Lean Plate Club

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Sally Squires
Washington Post Health and Nutrition Writer
Tuesday, November 20, 2007; 1:00 PM

Confused about nutrition? Wondering how to fit in more physical activity? Welcome to the Lean Plate Club. Ask Sally Squires, nationally syndicated Lean Plate Club columnist for the Washington Post, about eating smart and moving more every Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET. Sally draws upon her master's degree in nutrition from Columbia University to preside over the lively Lean Plate Club web chat. Whether you're trying to reach a healthier weight or simply maintain it, you'll find plenty of tips and strategies.

Share your own food finds, creative workouts and secrets for healthy, great tasting meals. We'll cheer your successes and help with your setbacks. (None of this, of course, is a substitute for medical advice.) E-mail Sally, author of the newly published Secrets of the Lean Plate Club (St. Martin's Press) at leanplateclub@washpost.com.

Or just sign up for the free Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter. The Lean Plate Club column appears Tuesdays in the Washington Post Health section and is nationally syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group. Find other Lean Plate Club members at www.frappr.com/leanplateclub.

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Discussion Transcripts

A transcript follows.

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Sally Squires: Welcome to the Lean Plate Club from Tennessee! I'm coming to you remotely through an air card and a laptop while we travel to Atlanta for Thanksgiving. (And no, I'm not driving as I write this!)

Today, begins the 7th Annual Lean Plate Club Holiday Challenge. Let me quickly note that that the challenge isn't about losing weight. What fun would that be during the holidays?

Instead, it's simply designed to help you maintain your weight from now until New Year's. Just do that, and you'll likely be ahead of the curve when 2008 arrives, since the next 5 weeks are filled with lots of temptation that can add up to extra pounds.

Also, a warm elcome to 13 new, newspaper subscribers who have joined our ranks in the last two weeks. See the latest list in today's LPC e-maoil newsletter. (If you'd like to also read the Lean Plate Club in your hometown newspaper, just send me an e-mail to leanplateclub@washpost.com.)

This week's e-mail newsletter is filled with links to healthy recipes for Thanksgiving and for making good use of those leftovers. If you don't yet subscribe to this free, weekly service--nearly 280,000 people do--sign up at our home page at www.leanplateclub.com. There you'll also find a new feature: Lean Plate Club Bites--a way for us to stay in touch daily. I post news and tips and there's a place for you to weigh-in daily too.

Last week, I got a chance to meet many of you in person at two events: the ExxonMobil Spouses Luncheon and the Alliance for a Healthy Workplace meeting. I really enjoyed seeing you all.

Get our your digital cameras and cell phones. I'm looking for pictures of the tempting food that you encounter on Thanksgiving day. Also, I'd love to see photos of the healthful fare that you fix as well as creative ways to burn those extra calories. If we use your photo or idea in an upcoming column, newsletter or on the Web site, there are some free prizes in it for you.

Speaking of which, today's Web chat prizes include some new workout DVDs and Foogo containers--good for keeping food warm or cold for up to six hours. They can help you pack some healthy, great tasting alternatives to help you stay on track by eating smart during the holidays.

Now on to the chat!

Sally Squires: Welcome to the Lean Plate Club from Tennessee! I'm coming to you remotely through an air card and a laptop while we travel to Atlanta for Thanksgiving. (And no, I'm not driving as I write this!)

Today, begins the 7th Annual Lean Plate Club Holiday Challenge. Let me quickly note that that the challenge isn't about losing weight. What fun would that be during the holidays?

Instead, it's simply designed to help you maintain your weight from now until New Year's. Just do that, and you'll likely be ahead of the curve when 2008 arrives, since the next 5 weeks are filled with lots of temptation that can add up to extra pounds.

Also, a warm elcome to 13 new, newspaper subscribers who have joined our ranks in the last two weeks. See the latest list in today's LPC e-maoil newsletter. (If you'd like to also read the Lean Plate Club in your hometown newspaper, just send me an e-mail to leanplateclub@washpost.com.)

This week's e-mail newsletter is filled with links to healthy recipes for Thanksgiving and for making good use of those leftovers. If you don't yet subscribe to this free, weekly service--nearly 280,000 people do--sign up at our home page at www.leanplateclub.com. There you'll also find a new feature: Lean Plate Club Bites--a way for us to stay in touch daily. I post news and tips and there's a place for you to weigh-in daily too.

Last week, I got a chance to meet many of you in person at two events: the ExxonMobil Spouses Luncheon and the Alliance for a Healthy Workplace meeting. I really enjoyed seeing you all.

Get our your digital cameras and cell phones. I'm looking for pictures of the tempting food that you encounter on Thanksgiving day. Also, I'd love to see photos of the healthful fare that you fix as well as creative ways to burn those extra calories. If we use your photo or idea in an upcoming column, newsletter or on the Web site, there are some free prizes in it for you.

Speaking of which, today's Web chat prizes include some new workout DVDs and Foogo containers--good for keeping food warm or cold for up to six hours. They can help you pack some healthy, great tasting alternatives to help you stay on track by eating smart during the holidays.

Now on to the chat!

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Madison, Wisc.: Hi Sally,

The LPC holiday challenge couldn't have come at a better time! I'm alone in my office (usually shared with several others), except for some delicious brownies my co-worker brought in. Thinking about the challenge is really helping me resist them today. So thanks for all of your helpful columns and chats!

Sally Squires: You're quite welcome, Madison. I thought of the Holiday Challenge myself when we just stopped for lunch at a local Subway en route to Atlanta. My husband and I split a sandwich--one small step...one meal at a time...I also packed my walking shoes for some serious walks this weekend. What's everybody else doing?

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washingtonpost.com: Holiday Challenge

Sally Squires: By the way, here's the homepage for the Holiday Challenge. Thanks as always to our producer Paul Williams for keeping us on track!

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washingtonpost.com: Lean Plate Club Group page

Sally Squires: And here's an easy link to the new Lean Plate Club Bites page where we can stay in contact during the week and you can keep us apprised of your successes and struggles!

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Omaha, Neb.: Hey Sally - do squashes "count" as vegetables, or are they really starchy like potatoes? I have this fantastic pasta dish, whole wheat pasta, ricotta cheese, and your choice for squash (I've been using butternut and acorn). I love it, but have been wondering if the squash and pasta is very balanced, or if I'm overdoing the carbs with little veggie payoff. Thanks, and Happy Turkey Day in advance!

Sally Squires: Sally Squires: Squash is indeed a veggie--and filled with wonderful nutrients, including beta carotene (converted in the body to vitamin A), potassium and fiber. And did I mention that it's not only filled with flavor, but is low in calories?

How low? A cup of spaghetti squash has just 42 calories. Compare thast to 1 cup of cooked spaghetti which packs 221 calories.

I've been making lots of squash this fall, from butternut squash to spaghetti squash. My family has been enjoying every bite (including the dog!)

So yes, reach for that squash in all kinds of varieties. And by the way, it's easy to cook in the microwave or in the oven.

Happy Thanksgiving to you too.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi Sally and Happy Thanksgiving in advance!

Any recommendations for "car snacks" for a drive to New England tomorrow? I don't want to end up polishing off a bag of potato chips the day before Thanksgiving! We also tend to stuff ourselves on Trader Joe's good-but-not-in-excess nuts/seeds/dried fruits mixes.

Any favorite not-too-messy car munchies that will satisfy but not stuff us, even if we eat too many while stuck in traffic? (Oh, and not spoil, if the trip lasts 10 hours and we don't end up finishing 'em...)

Thanks Sally!

Sally Squires: As a matter of fact, I packed a bunch of stuff for this trip. Veggies can keep you going for the beginning of the trip. Baby carrots, celery spears, some of those mini peppers, slice radishes are all really great. I usually pack a small bag with frozen cold packs. Mini containers of yogurt and string cheese will also keep this way.

Tribe now makes mini containers of hummus and crackers, but you could also fix your own with some of those small disposable containers. If you're heading to Trader Joe's, there's also a good cilantro yogurt dip that is quite low in calories. Salsa is another tasty and low-cal option.

You're right about that trail mix being pretty high in calories. (But it is good, isn't it?) So you may want to quickly toss together your own trail mix in disposable bags. Whole grain cereal--bite size shreeded wheat, Cheerios, Bran flakes are great. Toss in some raisins and a few slivered nuts and you're good to go.

Turkey, salmon or beef jerky are high protein options that are shelf stable (And certainly keep your mouth busy chewing!) Even those peanut crackers are not a bad choice. Or make your own with whole grain crackers and peanut butter.

If you plan to eat them within an hour or two, string cheese would be another wise option. If you have a cold container, then you can keep them even longer.

And energy bars are another natural for the car. Larabars are my favorite. But Kashi also makes some great bars that aren't really high in sugar, fat or calories.

And we have some wonderful Honey Crips apples and a couple of babanas along too. It never hurts to have some sugarless gum along either as well as some bottled water. Safe travels! (And you might check our home-page for other healthful snacks. We did a round-up and taste test when school started.

Other suggestions out there? (And it's really interesting writing from the car through Knoxville traffic!)

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butternut squash: Hi Sally,

I bought some pre-peeled and cut butternut squash to make a butternut squash soup, which was very good. But I bought too much and still have a package of the squash left over. Do you have any suggestions on what I can use it for? Thanks.

Sally Squires: Yep. Roast it, mash and eat it as a side dish Got a with a little healthful margarine, such as Take Conrol, Benecol or Smart Balance. You could add raisins or dates and a few nuts. (Yum)You could turn it into squash "latkes" or small pancakes. The possibilities go on and on.

Other suggestions out there? You know what to do!

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Fairfax, Va.: Quick comment on the couch-to-5K running program. This is a good program that works! I ran my first 5K a few weeks ago. It was a great experience and I have such a sense of accomplishment. I'm running my first turkey trot this Thursday, not to mention feel much better cardiovascularly and have more energy to play with my kids!

Give it a go if you have been on the fence, it does get you in shape and make you feel better.

Sally Squires: Thanks for that input. It really does sound like a helpful program to gradually get more active. This weekend, I went back to some Firm tapes that I hadn't done in a while. It felt really fresh to rediscover them again.

What are others doing for activity? And for those who live in the DC area, Howard Schneider and Vicky Hallet of the Misfits plan a walk in early December. Stay tuned for details.

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Chantilly, Va.: Hi Sally!

I wanted to share my tip for resisting holiday food temptations. Delayed gratification -- I don't deny myself the goodies I want, I just tell myself I'll wait 5 minutes before I put any on my plate (or if I'm home alone, get any out of the fridge...).

I know it's incredibly simple and it's nothing new, but it really works for me. After the 5 minutes are up, I've often forgotten that I wanted those sugary, fatty calories in the first place. If I still want it, I'll have some (or go for another 5 minute delay if I'm really trying to avoid it!). This ends up saving me tons of calories -- and leaving me truly satisfied when I do have treats, instead of feeling like a glutton.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sally Squires: Delayed gratification is a great way to stop and avoid mindless eating. Speaking of which, the author of Mindless Eating, Brian Wansink, PhD., of Cornell, has just been named to head the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy Promotion. It will be interesting to see what he plans to do here in Washington.

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Rockville, Md.: So my husband and I checked out Dr. Oz's book from the library, "You! on a Diet" (I don't know him or profit from the book). I really liked it. I mean, a lot of stuff is pretty obvious, but its complied well and we started following the diet which is easy and healthy. Also, since we're both following it together, that really helps. I've dropped a couple of pounds in the first week already.

Sally Squires: Good for you Rockville. That book has gotten great reviews and for the sake of full disclosure, I need to say here that Dr. Oz was very kind in giving me a great blurb for Secrets of the Lean Plate Club, which I wrote with help from all of you. I hope you'll keep us apprised of your progress. Thanks!

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Still not Restin', Va.: Hi Sally, I wrote in about 2 months ago asking about calorie trackers online, and had just started the "couch to 5K" running plan. Well, I've lost about 8 pounds now, husband has lost more than 15, and we found a great way to track our calorie intake. We made our own spreadsheet, tracking calories, fat grams, sodium and fiber. Each of us had our own "tab," with added tabs for frequently used food items, and other useful info. We added the necessary formulas to add up and calculate percentages of what we were eating. Then we uploaded it to Google docs (docs.google.com) where we could both look at it and edit it through out the day, regardless of where we were. It worked out great. Now we're at the point where we don't need to track calories every day, having learned and gotten used to smaller portions and smarter choices.

And, I ran for 20 minutes today, which I haven't done since high school!

Sally Squires: Congratulations! That all sounds wonderful. And you've given us an inspiring example of how small changes can add up to big rewards. Tracking what you eat is extremely important to weight maintenance--the goal of the holiday challenge. So these on-line tools are also great for that too. Continued success to you. Hope you'll keep us apprised of how it goes. Thanks!

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McLean, Va.: Hi Sally! I'm supposed to bring a sweet potato dish for Thanksgiving at my boyfriend's family's. They like sweet with lots of butter and sugar. I like that, too, but it doesn't work so well with the Holiday Challenge. Do you (or any of the chatters) have any suggestions for lightening up a sweet sweet potato dish that will please us all? Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!

Sally Squires: I believe that there's a link to just such a recipe in today's e-mail newsletter. And if I am misremembering, then you might check the Food Sections guide on Sunday (also available on line.) I simply bake sweet potatoes and then add some orange juice, cinammon, salt and pepper and other favorite spices. Most chefs will cringe, but my family also doesn't think it's Thanksgiving unless some of the sweet potatoes come with a few marshmallows on top!

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Annandale, Va.: I was worried about the holidays last year and joined a gym on Oct. 28. Probably should have done it 25 years ago (I was 50 at time I joined). But I was pretty motivated and have stuck with it. Instead of gaining a couple pounds over the holidays I stayed even as I increased activity. Then through the year I slowly lost a little weight, probably the first year I've ever had a loss. I never gained a lot in one year, but a couple pounds turns into 20 before you know it.

Sally Squires: It sure does Annandale. And as others have pointed out on this chat, if you plan to make more activity a New Year's Resolution for 2008, now is a great time to ease into that activity. It's why the activity goal for week 1 is to add 10 minutes more of exercise beyond what you do now.

Remember exercise--even just walking--is a very effective stress reducer too, something that most of us also need this time of year! (And when you're working out, you're likely NOT eating. :-)

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Friendly, Md.: How I cope with the holiday goodies? I cook so much of it that I am sick of it. You don't want to taste cookies if you have 100 to bake plus several cakes and brownies. Once you are in a factory mode it is no longer appetizing and heaven knows you don't want anyone else's dessert. You will devour anything that is a leafy green.

Sally Squires: Now there's a refreshing approach! Thanks.

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Fairfax, Va.: Sally, do you think it's healthier (or better for the body) to eat something that is "fat free" or "sugar free" that contains many chemicals to make it that way, or to have some of the real thing? Specifically, talking about ice cream. I'm trying to make more nutritious choices and try not to eat anything too processed, but it's hard to pass up lower fat and calories. But the long list of chemicals in the ingredients scares me too!

Sally Squires: There's no right or wrong here, simply what works best for your daily regimen and what appeals most to your taste preferences. So if it helps you to stay on track with other healthful food by eating a scoop or two of ice cream (either low fat or low fat and sugar-free) then go for it. You might add some fresh or frozen fruit on top and a few slivers of nuts. (Emphasis again on the few!)

Keep looking at the big picture. That's what matters most.

Hope that helps.

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Rockville, Md.: Many articles come out this time of year warning that the average Thanksgiving dinner clocks in at anywhere from 2,000 to 7,100 calories (that last estimate from a weight-loss company called Health Management Resources). I'd like to know these sources consider "average" (and whether it's physically possible to consume 7,100 calories in one sitting). I eat small to moderate portions of all my favorites and don't go back for seconds, and I don't worry about the calories. Do you really think one meal out of the year can be the primrose path to disaster for dieters?

Sally Squires: Nope. I don't. And if you have regulars portions of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, you will likely consume about 1,000 calories. (Yes, that number goes up with seconds or heaping portions. Today's column has more details.)

But even if one did pig out and eat 7,100 calories, you'd feel very full of course, but it's still adds up to just about two pounds. And much of that will be water weight. So even if you have trouble holding a reasonable course on Thanksgiving, the best thing to do is to get back on track the next day starting with a healthy breakfast.

Thanks for weighing in.

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yams: I'm trying a new recipe this year where you bake them in a can of ginger ale.

I was attracted to the savory addition. Yams are SO sweet on their own, I've never wanted to add more sugar. I'm intrigued about adding some zip without making it syrupy sweet.

Sally Squires: That's intriguing, although that ginger ale will add more augar to those yams. If you can find Jones Ginger Ale, it's not quite as sweet as standard varieties. Orf just try making a batch with slices of ginger. No added sugar with that. But there will be plenty of flavor. Happy cooking.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hey Sally, don't forget to drink lots of water during your flight!

I was wondering: Is exercise more effective if you do it before or after you eat? I was wondering how and your body uses the fuel you already have stored, or if it will use the fuel you will eat.

Happy Turkey Day!

Sally Squires: I'm so glad you asked. (And just for the record, we're in the car, not on the plane, but I'm still drinking plenty of H2O because it's quite warm here in Tenn.)

In today's Health section, I teamed with Brenna Maloney to do a piece and graphic on what happens to food when you digest it. Credit for the idea goes to Health Editor Frances Sellers. We'll try to post a link in a minute.

Limited activity is recommended after eating because your digestive tract needs a good blood supply. But a leisurely walk is a great idea. And it doesn't hurt to burn more caloires today, tomorrow and Thursday morning before eating all that food!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Greensboro, N.C.: I'm 5-7 and 150 pounds. I feel fit and trim -- in fact, when I dropped below 145 I stopped having periods -- but the body mass index chart says I could drop another 30 pounds. What's up with that?

Sally Squires: I think you may be miscalculating, Greensboro> I just plugged your numbers into the NLHBI BMI calculator and you're at a healthy BMI of 23.5.

We'll post a link in a minute so you can do the numbers yourself.

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washingtonpost.com: Chew on This (Washington Post, Nov. 20)

Sally Squires: As promised, here's the digestion article and graphic.

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Health Swap: So I was just talking to a coworker and had an awesome idea. I was offering to give her some of my old Pilates videos because I've used them so many times that I basically know the workouts by heart, and she's having a hard time getting started with a home workout.

So my idea is having a holiday (or anytime) health swap. We all have nutrition books, exercise videos, and such, that we've either already read/watched dozens of times, or have outgrown. But they are clutter when we think about getting something new. Wouldn't it be great if we could get together with our friends, family, and/or coworkers to trade these books and videos? What is old news to me might be exciting for someone else. Maybe I've done every Gaiam Pilates video under the sun, but a friend has TaeBo.

And it would be great to do at the holidays (or in late spring) so we have new and exciting books and workouts to motivate us to stay healthy and active over the holiday break (or motivate us to get active as bikini season starts).

Sally Squires: This is a great idea. And in fact, I participated in something similar with the old Firm Website. But this is easy to do with family, friends and colleagues right now. And let's try using the new Lean Plate Club Bites site as a place to offer these swaps. What do you think?

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Philadelphia: Hey ice cream lover in Fairfax! Personally, I think "the real stuff" (either ice cream or frozen yogurt) is "healthier" than the low-fat varieties, because of ingredients. But I don't eat either ice cream or frozen yogurt very often, in part so I can treat myself to the real stuff. Can I suggest that you make your own? That way, you can control everything going into it, and it really isn't that difficult to do - there are lots of instructions online about how to do it, ranging from using really fancy (and expensive) ice cream makers to using rock salt and shaking, shaking, shaking a container! And if you're shaking something vigorous for 15-20 minutes or so, you're also burning calories. Not a lot, but perhaps enough that you can add a smidge of chocolate to your frozen berry vanilla ice cream.

Sally Squires: Great idea! Here's a simple way to make sorbet. Take a can of fruit in lite syrup or in juice. Put it in your freezer. Then open it and put it through a food blender. Voila! Instant sorbet. You can do much the same with frozen unsweetened fruit and then add a little sweetener as desired.

Thanks for weighing in!

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Squash suggestions: Risotto, lasagna, stuffed squash, squash oatmeal, thai pumpkin sauce, squash soup, pie, pumpkin bread/muffins/cookies -

I've been baking a lot of squash!

Sally Squires: Yes, of course! Great suggestion. Thanks!

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washingtonpost.com: Calculate Your BMI

Sally Squires: As promised...

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Arlington, Va.: Hi, Sally. I've never had a lot of luck with dieting, but making small changes in my diet has led to big results. At the beginning of the year I cut out high fructose corn syrup from my diet, started drinking more water, and started exercising between 20-30 minutes, 5 days a week and I lost 25 pounds in 4 months. Right now I'm working on maintaining my weight. One thing that I'm concerned about is the amount of sugar I eat. For breakfast, I like to eat cereal mixed in yogurt. I really enjoy the Kashi brand cereals and Dannon Naturals Vanilla yogurt (no affiliation with the companies), but I noticed that there are 33 grams of sugar in the yogurt and 10 in the cereal. I'm trying to switch to plain yogurt, but I don't really like it. I'm starting by mixing it with the vanilla. For the cereal, how many grams of sugar is a "good" amount? What should I be looking for? Any other tips for making plain yogurt taste better? Thanks!

Sally Squires: First, congratulations on what you've accomplished. You're an inspiring example of how small changes can add up big time.

Second, much of those sugars in the yogurt, are likely not added. They're probably from lactose, a naturally occuring sugar in milk and milk products that is not sweet and doesn't have the same effect on blood sugar as sucrose (table sugar) or other sugars.

But you could likely tweak what you eat to reduce added sugar. So if you really love that Kashi cereal consider mixing it with another unsweetened cereal. Or alternate with oatmeal or shredded wheat or other varieties of cereal sans added sugars.

Ditto for the yogurt. You might have your favorite every other day. Or switch to a plain yogurt and add vanilla and a little dab of honey or fruit for flavor. (I'm a huge fan of Greek style Total yogurt. The nonfat variety tastes fluffly and rich and I have no financial connection with the company.)

Hope that helps.

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re: when I dropped below 145 I stopped having periods: it was probably due to the nutrition void from starving yourself to get down to 145, rather than directly because of that weight.

Sally Squires: Well, especially because she is already at a healthy weight!

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washingtonpost.com: Sally lost her Internet connection, but called in the winners for this week -- Madison, Fairfax for the 5k running program, Chantilly, Still not Restin' and Annandale. E-mail me at leanplateclub@post.com. Thanks for the questions and have a great Thanksgiving.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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