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The Lean Plate Club
With Sally Squires
Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, Dec. 27, 2001; 1 p.m. EST

Welcome to The Lean Plate Club, hosted by Washington Post health and nutrition writer Sally Squires. On Tuesdays at 1 p.m. ET, Sally leads a discussion for people who want to eat healthier, move around more and otherwise get better but not bigger. We're not about fad diets or crash weight-loss plans; we're about eating wisely and living healthy for the long haul.

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

Sally Squires has covered health and nutrition for The Post since 1984. She holds masters' degrees in nutrition and journalism (both from Columbia University), is co-author of "The Stoplight Diet for Children" and covers heart disease, cancer, psychology and many other health topics in addition to nutrition. She usually eats a salad for lunch, sits unluckily close to the Health section's legendary cookie depository and (for this phase of her ongoing battle of the bulge) swears by "The Firm" series of exercise tapes.

Health section editor Craig Stoltz will join Sally sometimes. Stoltz has none of Sally's impressive credentials but labors under a decade-long medical directive to control his weight and eat wisely, takes a statin to lower his blood cholesterol and keeps track of everything he eats on a Palm handheld computer, a fact most of his acquaintances no longer find interesting.

The transcript follows.

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.

Sally Squires: Happy Holidays everyone and welcome back to the Lean Plate Club. No, you're not caught in a holiday fog. This is indeed Thursday, not the usual time for the chat, which has been postponed until today because of Christmas. Next week's chat will be on Wednesday, Jan. 2 at 1 p.m. and then we'll be back to the usual Tuesday schedule.

How'd everybody do on the holiday challenge? This certainly was a week that could have presented obstacles as well as the chance for great success. Now on to today's questions:

Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.: Hi Sally, I made it through Thanksgiving and Christmas. I was a little sick the week before Christmas and lost a little weight. I started the challenge at 5'7" and 131 pounds, now I'm down to 125. I did enjoy Christmas though! Just wanted to say thanks for the challenge!

Sally Squires: Good for you Quantico, although sorry that some of that weight loss occurred because of illness. Did you employ any special strategies to achieve your success?

Nashville, Tenn.: I am obese... can't believe I said it. Finally my mind is made up, I am doing something about it. However, I read books from trusted authorities and get confused. Right now I am wondering, do I really need to drink the "green glop" chlorophyl-filled drink I am seeing suggested in the latest book I'm reading? What about taking vitamins? Where do we draw the line between fit/healthy eating to fanatic/fad eating?

Sally Squires: Hold it right there. Don't even think about drinking green glop. Think about health. Your health. And think about healthy eating. Imagine foods that are good for you and that you will enjoy. If you don't reshape your thinking in this way, odds are that even if you do lose weight by drinking that green glop, it won't last long. The point is to develop a healthy lifestyle for the rest of your life. Don't diet. Eat smart. That's the guiding principle of the Lean Plate Club.

Okay, so you hit the obese level. No, that's not cause to celebrate. But you're also not alone. In fact, the majority of the nation weighs too much right now, one of the reasons that the Surgeon General just issued a new report on this epidemic of overweight and obesity. Now the question is: what are YOU going to do about it?

Start small. Start realistically. You didn't put this weight on overnight. You're not going to take it off that way either as ready as you may feel to shed it. Depending on your diet history, you might want to just start by eating healthy. At the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, researchers put overweight women on a 2,000 calorie a day diet. They figure if they can learn to eat healthfully at that level, they'll never need to "diet" again. And in fact, this approach, coupled with regular exercise, seems to work. That's one strategy you might try.

It would also be prudent to make an appointment with your doctor and get a referral either to a well respected diet group or to a registered dietitian. Find out before you start to lose weight, if you have any health effects that you need to either watch or treat. Now, about finding a good way to eat: Check out the food recommendations at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association. They have good solid plans that will guide you to a healthy regimen, even if you don't already have these diseases. Best part is that if you eat according to these guidelines, you can reduce your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. Here's one link:


You can also log onto the cyber kitchen and the Virtual Grocery Store.

Let us know how you do.

Washington, D.C.: How can I get hold of a program for my palm pilot to record food intake, etc.? I've heard these exist, but where to find one?

Sally Squires: There are a lot of options, Washington. And Craig Stoltz, health editor and electronic wiz, is going to weigh in on this one too:

Vivonics, HealtheTech (Dietlog) and Calorieking are three that will work with the Palm. It's also now possible to get calorie counters that give you thousands of food listings.

Some sites to check out:


And more from Craig...

Columbia, Md.: I'm thinking about getting a pedometer, but I'm not quite sure how they work. Where do you wear it? How does it calculate the number of steps you take? I'd like to shoot for 10,000 steps a day. Also, any specific recommendations for a good pedometer to buy? Any info you can give me would be great. Thanks a lot! This chat is wonderful.

Sally Squires: Pedometers are great motivators. I wear one and love it. George Blackburn, a Boston based obesity researcher, first piqued my interest in these devices. (People magazine featured an article on his use of a pedometer and subsequent weight loss; 20 pounds, as I recall.) I also know at least one NIH researcher who bought pedometers for her whole family.

That's possible because these devices are inexpensive (about $30 or so). They're small and easy to wear. Or at least you should only buy one that fills this bill. There are a number of great brands: Sportline, Digiwalker, Omron, Accusplit, Walkin' Buddy. (For a good review log onto:

Some tips: make sure that the device is comfortable and easy to read. Most pedometers count steps, but some also count mileage, have stopwatches, and have a lot of other bells and whistles. You don't need all that, of course. Aim for 10,000 steps a day and be sure that your pedometer comes with a safety strap so that you can hook it to you clothing (makes it less likely to lose.)

Swollen: Sally, Any ideas how to combat water weight and bloating. What to avoid, what to eat that can help reduce the bloating?

Sally Squires: Dear Swollen:

Odd as it sounds, one way to help reduce water weight gain is to drink...lots of water. (Please note that the exception here are those who have serious kidney disease, but I'm guessing that you do not fall into this category. If you have any doubt, check with your doctor.)

Some people are also sodium sensitive. You don't mention your gender, but women also are prone to bloating premenstrually. There's some evidence that calcium supplements may help.

Finally, eating too much food, can also help promote water--and of course, fat -- gain. Bottom line: keep drinking water. Try limiting salty foods--adding in fruits and veggies -- and see if that helps.

Sally Squires: Hi Gang, Craig Stoltz here again, adding my two cents' worth (and that's in Euros) about handheld nutrition devices. I've lived with both Vivonic and Balance Log (by a company called Healthetech) and can offer a few observations: (1) the real value is in being able to keep track, in sort-of-real time, of what you eat with far more accuracy than you can with ink-and-paper. It's very easy to see (if you record faithfully and honestly) how much you have "spent" on lunch and breakfast and then know what sort of indulgence you can enjoy at dinner.

Southern Maryland: Help! I have a tremendous sweet tooth and I've never met a carbohydrate I didn't like. Would you and others offer me some suggestions to help curb my craving for sweets and eat healthier? Thanks.

Sally Squires: Yes indeed, Maryland. First, aim for the whole grain carbs. They are a little harder to digest and will make you feel fuller faster. Be sure to read labels, however, since there is a lot of processed flour that masquerades as whole wheat foods. A tipoff: if the first ingredient isn't whole wheat or whole grain, it's probably not the real stuff.)

Try to satisfy your sweet tooth with healthy foods. Aside from the usual fruit, you might try dried fruit which has a higher sweet taste.(Raisins, dates, figs are good choices, but there are many others. Be sure to look for those that don't have added sugar.)

Don't forget drinks. Tea with lemon and a dab of honey; hot chocolate, topped with a few marshmallows, hot cider with cinnamon. Frozen fruit as well as frozen fruit bars are other good choices. Check out some of the lower fat cookies: biscotti, graham crackers, ginger snaps. I'm also a fan of frozen fruit. And don't forget healthy desserts such as pumpkin pie (make it crustless and save the fat.)

Other suggestions?

Silver Spring, Md.:
Hi Sally,

Thanks for all the advice and encouragement. If you don't mind a non-holiday-related question: I like to take canned soups to work for lunch because they're filling and reduce the chances of my giving in to the call of the vending machines later in the afternoon. But these soups all are quite high in sodium, even otherwise healthy options like Healthy Choice. I wondered if you know of any lower sodium brands?


Sally Squires: Don't mind a non-holiday question at all. This chat is all about healthy eating and exercise. Doesn't need to have a holiday bent.

I recently purchased some delicious soup at Trader Joe's (their home brand) that did not seem very salty, although I confess that I did read the label. Campbell's makes a reduced sodium soup that you might try.

Consider making a pot of soup that you can freeze in individual portions for transporting to the office. Or, you might also try making soup with some of the great broths that are now widely available. In other words, start with the broth base and add what you want to make your favorite soup. Cilantro and dill are two wonderful herbs to add flavor without salt. Tony Cachere's also makes a non-sodium flavoring that can add some spice to soup.

Reston, Va.: Hi Sally -- longtime lurker in this chat; first-time poster. I wonder if you can help me figure out why I crave sweets right after eating a meal. And I mean CRAVE, as in get-outta-my-way-I-gotta-have-chocolate NOW. I eat very well (five small meals a day with lots of fruits and veggies and low-fat options), exercise a lot (run, lift weights, etc.) and am a very healthy female in general. Any idea what's going on? Thanks so much for a great chat! Happy New Year!

Sally Squires: Welcome Reston. Glad you're joining in. There's good evidence from taste researchers to suggest that sweet taste signals the brain to stop eating. That's likely one reason why you happen to crave sweets at the end of the meal. So go with the flow: plan to give yourself a small portion of chocolate and see if that helps the cravings go away. Let us know how it goes.

Washington, D.C.: I cannot for the life of me imagine why that 5'7" writer is trying to lose more weight. 125 sounds right. Lower sounds too thin.

Sally Squires: I believe that this individual, who has posted before, is in the military and is in quite good athletic shape. But you're absolutely right, one would not want to dip much lower. This weight and height equals a BMI of 19-20.

For Southern Maryland's Sweet Tooth: I know it sounds crazy, but by cutting back on carbs, I've found that my sweet tooth has decreased. And vice-versa -- cutting back on sweets can control carb cravings as well. I think they are related, but it really works. Try it for a week.

Sally Squires: Good suggestion, Maryland, particularly cutting back on the processed sweets, which can have a very high glycemic index. (GI is the amount of time it takes for the sugar levels to rise after eating a food.) I've experienced the same thing.

Sally Squires:
[I screwed up and somehow deprived Club members of my entire long-winded take on handheld nutrition. Here it is.--cs]

Hi Gang, Health section editor Craig Stoltz here again, adding my two cents' worth (and that's in Euros) about handheld nutrition devices.

I've lived with two Palm-based systems, Vivonic and Balance Log (by a company called Healthetech) and can offer a few observations:

(1) the real value is in being able to keep track, in sort-of-real time, of what you eat with far more accuracy than you can with ink-and-paper. It's very easy to see (if you record faithfully and honestly) how much you have "spent" on lunch and breakfast and then know what sort of indulgence you can enjoy at dinner.

(2) This won't work if you really hate being mindful about what you eat and if you hate having to deal with a little digital thing. (My guess is that if you hate being mindful about what you eat, many eating plans will frustrate you, not just this one. But you do need to abide living with a digital organizer.)

(3) In time, you become very aware of what a "portion" is. Yes, I have learned to count out M&Ms (and I know my colleagues here think this is ridiculous, or maybe a symptom of some mental disorder) and eyeball a teaspoon of peanut butter or margarine. I keep a food scale, and matching set of plastic measuring spoons (go ahead, laugh) both at work and in our kitchen at home. But the more I learn about the role large portion sizes play in weight gain, the more I realize these, um, eccentricities of behavior are a small price to pay to gain control over the pound-a-year middle-age weight gain that makes so many people sick and inert by the time they are in their 50s and 60s. And I also know that until I did this digitally, my food diaries were essentially works of fiction, recording one serving that I now know was 1.5 or even 3.

(4) I prefer the Heathetech Balance Log, and I recommend it over Vivonic, especially for beginners. They swap strengths and annoyances, and both are maddeningly inflexible at times, but I find adding new foods (from label information) easier with Balance Log, and that's pretty important. It also determines how many calories you should take in first--mine's 1830 per day, for instance--and then when you record exercise, the unit automatically adds calories to your daily ceiling. The result is that you're invited to give yourself extra food fun by getting out the door. Vivonic, by contrast, gives you, say, 2000 calories a day (in my case) but requires 210 calories of exercise a day. If I don't move that day, I fall behind. I sort of prefer the eat-your-reward system better.

(5) If you already own a Palm, you can get the programs for in the range of $50-$60. A good deal. If you haven't made the handheld jump yet, obviously the bar is higher.

Hey, that may have been way more than two cents worth. Even if you're counting in Argentines. Back to the action.

Baltimore, Md.: It's common knowledge that 3,500 calories equals one pound. It's also said that weight measurement is not a good indicator of weight loss. A better measurement is the ratio of body fat. How many inches (typically measured around the midsection for men) would equate to that thirty-five hundred calories/one pound? Thanks.

Sally Squires: Ah, Baltimore. Would that it were that simple. Alas, it is not. But you're absolutely right that percent body fat is a measurement whose time has come. One of the reasons is that body mass index, which is based on height and weight,is a good tool, but has imperfections. It's less accurate for the elderly and less accurate for those who are extremely muscular. (In other words, some really great athletes are technically obese.)

Now as for conversion: I know of no easy way to say that losing an inch or two or three equals rough so many pounds trimmed. But you should know this: The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's obesity guidelines,
recommends that waistlines not exceed 40 inches in men; 35 inches in women.

And for those who want to download BMI tables to their palms or other PDA's, you can do that at this site:

Frozen fruit!: Bought a bag of sliced frozen peaches from Trader Joe's. They were sooooo good -- gone in three days. But at 150 calories for the entire bag, that's not a bad deal! The fact that they are frozen forces you to really enjoy each slice.

Sally Squires: Sounds great. It's a wonderful treat. Also try the frozen cherries.

Silver Spring, Md.: Sally,

I've been reading about certain foods that claim to be aphrodisiacs, will enhance your love life, etc.

Any truth to that?

Sally Squires: This lore has been around almost as long as well, Adam and Eve. Is there any truth to it? Well, you could argue that certain seafood has a lot of omega-three and omega-six, fatty acids. Will that boost your love life? Don't think there is strong scientific evidence on it. But you could argue that being healthier probably makes everything in your life better.

Really hungry!: Sally,

Hoping you can help me with this one. A runner for several years, I've recently gone from 15 to 20 miles a week or so, added lifting (45 minutes) twice a week, plus increased the intensity of my cross-training 2 days a week. And I'm starving! I'm trying to lose weight, and am aiming for 1400 calories a day. Is this too low for me now with my higher mileage? Or is this all in my head, due to some overeating at Christmas? Thanks.

Sally Squires: Too low! Too low! You are starving for a reason. You're hungry! Don't overdo it. That's a program for failure. Aim for a gradual weight loss of one to two pounds per week.

To get an idea of how many calories you need:

Multiply your current body weight by 10. That's a rough estimate of your resting metabolic rate. Now add 40 to 60 percent more calories if you're moderately active; 60 to 80 percent more if you're very active.

Finally, trim unwanted pounds with a combination of exercise and calories. In other words, if you burn an extra 250 calories in exercise daily and eat 250 calories less, the total is 500 for the day. Multiple by 7 days a week and you've got 3,500 calories, or roughly a pound.

re: BMI: How accurate are the BMI tables? I enter my height and weight and end up at the extreme high end of normal. However, I am not sure how the "normal" level is established? The same table (or at least the one I looked at) was used for both men and women, and men obviously should weigh more for the same height. Also, there is no control for frame size. I have a small frame. Logically, then, I'm not "normal", but actually slightly overweight. Does this make sense? I imagine that what is normal for one individual is not normal for another. How do I know if I am "normal" or if I am overweight? In any case, I do need to eat healthily and exercise more. I just don't know if I also need to lose weight.

Sally Squires: Frame sizes went out with the Metropolitan Weight Tables, which were replaced by the BMI tables. Yes, they are the same for men and women. But the calculations are designed to take that into account, at least to a point.

The healthy level was established by a stellar group of scientists who reviewed all the scientific literature at the time and argued about it for a quite a few months, before issuing their report in June, 1998. Yes, it caused some controversy. But it's also held up pretty well.

Guilty in Virginia: Sally,

My wife and I recently visited friends in Austin, Tex. While there, my love for BBQ, beef jerky and South American cuisine were greatly indulged.

But here's the kicker, we found an old country boy about 20 minutes outside of Austin. His specialty?

CHICKEN FRIED BACON! I'm serious, chicken fried bacon. My wife and I shared two pounds between us. It was soooo good and soooo bad all at the same time.

Now Sally, my question is:
Do you have any idea how bad that might've been for us? I'm fairly worried that we've done permanent irreversible damage to our diet and our health because of this Texan delicacy.

your feedback is greatly needed and appreciated here, thanks.

Sally Squires: Dear Guilty:

Stop beating yourself up. Didn't you enjoy the experience? I ate deep fat fried turkey for Thanksgiving and loved it. Wouldn't have traded the opportunity for the world. (Well, maybe for the world.) But the point is, next time when you visit your friends, plan to have some more of that delicious chicken fried bacon. But maybe you can plan to have a little less than 2 pounds.

Remember, the goal is your overall diet. Everybody--even the best known diet experts--indulge every once in a while.

San Francisco, Calif.: I'm a 31-year-old woman who has had a love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with my body for most of my life. I battled an eating disorder from 15-21; in recent years I've been eating pretty much whatever I want and attempting to manage my weight by exercising like a fiend (running 25 miles a week, swimming with a team five days a week, spinning classes, you name it). The problem was, all that exercise pushed my appetite through the roof.

I recently tried yoga at the urging of a friend. This particular type is called Bikram yoga, which involves 90 minutes of postures in a 100-plus degree room. So far (for the past three months), it's been very effective for weight management and, oddly, my appetite is under control. I'm still peppering my regimen with a spinning class here or there, but I'm mainly doing the yoga. I've quit strength-training entirely, and am concerned that perhaps this isn't the healthiest course if I want to fend off osteoporosis in my later years.

The thing is, I feel fantastic, strong and healthy. Moreover (and I have no idea if this is a coincidence), I actually LIKE my body. However, I'm concerned that the heat and lack of formal weight-lifting and aerobic exercise will have a longterm detriment. Do you have any thoughts on the matter?

Sally Squires: San Francisco: First of all, pat yourself on the back for overcoming an eating disorder. And if you haven't read it, take a look at "Body Traps" by Judith Rodin, PhD., a psychologist who is now President of the University of Pennsylvania. It's a wonderful book and well worth the read. I think you will find some interesting insights about how women view their bodies.

Second, yoga is a terrific life-long exercise. I've never done Bikram's yoga, but have reported on it and find it quite interesting. It sounds as though it has struck a good chord for you.

As for the weight lifting and aerobics: find new ways to fit those in when the time seems right. Maybe you were just a but burned out by exercising as you describe, "like a fiend." Maybe your body is telling you something: you need to find a more peaceful way to work out. At least for now.

And that brings me to another important point: there is no one way to lose weight. There's no one way to exercise. The goal is to continue to find ways to eat and move that are appealing and healthful. Yes, the scientific evidence on the benefits of weight lifting are excellent. But give yourself a breather. You have time. Investigate other possibilities. It may be that lifting a few free weights at home to keep muscles tones are all that you need for right now. (Check out Weight Training for Dummies by Liz Neporent, Suzanne Schlosberg; Complete Idiot's Guide to Weight Training; Weight Training Workouts that Work by James Orvis and Strong Women Stay Slim by Miriam Tucker.) Same goes for aerobics. You don't have to run and swim. Maybe you could walk for a while with a friend at lunch.

Aim for the joy. Go for the journey. You might be surprised by what happens.

Sweet Cravings: Hi Sally,

A suggestion for the person who craves sweets right after eating: try drinking a cup of ginger tea. (It's available at Fresh Fields, but even places like Safeway and Giant now have it.) The brand is Traditional Medicinals. Ginger is great for digestion. The pungent taste helps to cut cravings- add a little milk and honey if you want to sweeten it a bit.

Sally Squires: Thanks! Sounds delicious. Your recommendation reminds me that Red Zinger is another favorite tea of mine and great to quench a sweet tooth.

That's all this week folks. Next week, the chat will be at 1 p.m. on WEDNESDAY, Jan. 2. Join in with your personal results from the final week of the Holiday Challenge. Good luck and Happy New Year!

Northeast: To Guilty in Virginia: Don't feel too bad about the chicken-fried bacon. In Scotland (the country that brought haggis to the world), they make a delicacy known as deep-fried Snickers. Yes, they take a Snickers candybar and deep fry it. Sounds slightly gross, but it's soooo good... especially over ice cream. Hey, everything in moderation, right?

Sally Squires: Another word from the wise. Thanks for weighing in.

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