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Lean Plate Club Holiday Challenge

Nutrition and Health

Sally Squires
Washington Post Health and Nutrition Writer
Tuesday, December 14, 2004; 1:00 PM

Welcome to The Lean Plate Club, hosted by Washington Post health and nutrition writer Sally Squires. This week, Sally talks about the holiday challenge -- ways to maintain your diet during the course of the holidays. Share your tips on healthy recipes, meal plans, sugar alternatives and resisting overeating with other readers.

On Tuesdays at 1 p.m. ET, Sally, who has a master's degree in nutrition from Columbia University, leads a lively discussion for readers looking for new ways to eat smarter and move around more throughout the day. The Lean Plate Club is dedicated to healthy living whether you're trying to whittle your waistline or simply maintain it.

Washington Post columnist Sally Squires

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_____Today's Column_____
To Lose Well, Think Positive (The Washington Post, Mar 22, 2005)
The Lean Plate Club

We want to hear your tips, strategies, meal plans, successes, setbacks and more. Of course Sally will be happy to answer questions and turn others over to the Club. None of this, however, is a substitute for medical advice.

Squires is a veteran health reporter for The Washington Post. She is co-author of "The Stoplight Diet for Children" and author of the upcoming "Secrets of the Lean Plate Club" (St. Martin's Press; 2005) Sign up for the free Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter. The Lean Plate Club column appears weekly in the Washington Post Health section and is nationally syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Sally Squires: Welcome to the Lean Plate Club. We're heading into week five of the Holiday Challenge. It's hard to believe that the days are flying by so fast.

In today's Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter, you'll find plenty of tips to help with your quest to hold the line on holiday weight gain. There are two fast soup recipes that will not only taste good, but also keep you full with fewer calories--just the thing to help keep that bathroom scale steady. You can subscribe to this free service at www.washingtonpost.com/leanplateclub. Today's issue also features some quick activities that will help you burn more calories, even if you are chained to your desk.

From 11 to 11:30 a.m. Friday, there's a special audio edition of the Lean Plate Club. Sure hope that some of you can join us.

I have holiday magnets ready to go in the mail to all who requested them last week. If you'd like one of these free magnets for extra inspiration during the holiday challenge, just e-mail me at leanplateclub@washpost.com

The freebies this week are:
The Fitness Kitchen by Shelly Sinton

Diabetic Dream Desserts by Sandra Woodruff, MS, RD

Travel Health by the Rough Guide

The Stress Cure by Vern Cherewatenko, MD and Paul Perry

As always here's the deal: tell us about how you're instilling health habits. Share your experience with the holiday challenge, tell us about a great food find, a healthy new recipe, a great way to workout. You get the idea. Do that and one of the volumes above could be yours. Winners are announced at the end of each web chat.

In making this offering we are not endorsing any exercise book, diet regimen or volume. Just showing you the wide range of information available as you instill healthier habits to achieve a healthier weight.

Finally, if you'd like to talk about your experience with the holiday challenge this year or in years past, please e-mail me at leanplateclub@washpost.com and please put challenge in the subject line.

Now on to the chat!

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Vienna, Va.: Sally,
How much should you work out during the week to keep weight down and stay healthy? Do you need to do 30 min. of cardio daily? What is a good workout regimen?

Sally Squires: Hey Vienna: The U.S. Surgeon General recommends that adults aim for about 30 minutes of physical activity on most days. Kids should aim for about 60 minutes. To lose weight, however, likely requires more activity for most. The National Academy of Sciences has suggested that many people need about 60 minutes daily for weight loss or to maintain significant weight loss. Cardio is always a good thing. But brisk walking--about 4 mph--is also good. And most experts now say that weight training is a really good idea for adults. Aim for two to three times weekly. Stretching and flexibility is also a good idea, since with age, our muscles shorten.


Main thing is to start small and be consistent. So you may want to begin with 10 minutes daily of brisk walking. Gradually increase.

Let us know how it goes.

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Anonymous: How low is too low when it comes to daily intake of calories? I've been doing weight watchers for what seems like forever, and I started playing around with the excel spreadsheet that calculates points that you e-mailed a while back. I just realized that 20 points per day (my points allowance) is only about 1,000 calories.

Is this too few calories? I'm a 25-year-old female, 145 lbs. but not very
active - exercise about 2x a week to a workout video. Would like to be 135
but I'm struggling and right now just taking your advice and working to
maintain over the holidays.

And if 1,000 calories is too little per day, could that be why I'm not
losing weight as quickly as I once did? Or why I tend to feel deprived, and
because of that I find myself "splurging" and going way over the target?

Thanks for your help

Sally Squires: It could indeed mean all of those things, Anonymous. One thousand calories is pretty low--and odds are at that level, you may have trouble meeting all the essential nutrients you require, especially for calcium.

Going so low can make your body think that you're starving. And that, in turn, can make it more difficult to shed the weight you're trying to lose. You don't provide your height, so I can't calculate your BMI. My question: is this 10 pounds something you want to do or something that you need to do?

And yes, boosting activity can not only help rev your metabolism, but also make it possible for your to eat A LITTLE (emphasis provided so you don't miss it) more.

At your weight, however, I'm betting that you can probably eat 1,200 calories and still see weight loss. (Generally if you take your weight and multiple x 10 = minimum calories, in your case about 1,400.) Adding at least a couple hundred of calories daily may also help you avoid the tendency to deprive yourself too much and then go way overboard when you feel really hungry.

Good luck with your efforts. Let us know how you do.

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Cincinnati, Ohio: Hi Sally,

To help fight stress and ward off the pounds that creep up during the holidays I have joined "Curves". It is a pleasant exercise program that I participate in during my lunch hour. That way I stay away from fast food, the crowds at the mall, and I get away from my desk. It only takes thirty minutes and it helps keep me stress free during this time of year.

Sally Squires: Great idea Cincinnatti. A number of LPCers have said that they enjoy this program very much. Thanks!

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Silver Spring, Md.: In order not to eat too much at parties or dinners, I make a bag of the 94% fat free microwave popcorn about an hour before I leave and eat half of the bag and drink a few glasses of water. It really fills you up and you don't feel like you need to eat the hors d'ouerves or chips and dips while waiting for dinner. You also feel full enough to have smaller portions.

I also make sure to get some club soda/sparkling water right away if it is "bar" type party or keep my water glass full if it is a sit down meal.

Sally Squires: Another smart strategy for keeping holiday appetites in check without feeling like you're depriving yourself. Sounds like a great plan. Thanks, Silver Spring.

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Baltimore, Md.: Help! The Holiday Challenge is getting harder as
Christmas nears. My gym is closing for a week. It's
been wet/cold for running/walking outdoors. The
holiday treats are pouring in at the office. And the
baking marathon is sooon to begin at home. Any
suggestions for staying focused through the home
stretch?

Sally Squires: Oh yeah, Baltimore. This is where the tough get going. And I know what you mean. I went to exercise at home only to discover we had workmen coming this morning to make some repairs. The best laid plans, right? This is why you need some backup strategies. And you're right, the fun, stress and pace is only going to quicken. It's kind of like playing one of those video games where you just have to move faster and faster. But...you can do this. In fact, we can all do this. We just have think smart and plan.

Bad weather and gym closings need not derail your efforts. So how about checking out exercise tapes from the video store? Leslie Sansone has some walking tapes that are supposed to be great. Or put on some music at home and dance away. Find an exercise buddy. LPCers enlist people in their families, colleagues and even folks far way (they stay in touch by e-mail.)

As for the baking marathon--get those goodies in tins or other containers where you won't be tempted to nosh all day long. Give away a lot of what you bake. (And in today's LPC e-mail newsletter you'll find some healthy recipes for food gifts that are easy to make.)

As for the parties--a snack beforehand is a great idea. Get plenty of sleep. It really does help eventhough it's so tempting to cut it short. And try the cookie jar suggestion in today's column from Marsha Hudnall at Green Mountain spa in Ludlow, Vt. It's really quite clever. Good luck and let us know how it goes...

Other suggestions out there?

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Washington, D.C.: Thank you for all of the helpful information on this chat and in the weekly column. The Holiday Challenge is a great source of new ideas for the holiday season and beyond.
I just wanted to post a great new snack recipe I found in Shape Magazine and made last night. I spread canned chickpeas (drained and dried) on a cookie sheet in a single layer and baked at 450 for 35 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally so that the chickpeas cook evenly. Remove from the oven when crispy, spray with a little bit of olive oil cooking spray, and salt or season to taste (I used old bay seasoning- yum!) The finished product reminds me of Corn Nuts but much healthier and a great substitute for chips. I'm going to make them again for a cocktail party we're having in a few weeks!

Sally Squires: Those sound great, DC. And they're a rich source of fiber, protein (which may help you feel full longer) and complex carbs--which won't spike your blood sugar as much as processed sugars. Thanks for the tip!

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Olney, Md.: Not a question but an observation- I recently had lunch with my middle school daughter. The difference between the kids who brought lunch and the buyers was striking. When a child can buy pizza and burgers every day they will get fat. Also, an interesting note. When you look at a school's menu for the day it is not complete. They sell Boardwalk Fries everyday which I see as the biggest contributor to much of the weight gain I saw. I saw one boy buy 2 containers! Parents- WAKE UP.!! You might just as well give your kids cigarettes. You are setting them up for a lifetime of serious health problems. Do you want to be responsible for your 30 year old having a heart attack because you could not say no to your child?

Sally Squires: All excellent points, Olney. And besides those high fat food choices, most kids also don't get enough physical activity. You know, just like for adults, it's all about finding the right balance. Thanks very much. Sounds like your daughter has a very caring mom.

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Anonymous: Need help fast! Any good tips on how to find a nutritionist?
I work out a lot but am a bit overweight and just found out that I can't have dairy...Time to call a pro!

Sally Squires: I do indeed. The American Dietetics Association offers a free service to find a registered dietitian in your zip code. Just go to www.eatright.org.

And by they way, the definition of a nutritionist can vary a lot from state to state. So you're likely better off asking for registered dietitian who specializes in weight control. Your doctor can also be a good source of recommendations to well regarded RD's. Good luck with your efforts.

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Washington, D.C.: For the person who asked about how much exercise is enough:
I recently read "The Weight Loss Diaries," by former Washingtonian Courtney Rubin. One of the points this book really drilled into me was that, no matter how much exercise we do, we always need to be mindful of how much we are eating. Courtney bravely describes her problems with binge eating during a weight loss regimen being monitored by Shape Magazine. She improved her fitness to the point that she was running marathons, yet she still struggled with her weight because her eating was so out of control. In the book, she expresses annoyance at well-intended comments such as "Wow, you must be able to eat whatever you want now that you're running!;" For her, and for most of us, this simply isn't true. Exercise, although indeed very important and beneficial, burns off fewer calories than many people believe.

Sally Squires: Absolutely, DC. And the reason that I emphasized those words A LITTLE. But exercise has plenty of other advantages including lowering blood pressure, helping to control blood cholesterol, improving mood, reducing stress, improving sleep...the list goes on and on. Thanks!

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Falls Church, Va.: Hi Sally,
I just wanted to relate what happened to me last Thanksgiving. I followed several of the LPC suggestions and they really worked!

I had an apple on the way to my brother-in-law's and sister-in-law's house. I had just a couple of tiny bites of a really good dip. I only used one plate and had only those things I really liked. I also had a 1/2 inch sliver of pumpkin pie. After dinner, we all went out for a half-hour walk. It was all wonderful, and I felt quite satisfied.

Best of all, when I weighed myself the next day, I had actually lost a pound. I continued to lose a bit more over the next couple of days as well. So the tips really do work.

Sally Squires: Way to go Falls Church! Sounds like you had a great day. If you have time after the chat, I'd love to hear more details. You--or anyone else who wants to chat about their Holiday Challenge experience can e-mail me at leanplateclub@washpost.com. Or call toll-free to 1-800-627-1150, ext. 45018. Thanks!

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Washington, D.C.: Hi--does anyone know the fate of the Total yogurt products? I miss them terribly. My favorite nutritious breakfast was 2% Total yogurt, (un)frozen organic strawberries, a little brown sugar, and toasted almonds--a great way to start the day!

Sally Squires: Hey DC: I think that they're back. I've been buying them again at Brookville Market, Trader Joe's and other places, although they had disappeared for a little while. They are delicious--and I have no financial interest or other connection with the company.

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Charlottesville, Va.: The person on weight watchers should make sure to eat at least a few of their "flex" points as well....If they want to stay on the diet and safely lose weight. Most people tend to lose more when they use them since they are less likely to binge at a later time if they feel fulfilled! You get 35 extra points a week, so that 1,500 additional calories can be divided up among days to give you at least 1200 calories a day to eat. You get more points for excersize as well, so get movin'! You'll shed those 10 pounds in no time!

Sally Squires: Good point Charlottesville. Wonder if the earlier poster knows that...Thanks!

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washingtonpost.com: Lean Plate Club Holiday Challenge Message Board

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Tip for Baltimore, Md.: For the poster in Baltimore with the gym closing for a week:
If you subscribe to Netflix, order some of the fitness DVDs. That way, you can try a new DVD every day, and even put elements from a few together each day to make up a unique routine. With Netflix, you get three DVDs at a time and can keep them for as long as you want. As soon as you send one back, they send you the next DVD on your list. Of course, you don't get the exercise of running to the video store to check out the videos, but it's fast, easy, and if you keep it up for more than a week and order several DVDs, a great deal. They have a really good selection- I've tried out several great fitness DVDs this way and just send them back when I'm ready for a change!
Another option- visit one of the local indoor swimming facilities. They all have open swim hours throughout the week.
Good luck!

Sally Squires: Wonderful suggestion. And by the way, I had a recent conversation with the owner of Collage Video, www.collagevideo.com, where you can view 60 seconds of various tapes. She says that interest in yoga is levelling off, but that Pilates is still strong and that interest is increasing in dance, which is kind of intriguing...Thanks for the great tip.

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Cambridge, Mass.: Hey Sally -

Just thought I'd share two "food substitutes" I've been using to help control calorie consumption. My first strategy is to make sure I have a bannana in my cereal with breakfast. The bannana makes my bowl look fuller even with less cereal in it, and it also is very filling. The other is that I've been using sandwich size pitas instead of bread when making my lunch sandwiches. A whole pita has less calories than even one slice of bread (at least on most of the bread that I've looked at.)

I've also been keeping a food diary in an excel spreadsheet I made for myself. I try to make some educated guesses about the amount of calories in the good I've eaten and it's really great to get a running total throughout the day.

Sally Squires: Great ideas, Cambridge. Sounds like you're really on a roll. Thanks very much.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Hi Sally. For the poster whose gym is closed for the week, I suggest finding another gym that's open, and join for a week-long "trial period." It might not be the most ethical thing to do (!), but maybe after that week, she'll decide she likes it better and switch. Either way, she'll get all the benefits of a gym- things you can't get doing at-home videos.

Sally Squires: Another option is simply to get one day passes to various gyms. It's another way to check out what else is out there. And my bet is that if the LPCer is honest about what he o she is doing, she might also find a sympathetic gym who will make some one week accomodations. Thanks

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washingtonpost.com: Lean Plate Club Holiday Challenge Message BoardSally Squires: Our producer, Eleanor Hong, reminds me that there is also a Lean Plate Club message board, which could also be an outlet for those moments when you're tempted to over do it with holiday celebrations...

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The habit of excercise: Hi Sally - In reference to your first answer today, I lost just over 60 pounds in 2002. I have kept it off and am maintaing with no excercise - completly against the odds on that. I really want to lose the last twenty, but I can't firgure out how to motivate myself, and I've had trouble finding a buddy. Do you have any suggestions here? Obviuosly - it's a failure of will on my part, but I can't figure out how to get over this almost three year hump.

Sally Squires: Congratulations on those 60 pounds! That's really impressive, as is the fact that you've maintained that weight loss for the past two years. You've really accomplished a lot.

But getting more active is a great next step, whether or not it results in trimming those extra 20 pounds. There are just more and more studies that underscore the health benefits of being and staying active. And no, you don't have to go to the gym. You just need to find things that you really enjoy. So from gardening and dancing to running or playing tennis or bowling--they're all great ways to get activity. When you have a chance, sit down and make a list of all the activities you enjoy doing. Then add to that list the things that you've always wanted to try. I'll bet that you've got a number of things that will get you going.

What you need is a schedule. It's not enough to say: I'll do more exercise. You have got to make the time---not find it. So block out just one time this week to do one of those activities on your list. Schedule a time. And then reward yourself for doing it. (Preferrrably not with food, but perhaps a new CD, a trip to the movies, etc. )And yes, a partner--a family member, friend, colleague--will help. You may be able to stand up an appt. with yourself, but odds are you won't if you're meeting someone else.

Let us know how it goes...Good luck!

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Anonymous: This is an observation rather than a question...This seems to be the season for recommending that all the news and health media recommends that people give away the fattening food. I'm wondering who is on the receiving end of all these wonderful, tempting cookies?

Sally Squires: I've thought about this too. If we all give it away, who gets it, but someone else, who is also trying to give away food too, right? So it becomes kind of a "fattening" cycle. Just another reason to focus on healthy foods for the holidays where possible and to enjoy the really fattening stuff--like egg nog--in moderation.

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Anonymous: During university I had a friend who worked in a bakery that sold all kinds of yummy stuff. In order to avoid gaining weight, she split everything she ate with a co-worker. I've been using that strategy this holiday. I choose only the best goodies and I have half. It's been mostly easy! In additon, before I go to a party or special dinner, I determine how many extras I will have. That sure makes me more choosy! I also lowered my "watch-out" weight number to 2 pounds over my usual weight. At that weight I go strictly back to fruits, veg, whole grains, milk, exercise and water. When I'm back to normal, then I can start eating a few more indulgences. I'm off to Switzerland for Xmas so I've avoided all chocolates so far, I'm waiting for the real thing!

Sally Squires: What a great plan! Hope you have a wonderful trip to Switzerland. Thanks! (And enjoy the chocolates--or half of them anyway!)

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Lake Ridge, Va.: When it comes to sweets (cakes, cookies, candy, chocolate, ice cream, etc.) I am like a heroin addict. I can't get enough. I finally had a life epiphany almost five weeks ago and I have changed my outlook on food. When I go out to eat, I only eat half the amount of food, I don't snack, etc. This is all working for me.

The big one is that I cut out all sweets. Period. In nearly five weeks, I haven't had a cookie crumb or a drip of ice cream. Last night I made holiday fudge and cookies and didn't put even a bit into my mouth. But I'm afraid that the total withdrawl will lead to a terrible binge. I don't feel like it will happen because I feel so in control. But I'm afraid that if I try to introduce it at all I'll be unable to say "only one cookie" or have any control (sliding back into old habits). I feel almost like an alcoholic in this regard - I just can't have the sweets period. Any advice?

Sally Squires: You know, a number of people have told me this, including Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Arkansas), who was diagnosed with adult onset diabetes and then lost more than 100 pounds. He said I'd rather say no to some foods than just a little. Some food and drink does seem to work like a trigger for some people. You may be one. If you're not missing those sweets now, that's great. If you decide to indulge in some, I'd suggest that you do it on a full stomach and have a pre-measured portion available (with no room for more) to help control any unexpected urges...Thanks!

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Washington, D.C.: Keeping on track through the holidays - I don't belong to a gym, and as it gets colder, I find it harder to get exercise outdoors. When you add in all of the extra food that's being thrown at me, it can be hard to maintain weight. I find that planning ahead is a good plan - knowing in advance what days/meals I'll be subject to temptation, and adjusting the other meals/days accordingly.

Sally Squires: Right on, DC. Planning is one way to really stay in control. And it may help some to simply think one meal ahead. So when you're full from lunch, contemplate what you're going to have for dinner. After dinner, think about what you'll have for breakfast. And where possible, if you can pack the next meal especially when you're on the run, you'll be more apt to eat healthfully and control portions (and frankly, costs.) Thanks!

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Corvallis, Ore.: I've found that one of the easier ways for me to survive this season without blowing my diet is to give myself permission to take a taste of anything I want. If the item isn't part of a meal, then all I get is one small taste. This is enough for me say "Oh, this is just marvelous!"...while usually thinking 'too salty, too greasy...not really tasty, and not worth the calories.' And this year, I hung a small mirror on my freezer door. I want to preserve my current look...so the mirror helps a lot. And Sally, your column is fantastic. I really enjoy the input from all over the country.

Sally Squires: Yes, and isn't it intesting how powerful a taste can be? Often, we really don't want a whole serving of something, but eat it because it's in front of us. Of course, it's also easy to take that taste thing too far too--as in I'll just have a taste of this pie, well maybe just one more...you know...Thanks!

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Central America: Hey Sally - I love your chats. Just wanted to put in a friendly reminder that everyone should get a physical regularly. I consider myself a healthy mid 20s woman so I was surprised when I was recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Anyway, it was a wake up call to me to make "being healthy" a priority for 2005!;

Sally Squires: Sorry to hear about that Central America. But it's great that you've discovered this condition early and can take steps to keep it in control. And you're right, let's give yeat another vote to more physical activity. Too many of us--me included--wind up sitting for way too much of the day. I for one, am heading to my plan B for today--the gym, sinc my morning workout didn't, er, work out!

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Falls Church, Va.: A little while ago, I decided to stop drinking soda all the time. I went from sometimes 2-3 cans of soda a day to about once every two weeks. I'm not big on really "dieting", but I figured that this was a pretty easy change that would definitely help me. I've started drinking more juice at home... I was wondering what you thought are the "best" (i.e., "healthiest") kinds of fruit juice? I know juice can still have a lot of calories, so I try to not overdo it.

Sally Squires: Good for you for making that smart change, Falls Church. But you're right, juice is a calorie dense, so you do want to go easy on it. In fact, a serving of juice is actually just 6 ounces--just a fraction of the bottles that are sold. And many juices also come with added sugar, making them little different from a regular soft drink.

What you might consider is diluting that juice with some seltzer or soda water and a slice of lime or lemon. You can also buy unsweetened juices, including cranberry--but warning, it's pretty tart. I use it to make smoothies without added sugar.

And you know, just plain water is a great thing to sip. And the National Acdemy of Sciences notes that coffee, tea, milk, etc. all count towards the water we need daily, as do soups. If you don't want to overdose on caffeine, just reach for the decaf...Thanks!

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washingtonpost.com: Lean Plate Club Holiday Challenge Live Call-In Show on Friday, Dec. 17, at 11 a.m. ET. Sally Squires: A reminder that there will be a special audio edition of the Lean Plate Club web chat on Friday, from 11 to 11:30 a.m. EST. This gives us an opportunity to actually, well, chat live. Hope some of you can join us.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Sally! I will be going to a few parties this season and I need some advice about alcohol consumption. I enjoy having about 2-3 drinks in an evening. It's an amount that isn't excessive but still makes me feel...uh...festive. What are the lowest calorie drinks? I used to love bourbon and Coke, but ever since I switched to diet sodas, I can't stand bourbon with diet coke. What else is there that still packs a punch, but not to my waistline?

Sally Squires: Hey DC: Here's what the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Scientific Committee says about alcohol consumption--no more than one drink a day for women; no more than two drinks per day for men. So what's a drink? A 12 ounce bottle of beer, 6 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. (And no, you're not supposed to be teetotaler all week long and then binge on the weekends either.)

Wine spritzers are one way to sip your wine and not do too much damage to your waistline. Go ahead, have that bourbon and regular Coke, but make it just one. And when you do drink, have your alcohol with food--not before it--to help slow absorption. And I'm sure I don't need to add being careful about not drinking and driving, but I will anyway! Cheers!

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Rockville, Md.: My biggest challenge is buffets - potlucks, etc. I feel like I need to have some of everything. Even if the portions are relatively small, if there are lots of good things, it's still too much. When I thought about it a bit, I realized I feel an obligation to "honor" each different food by eating it - as if the food cared! Now hopefully I can laugh at my silliness and break the habit.

Sally Squires: Isn't it amazing the thinking that goes on. Sounds like you really figured out a good insight into your appetite. Bet it will help others too. Thanks!

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Bethesda, Md.: This truly is the season of plentiful and fattening food in the office. Right now, there are 2 pies in the break room, candy in at least 3 offices I can think of, and a spice cake 4 doors down from me. I'm a complete sucker for dessert, so its always tough for me to just walk on by.

This season, I've decided to reward myself for just saying no but treating myself to yummy -- but low calorie -- carry-out lunches. (I generally bring my lunch, but have decided that its worth the extra money if I can avoid the extra calories).

Sally Squires: That's a great strategy, Bethesda. And good for you for avoiding temptation. This week, I recalled something that someone said on a recent chat. You never regret a workout. I'd amend that to say that you never really regret saying no to something that will expand your waistline. It's just sometimes hard to remember that at the moment... Thanks

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Richmond, Va.: A suggestion and a question:

I have maintained a slow weight loss of about 50 pounds for a year and a half. Often times, I can't predict how late I will need to stay at work, and I find that keeping individual bags of nuts in my work desk very helpful. Planter's sells some (unsalted) with 2 servings in them, ~320 calories, unsalted. I enjoy the bags of walnuts, which I have also heard have a high antioxidant content. Eating a bag while I'm working late helps to keep me from pigging out on a late and large dinner when I arrive home.

My question is this: I'm having trouble keeping my calcium consumption up, and I'm interested in taking a supplement. However, in the past I've found calcium carbonate to cause indigestion -- and I've heard that this isn't uncommon. Could anyone offer advice as to where I might be able to buy another form of calcium that might be more digestible?

Sally Squires: Good for you on those 50 pounds! That's awesome. I was going to recommend Viactiv but it has calcium carbonate. Caltrate is another brand that I've found helpful, but it's got the same thing. Havne't been able to see the ingredient list for Tums.

Have you tried taking calcium supplements with food? That's actually the best way to absorb calcium carbonate. If you haven't tried that, you might see if it helps. Bed-time can also be a easier time to take them. Of course, you can also boost food sources including nonfat dairy products. And you'll find more info about calcium supplements at the National Osteoporosis Foundation (www.nof.org) Calcium citrate may also be a form that is easier for you to absorb. Hope that helps. Thanks!

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North Bethesda, Md.: Sally, I'm with Lake Ridge Va. -- I'm a foodaholic when it comes to certain foods. I manage to (mostly) control urges by not keeping those foods around, or if I must have them in the house for my husband, I keep them out of my sight in the basement. Doing my regular holiday gift baking, I package up everything and ship it as soon as possible, and the extras are sent to my husband's office for them to enjoy.

For the person who also said "who's on the receiving end of these goodies," most of my family has given up making cookies since they know I'll be sending them around. I even make brownies with fructose instead of cane sugar for my dad and my brother who are both type 2 diabetics.

My personal strategies, now that I'm in my 3rd year of the challenge: keep fruit on the counter (2 pieces, both of which must be gone before dinner), keep exercising (I now do water fitness twice a week, and the pool will be open even if classes are not in session), and weigh-in daily so I can catch any upswing early. Soups make a marvelous lunch, especially on days like today.

Sally Squires: Way to go North Bethesda. And yes, this really is a great soup day here in DC. Mine was from our cafeteria and it was roasted chicken with portobellow mushrooms. Delicious--and very filling...Thanks for all the tips.

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Carlisle, Pa.: I decided last week to put my mind to controlling my calories and exercising. I'm a 30 y-o, 180-lb, 5'9" male. I have set as my benchmarks 1600 calories/day, exercising at least 4x/week (30 mins on stationary bike, 15-lb dumbbell exercises, and situps). I would like to lose about 20 lbs. My question is whether I am insane for starting such a program in December. Should I just work to stick with the plan as many days as possible, with selective reasonable indulgences ? Also, do you think my calorie count is too low? I read that my metabolic rate would have me burning 2500 cal/day, so that would be more than 1 lb/week.

Sally Squires: I think you've answered your own question, Carlisle. December is a very tough time to start a diet. So focus on the healthy habits that you can adhere to at this time of year and just try to maintain your weight. And yes, go ahead and start with those 1,600 calories, but you may want to give yourself a little wiggle room, especially if you adhere to the physical activity. Good luck with your efforts (hopefully begun after the holidays) and let us know how it goes. Thanks!

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Washington, D.C.: Sally:
Please remind all the LPCers that the key to weight loss is to master the three legs of the fitness stool:

weight training - cranks up the metabolism
cardio training - burns up the fat
nutrition - eat the right things to feed the machine!;

Taking care of just one is not enough!;

Sally Squires: Well said, DC. Thanks!

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Sally Squires: We're out of time folks. Thanks as always for a great chat. If you have time on Friday at 11 a.m. EST join us for a live, special edition audio Lean Plate Club web chat. Winners this week are: Silver Spring (for the popcorn idea),Carlisle, DC for the garbanzo bean recipe; and the LPCer who suggested Netflix. Please e-mail me with your snail mail address to leanplateclub@washpost.com and please include winner in the subject line.

Until Friday at 11 a.m., eat smart and move more with the Lean Plate Club. Happy Holidays everybody!

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washingtonpost.com: Lean Plate Club Holiday Challenge Live Call-In Show on Friday, Dec. 17, at 11 a.m. ET.

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