you willing to give up, and what's a deal breaker?

Consumer Reports has done the legwork for you. It asked 9,376 people about diets they've tried, and it got the scoop on 13 popular plans.

What did Consumer Reports find? First, be realistic. Your own expectations play a big role in how satisfied you're likely to be with any diet you try.

Most people don't have "Biggest Loser"-style outcomes. In the survey, only 14 percent of readers who'd finished their diets came to within 5 pounds of their goal weight. But take comfort in the fact that dropping as little as 5 to 10 percent of your starting weight can make a real difference in your health and well-being. If you have realistic goals, you're likely to feel better with the weight you lose.

To Keep Weight Off, Practice First

Here's a novel idea: Before even trying to lose weight, practice the strategies that can help you keep the pounds off.

Michaela Kiernan, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, actually tested that idea in a clinical trial and found that it worked. Half of the overweight women in the study got the usual treatment -- they followed a weight-loss program for 20 weeks, then for eight weeks received standard advice on how to maintain their weight loss. The other half did it in reverse: They got eight weeks of advanced training in weight maintenance strategies, then tried to lose weight.

The results were stunning. Both groups lost the same amount of weight after 28 weeks. But a year later, those in the "maintenance first" group had regained an average of only about 20 percent of the weight they had lost; those in the usual-treatment group had regained an average of 43 percent.

Here are some of the pre-maintenance strategies Kiernan suggests:

-- Weigh yourself every day for several weeks to see how your weight fluctuates. Once you know your pattern, you won't panic if your weight goes up by a pound or two or even three from one day to the next (which is pretty common).

-- Pick a target 5-pound weight range that accounts for those fluctuations, and try to stay within it for several more weeks. If your weight drops to the bottom of your range, you can eat a bit extra to bring it back up.

-- It's not always smart to settle for low-calorie versions of high-calorie foods that make you yearn for the real thing. Try something that tastes completely different but is still satisfying, such as salsa on your baked potato instead of sour cream.

-- Learn to eat your favorite high-calorie treats mindfully, in moderation, without thinking of it as a slip-up.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

Easy steps for getting rid of expired medication

You probably don't give much thought to the unused medications taking up space in your medicine cabinet. But those leftover pills are far from harmless.

Taking them incorrectly or accidentally could land someone in the emergency room or even prove deadly, warns Consumer Reports. Of particular concern are leftover narcotic painkillers such as Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin.

Consumer Reports offers several ways to safely get rid of unwanted and expired medication year-round.

Return Your Pills to the Pharmacy

Many pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, narcotic treatment programs and long-term care centers will take leftover and expired medication any time of the year. Some locations might also offer mail-back programs.

To find an authorized program near you, go to DisposeMyMeds.org or DEAdiversion.usdoj.gov and search for "drug disposal." Or call the DEA's Registration Call Center at 1-800-882-9539.

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Walgreens has made this especially convenient by introducing self-service kiosks earlier this year. The kiosks are free, anonymous and secure: Simply place unwanted and expired medication, including controlled substances, in the top slot and walk away.

If your local pharmacy won't accept your medication and drop-off at an authorized location is not an option, you can toss most pills in your household trash (with the exception of narcotic painkillers) -- provided you take a few precautions.

First, remove the drug from its original container and mix it with a substance that makes it less recognizable, such as coffee grounds, kitty litter, or sawdust. Then place the mixture in a sealable plastic bag or other container that won't leak and put it in the trash. As an added precaution, before you discard the prescription bottle, remove the label entirely or scratch away the personal information.

Take Precautions With Painkillers

Recent data suggests that, when it comes to addressing accidental or intentional misuse, we have a lot of work to do. In a survey of people who were recently prescribed opioids, published in JAMA Internal Medicine in June, 60 percent of respondents reported holding on to the drugs for future use. Almost half said that they weren't aware of how to properly store or dispose of opioids.

Leftover prescription painkillers can be fatal if ingested by someone in your home, including children and pets, and for that reason, they shouldn't be tossed in the trash, says Food and Drug Administration spokesperson Lyndsay Meyer.

For example, Meyer adds, "too much fentanyl can cause severe breathing problems and lead to death in babies, children, pets and even adults, especially those who have not been prescribed the medicine."

Consumer Reports says that the best way to handle leftover narcotic painkillers, such as fentanyl (Duragesic and generic), hydrocodone (Vicodin and generic), meperidine (Demerol and generic), morphine or oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet and generic), is to take them to a pharmacy or authorized take-back location.

But if you can't get there, leftovers of those and other controlled substances listed on the FDA's website can be flushed down the sink or toilet, Meyer says.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

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