Please note: Before starting any diet or exercise plan, confer with your physician to determine what course of action is right for you.

The business of dieting is a multi-billion industry in the United States. Americans are bombarded by weight loss ads designed to entice them with hope that there is a simple, quick and painless fix to their rapidly expanding waistlines. The truth is, a lot of America's weight problem is a result of the wanton consumption of heavily processed foods combined with a sedentary lifestyle. Here are some tips to help you break the cycle and begin a journey to better health. Best of all, you won't have to shell out a dime on false promises.

You ate WHAT?

Grocery stores are packed to the rafters with thousands of different food items, most of which are terrible for you. High sodium, high fat, high cholesterol, high fructose corn syrup – if it starts with "high" (and isn't followed by "in fiber") chances are you probably shouldn't eat it. Often, even foods that seem harmless are loaded with fillers and hard-to-pronounce ingredients that just don't belong there. Corn fillers in your sour cream? You bet; sometimes there's a reason the house brand is cheaper. Corn syrup in your potato salad? WHY? What the heck is that doing in your potato salad? Check your labels very carefully. Whether you're buying a generic or name brand, it's crucial to read the label. As far as ingredients go, if you can't pronounce it, or if it just doesn't belong in that food, don't eat it.

Well, What SHOULD I Eat?

Eating is a very personal, cultural and social endeavor. We each have our likes and dislikes, and our family traditions often influence our favorite foods. The trick is to try and make everything you eat as close to its original form as possible. For example, a grilled chicken breast is just a chicken breast while a pre-packaged chicken cordon bleu is processed chicken (mashed, fillers added, chicken meat) with a ton of high fat cheese and ham filling coated in salty breadcrumbs and which is then fried. Now, what if chicken cordon bleu is your favorite? Does that mean you can't ever eat it? Absolutely not! But consider, if you tenderize a boneless chicken breast, add a few slices of ham and an ounce of cheese, you can roll it, throw some breadcrumbs down on a pan, sprinkle some over your chicken, bake it and voila!

Cooking healthy is HARD!

No, no, no! The above example was to illustrate how "real" food is better for you than pre-packaged food. Cooking healthy, filling foods is easy. Do most of your shopping in the produce section (if you're cooking for one, or cramped for time, buy frozen fruits and veggies instead). Buy meat in the meat department. Opt for plain, unadorned meat – not pre-marinated or stuffed. Be sure to trim excess fat and remove any skin from meat before cooking it (or at least before eating it). Stock your cupboard with good carbohydrates like brown rice, couscous and whole wheat pasta. These take a little getting used to, but they have so much more flavor and nutrients, you should definitely give them a chance! Whenever possible grill, steam, broil, bake or slow cook your foods. These cooking methods don't require adding extra oil to your food.

Do I have to EXERCISE?

Depending on what you consider exercise, the answer is yes and no. A more accurate way to put it would be that you should be active. What's the difference between exercising and being active? Exercising is moving your body with the sole intent and purpose of burning calories, losing fat and gaining muscle. Ooh, that sounds like fun! (Ahem...) What is fun is doing something interesting and enjoyable that happens to move your body at the same time. Walking on a treadmill is dull and monotonous. Walking through your neighborhood or trekking up a local hiking trail is way more entertaining – especially if you tote along your camera! Why ride a stationary bike when you can feel the wind in your hair riding a real bicycle? Why struggle on a rowing machine when you could really be out on the water? You get the idea. Get active, and you won't ever have to exercise again.

Can we get STARTED?

Just remember, when it comes to losing weight, eating real food is critical. If you make food from scratch or eat food that's edible just the way nature made it, you know exactly what you're putting into your body. Getting fit doesn't mean you have to give up your favorite foods. What it does mean is preparing those foods in a healthier, more natural way. Being active means burning calories while having fun rather than exercising in a stinky gym – no membership required. Getting outside and breathing fresh air will do wonders for keeping you motivated and enjoying your physical activities. Losing weight doesn't have to be complicated and it doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. With a little bit of care, you'll be on your way to a healthier lifestyle that you can maintain without feeing deprived and miserable. To your health!