It's that time of year again. Sleeves become shorter. Legs dare to be unveiled. Toes begin to peek out from underneath their fluffy blankets of winter slipper fuzz. Those who make their living in the diet industry are probably about to undergo an all-too-temporary respite from the economic meltdown. Good for them. But is it good for the rest of us?

It's that time of year again. Sleeves become shorter. Legs dare to be unveiled. Toes begin to peek out from underneath their fluffy blankets of winter slipper fuzz.


Before long, practically every exposable square inch of skin will be begging to be kissed by the sunshine. And not-so-coincidentally, those who make their living in the diet industry are probably about to undergo an all-too-temporary respite from the economic meltdown. Good for them. But is it good for the rest of us?


Losing weight isn't about dieting. Don't we know this yet? It's not about not eating. It's about eating more of the foods that are satisfying and nourishing (and I don't mean nourishing exclusively to the body).


All too often, we aim to manage our weight by entering into an arena where we play the almighty head game of deprivation endurance. Though the rules of the game might be different each round, they are all equally irrational (the two-day liquid fast, the 12-day grapefruit diet, and who could forget the four-day banana-egg-hotdog diet!). Notice something in common? Adherence is designed for a finite time period. Ever wonder why?


The body has a central intelligence that knows when we are overloading or under-loading it. And it will respond in both cases. We already know by now that when we eat more than we need our bodies store the excess as fat, but what about when we don't eat enough? How does the body respond? Does it suddenly begin to siphon excess energy from body fat stores in order to provide energy for daily activities? No. It slows down. It senses the sudden deprivation and starts an emergency storage of every calorie consumed.


So what's the solution? How can we shed a layer or two of excess winter fluff (that proved to be quite useful during this past winter, by the way) without under-loading and under-nourishing? Here's an exercise that may possibly be the most valuable hour you'll ever spend on strategizing to manage your weight:


- Sit down at your computer and create an exhaustive list of all the foods you want to remember to buy every week. And then? Eat them. Not all at once, of course. But yes, science has shown that fueling the body every three to four hours not only helps to ward off the hungry horrors that creep in so often when we diet, but also offsets that frustrating and counterproductive metabolic retard.


- Begin with colorful produce that seduces your taste buds. Think of it as a wish list. Go down that aisle in your head and don't leave anything out.


- Next, go to the meat counter. Remember, only the lean stuff (fish, chicken and turkey breast, 90 percent lean cuts of beef, pork or veal). Leave off sausage, dogs, ribs and any other fattier cuts. (That doesn't mean you'll never buy them; only that they won't be part of your list of regulars.)


- Now travel to dairy and choose some of my favorites: nonfat Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, goat cheese, nonfat milk.


- When you've finished the perimeter of the store where you regularly grocery shop, plan the aisles. Only include on your list the regulars or the staples. Remember, the list is intended to help you form good habits forever. Sure, you'll buy ice cream on occasion (or sweet rolls from the bakery, or brie from the cheese shop), but these extravagances don't need to be on The List. Don't worry, you won't forget them.


Once you've finished your shopping list, make some copies. Not only will it help to keep you on your nutritional track, but just watch the magic that happens in your budget!


Maryjeanne Hunt is a personal trainer, weight management coach and group exercise instructor at Gold's Gym in Millis, Mass., and Lady of America in Natick, Mass. Contact her by e-mail at maryjeannehunt@comcast.net or visit her Web site, www.therealfit.biz.