Ask the MisFits

Vicky Hallett
Washington Post Health Section
Tuesday, December 23, 2008 11:00 AM

Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider are the MisFits, The Post's fitness writers. No exercise question is too odd or embarrassing for them to answer. Vicky was online Tuesday, Dec. 23 to offer advice about working out and getting (or staying) healthy.

A transcript follows.

Discussion Archive.

MisFits Archive.


Vicky Hallett: Morning everybody! Howard is off doing whatever he does when he's too busy to hang out with us, so you're stuck with just me today. But I'm ready to chat about last-minute fitness gifts, how to convince your family to spend at least part of the holiday doing something active (did you see the 12 Days Workout in today's paper?) and, of course, any early New Year's resolutions issues. And away we go...


Baltimore, Md.: Hi Misfits!

I love running in the cold weather, but today (Monday)'s weather is making me wonder if I'm protecting myself correctly from the elements as I have a 6 am run scheduled for tomorrow.

I generally don't get any chest pain/trouble breathing, and usually warm up and am comfortable soon after beginning my run. I wear running tights, a cold weather/wicking shirt and wind-proof jacket, gloves and hat. As long as I'm warm enough while active, is there any reason to add layers? Or are there any other tips you have for cold-weather runs?


Vicky Hallett: As long as you're feeling fine, that's what's most important. The biggest concern when running outside in the winter is that you'll get wet from sweat and then stop moving, which is when the cold can be really dangerous. And I'm always a fan of keeping extremities covered, but you seem to be doing that already.

If you're running at 6 a.m. at this time of year, the other thing on your mind should be making sure you're visible. Is that wind-proof jacket reflective?

And more power to you. Running at 6 a.m. in 15 degree weather. Wow. I was definitely in my toasty gym this morning.


Random question: So, I know this isn't quite up your alley, but I don't know who else to ask. I have noticed lately that I have been a lot more gassy. Mostly in the form of burping, but also farting a bit more. I mean, sometimes I will go into serious fits of burping. And it's gross. I haven't made any noticeable changes to my diet lately. I try to drink a lot of water, have at least one coffee per week day, with 1 diet soda at most. Also drink green tea. Eat lots of sandwiches, soups, fruits, veggies. Love cheese.

Any suggestions how to get rid of this? Are there foods I should minimize? Medicines I can take?

Vicky Hallett: Perhaps this isn't my main area of MisFits expertise, but I'm thinking I've found the culprit: cheese. One of my freshman year roommates basically lived on cheese and you couldn't come near her without a whiff of fart. Luckily, I never had to share a bedroom with her.

Anyway, my point is dairy doesn't always agree with people...

You could try limiting that (and carbonated beverages) and see if that helps.

If your diet hasn't changed much but your gassy quotient has, you might also want to check in with a gastroenterologist for possible causes and cures.


For The Person Looking Into Bike Trainers: Trainers are only super loud if you use them with knobby (mtb or cross) tires. If you can get a fluid trainer as it will give you a more road like feel. Cyclops, Blackburn, and the Performance Bike Shop brand are all good options. Trainers have helped me maintain and build fitness for triathlon training and hopefully for time trials next year. Good luck!

Vicky Hallett: Hopefully we're not too late for our chatter from last week...

Sounds like this person knows trainers. (And good luck at time trials!)


Capitol Hill: Hi MisFits... I am attending an inaugural ball next month and want to look hot, hot, hot in my dress. I am having a trouble spot that I've never had before that is becoming very difficult to get rid of despite cardio, squats and lunges -- more weight toward the top of my glutes. It requires me to wear a belt with my jeans even though my pants fit fine around my waist. Any ideas? Should I focus on cardio solely in advance of the ball, or should I focus on toning up the bottom half? Nothing seems to be working even with a proper diet. I am a 25 BMI and don't want to resort to Alli if I don't have to. Thanks.

Vicky Hallett: Whoa there. Put the Alli down, and let's talk about this. You have a trouble spot. Fine. You want to get rid of it. Also fine. But you need to realize that spot reduction isn't possible. So you'll need to lose overall weight to get at that one area. Both cardio and strength training are important for doing that, as is watching your diet. There's no one miracle, sure-thing way to make sure it's gone...Not even Alli, I'm afraid. And you do know the side effects include "gas with oily spotting," right? That could possibly affect how hot, hot, hot you look at the ball.


Germantown, Md.: Wow, I didn't know you could use the word (fart) so freely. Thank you!

Vicky Hallett: We get in much bigger trouble using synonyms for breasts.

Glad I could brighten your holiday season! Fart!


Arlington, Va.: We will be eating 2 Christmas dinners to accommodate both of our families this year. Since we just got married, this is the first year we are doing the double duty. I've heard you can consume up to 3,000 calories in a holiday meal and I definitely don't want to eat 6,000 calories to please our families. How can we handle this situation without packing on 5 extra pounds or upsetting anyone because we aren't asking for seconds of our second ham of the day?

Vicky Hallett: Right, you CAN consume 3,000 calories in a holiday meal. But certainly no one is going to force you to -- unless your brother is Joey Chestnut. (You didn't marry into the Chestnut family, did you?)

Just keep an eye on portion size, limit grazing and while you may need a glass or two of something potent to handle that much family time, make sure you're not boozing it up too much. Those calories add up quickly and stimulate your appetite so you'll want to down more.

I wouldn't stress too much about it. Have fun! It's the holidays, and remember it's not like you eat that way every day. (Again, unless you're in the Chestnut family.)


Capitol Hill: What are your thoughts on getting your personal trainer a Christmas present? I've been seeing a trainer once a week for about a year and I'm not sure if I'm expected to give them a gift. The sessions are about $80 each if that makes a difference.

Vicky Hallett: Tips (like you might give your newspaper delivery person, hint hint) aren't usually expected -- and are sometimes not even allowed. But a gift is a nice gesture if you wanna give one. You don't have much time left though...


Arlington, Va.: Was wondering if anyone has used the Arlington County fitness centers? I just moved to Fairlington and the annual membership is $170 and I believe gives you access to all of the Arlington County fitness centers. Price is right but wondering if folks have found the fitness centers to be worth the money.

Vicky Hallett: I haven't, but perhaps a chatter can help you out? I do know Arlington takes fitness very seriously though, so I imagine they're not too shabby.

And if you're new to town, check out Fit Arlington:


Pentagon City, Va.: No, almost every bike trainer, even the newest quietest fluid resistance unit ones, transmit significant vibrations through the frame to the floor, even when using slick tires, and that's the biggest source of apartment annoyance to your neighbors.

It took a rubber mat over two pieces of carpet remnant over my carpeted concrete apartment floor to dampen (but not totally elimate) the roar from my road bike on a fluid-resistance Blackburn.

And now, back to the chat on actual exercise...

Vicky Hallett: Another opinion from someone who's very considerate of his/her neighbors. Thank you!


for the gassy person: Gas-X is available over the counter. I try to minimize my dairy intake but it's pretty near impossible. So that really helps and it works quickly.

Also - certain vegetables make you more gassy, like broccoli. If you Google topics like this I know you can find a list of foods that contribute to the problem. Good luck ;)

Vicky Hallett: All true!

And while we're talking flatulence, here's a fun fact from the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse:

Most people produce 1 to 4 pints a day and pass gas about 14 times a day.

I can't believe Howard is missing this. He's going to be really bummed.


Gaithersburg: Hi! Thanks for sticking with us today :-)

I am trying to find a small gift or stocking stuffer for my dad. Over the last couple years, he has gotten really into kayaking. He goes all along the canals and the Potomac. My main gift to him (an idea for some of you out there!) is a water bottle with a "survival kit" inside (waterproof matches, bandages, help whistle, flashlight, etc). This cost $10. I also got the same thing for my brother who goes camping on beaches a lot (he's a surfer).

Can you think of anything else small to pair with this gift? I'm thinking something outdoorsy but I'm open to any suggestions. (My dad already has plenty of actual kayak equipment.) Thanks!! and Happy festivus!

Vicky Hallett: How about a quick drying towel?

Gotta figure he sometimes gets wet...Any kayakers out there with better stocking stuffer suggestions?


Washington, D.C.: Hi, Vicky. Let's say that you sign up with a trainer for one of your gym's intro packages (a few short sessions at a discount). He stands you up, takes two weeks to reschedule (not to get on his schedule, just to discuss selecting a date), meets with you to discuss goals, then cancels and stands you up twice within two days (total of 3 times in as many weeks). He's a manager but not "the" manager. What would you do? Ask to speak with the top manager? Refuse to pay for the initial session? I don't want to create an environment where I'm uncomfortable going to the gym because the trainers think I'm unpleasant, but I'm REALLY fed up with being treated this way, and I can't see having a productive working relationship with him at this point. Help!

Vicky Hallett: Heck yeah, I'd talk to the top manager and tell him/her what's been going on. Gyms' bread and butter is personal training so it's never smart for them to put off someone who seems interested. Instead of refusing to pay for that first session, I'd suggest asking the manager to pair you with another (hopefully more responsible) trainer, and start the package over again.

Don't worry about annoying the first trainer. It sounds like he's never around anyway...


Gas relief?: Isn't it true that you can become lactose intolorant at any point in your life? If this (gas) is something really out of the ordinary for you, you may need to consider this possibility. Maybe play with lactose free options (plenty of delicious dairy options out there) and talk to your doctor about it. Just a thought. Good luck!

Vicky Hallett: Also true! You guys sure do know your gas. But remember, it might not even be the cheese. Gluten can also do a number on your GI. Seriously, if it's a real problem, check in with a gastroenterologist.


For the kayaker: Dry bags! Come in varying sizes, and aren't expensive.

Vicky Hallett: Genius! Danke.


D.C.: Am I the only person who doesn't know what 'Alli' is? Lowdown on OTC Weight-Loss Drug (The Washington Post, Feb. 20, 2007)

Vicky Hallett: I'm impressed you've managed to escape the ads...


Alexandria: A few weeks ago you answered my question on heart rate monitors, and the information you gave me was immensely helpful. I have been able to improve my nutrition, update my training plans and stop my problems of over training. Thank you for being an amazing resource.

To build base fitness for next cycling season, I have incorporated kick boxing and my rowing machine (20 minutes rowing followed by 30 minutes on my bike trainer on days I don't KB) into my regimen, should also add some type of strength training, or could I just add a day of yoga to the mix? I am shooting for 5 good workouts a week, with 2 rest days to make sure I don't over train. On days where the weather cooperates I am riding outside instead of the rowing/trainer combo. Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: Both strength training and yoga would be good for you! Do I really have to choose? If you have the time and energy to do both (without over training), I would...Maybe switch every other week?


2009 goal: I recently turned 49 and I find myself about 20 - 30 pounds overweight. I'm a short woman so that's a lot of weight. It's crept up over the years since college, more quickly after an injury that kept me from exercising much for more than a year.

I don't want to turn 50 and be fat, I want to be 50 and fit. Any suggestions on how to start and, more important, keep going to reach my goal by that next big birthday? Is it realistic to lose 25 lbs in about a year? I also want to avoid re-injury.

Vicky Hallett: The usual guideline is you can lose 1-2 pounds a week safely, so in a year, 25 pounds should be doable. But the first ones are gonna be a whole lot easier than the last ones...

What should your plan be? It depends on where you're starting from. Are you already exercising some? Do you know your diet could use an overhaul? Start by making small changes that you know you can stick with -- maybe an extra 10 minute walk every day, a glass of water before every meal to keep you from overeating, stuff like that.

And know that we'll be here every week (except for next week... chats are going on holiday) to help you with issues as they arise. Good luck!


D.C.: Re: Alli. Take a fat blocker that may also block other nutrients that you need, may make you sick if you eat too much fat while taking it, and may cause 'oily spotting'. (Ew.) OR, here's a thought...just eat less fat.

Vicky Hallett: It really reminds me of the olestra craze of the late 1990s. Why people would eat chips that could cause anal leakage remains one of the greatest mysteries of all time...


McLean, VA: Might be the greatest session ever, oily leakage and farting!!!

How crowded will the gyms be in two weeks when all the resolution people show up??

Vicky Hallett: SO CROWDED. But it'll thin out by February. Just hang on, and use the unpopular machines for a while.


Arlington, Va.: Bodysmith DC -- any thoughts? Any suggestions for other personal training gyms?

Vicky Hallett: It's not very convenient to Arlington, but the times I've reported on stuff there I've always dealt with smart, capable folks. And I have a friend who gets her personal training there and looooves it.

Nearer to you, maybe check out Verve in Rosslyn ( and Eshe Body Center (, which is right by the Courthouse Metro.


Arlington fitness: I haven't used the facilities after looking at one and finding it kind of sparse in equipment. however, I have attended their fitness classes (last one at the Fairlington community center) and can tell you that I got a great workout and the price was worth it (about $200 for 25 classes meeting twice a week). Their next round of classes start Jan. 21. I'll be signing up again!

Vicky Hallett: Maybe save your cash for the classes, new Arlington resident?


D.C.: re: crowded gyms... OR... join the cold weather jogger and biker from this chat on the trails. Capital Crescent is fabulously uncrowded this time of year!

Vicky Hallett: Good call, as long as you bundle up...And on that note, I have to skedaddle. Sorry to everyone I didn't get to today. But Howard and I will both be on deck January 6 (no chat or Health section next week) to talk about farting. And fitness. Happy holidays everybody!!


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