Q.I am desperately trying to lose 10 pounds. I've only been eating one meal a day. Any other suggestions to speed up the weight-loss process?



A.Yes. Start eating! A paradox? Not quite. You're making the same mistake that many others make. Let me make this point perfectly clear: Dieting by skipping meals doesn't work! It will eventually make it harder to lose weight.

The facts speak for themselves. Only about 25 percent of all dieters succeed in losing 20 pounds. Of those who need to lose 40 pounds or more, only 5 percent are able to do so. I know, many of you are saying at least some good comes from the crazy crash diets. But, another study has found that more than 90 percent of those who lost weight returned to their original weight within a fairly short period of time.

Typically, crash diets can bring a drastic decrease in bodyweight, but most of that comes from muscle and water loss, not fat; the weight is regained shortly. Besides, those diets can hurt your health, leaving you fatigued and lethargic.

Even before I saw all the statistics, I knew crash dieting didn't work. For years, I'd seen family and friends -- as dedicated as anyone could be -- eventually fail with their diets. But I didn't realize why until I attended a graduate course in nutrition by Dr. Pat Mann at the University of Maryland. Her theories regarding weight loss really got me going and I immediately spent several months reading everything I could on the subject.

The space available doesn't allow me to cover this topic adequately. So if you're interested in an extended look, I'd strongly recomTAKE 210121 PAGE 00002 TIME 12:57 DATE 01-04-85 mend the book "How to Lower Your Fat Thermostat: The No-Diet Reprogramming Plan for Lifelong Weight Control" by Remington, Fisher and Parent, published by Vitality House International, 1675 North 200 West, Bldg. 11- C, Provo, Utah 84604.

In a nutshell, diets don't work because they force you to drastically lower your caloric intake. Have you ever asked, "Why can some people eat so little yet remain fat?" And, "How can others eat so much yet not gain an ounce?" There are a variety of reasons, but the most critical is probably the body's "weight- regulating mechanism" (WRM).

The WRM is a control center in the brain. It chooses the amount of fat that it considers ideal for our needs and then works tirelessly to defend it. The fat level that the WRM chooses is called the "setpoint." The setpoint is similar to your home thermostat, which kicks on the furnace when the temperature falls to a designated level.

Your setpoint has been determined by many factors. Genetics plays a major role but so do your eating habits. The good news is that you can lower your setpoint. A raised setpoint stimulates the hunger drive and conserves energy (makes the fat-burning process less efficient). A lower setpoint suppresses the hunger drive and improves the fat-burning process.

The weight-regulating mechanism controls bodyweight in two critically important ways, according to Remington et al: "It has a profound influence on the amount of food that you eat, dramatically increasing or decreasing your appetite as needed to maintain the setpoint weight. It also can trigger systems in the body to waste excess energy if you overeat, or to conserve energy if you eat too little".

Let's use the cave man as an example. When the cave man got hungry he couldn't pull into the golden arches for lunch. Food preserving hadn't been invented, so if he got lucky on a hunt he had to party hard. He gorged himself. He didn't eat again (exept for those lousy nuts and berries) until he found more game.These irregular eating habits forced the body to adapt. It learned that it would receive large amounts of food in one sitting but the eating sessions would be irregular. By overeating, the cave man stored as much fat (energy) as possible. This energy had to last until the next feast. These eating habits forced the WRM to raise the setpoint, slowing the metabolism to conserve energy (the stores of fat).

And that's exactly what happens to most dieters. They cut back drastically on the amount of food they consume and the frequency of their meals. This practice sends an alert to the WRM. The body's metabolism immediately slows down in an attempt to maintain the fat stores. Remember, you've set your body's thermostat (setpoint) by maintaining certain eating habits. A drastic change in your eating habits scares the body. The body fears that it won't be able to maintain your existing fat level.

Each time you eat something, enzymes are secreted in the stomach. These enzymes increase your metabolism. Regular eating habits cause frequent secretions of these enzymes. The body speeds up the metabolism knowing that meals are regular and frequent. I'm sure you realize by now that skipping meals is just the opposite of what your body needs. Skip meals and you slow the metabolism.

Research studies support this. People placed on low-calorie diets experienced an initial weight loss (much of it water and muscle). They were kept on these diets for an extended period of time, and finally they were unable to lose any more weight. These were almost starvation diets, yet these people stopped losing weight.

What irony. You're on a starvation diet and you can't lose a pound. Your body is used to not eating much. When you increase your caloric intake somewhat, you gain weight. Experts state that, after crashing, your body will take many months to return to its normal metabolism. That's why so many people regain weight lost (and then some) after a crash diet. What's the answer? Pure and simple. Eat regularly. Don't skip any meals. Exercise regularly. Watch what you eat. Don't try to lose more than two pounds per week. Count your calories. Determine how many calories you can take in and still lose weight. You're better off eating the allotted number of calories in five or six meals (snacks) a day than one or two big meals. By eating regularly you'll speed up your metabolism. The body knows it will eat regularly and won't need to store fat. In other words, you'll become more efficient at burning fat. Remember, it will take some time to readjust your thermostat. Don't expect ovenight changes.

After reading this, some of you may get the wrong impression. I'm not telling you to pig out five or six times a day. Initially, you'll have to count your calories and monitor what types of food you eat. If it's done correctly, you will be able to eat normal foods and not go hungry.

Before embarking on a reasonable approach to fat loss you should do your homework. At the very least I'd recommend the book mentioned above. If possible, consult with a nutrition specialist to reeducate your body.

And remember, at least three meals a day help keep the pork bar monster away.