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Healthy eating and exercise for life

Top 10 FAQs

Featured Question

Q: I am a college student and I live in a dorm where there is only one kitchen in the basement for all of the residents to use. I use the kitchen down there sometimes, but it's quite a hassle to bring down the necessary tools for and find the time to make myself dinner, so I often order food, eat at campus places, or have uncooked foods such as cereal for meals. I was wondering if you have any advice on how to get the nutrients I need for a reasonable price and within a reasonable calorie range. I often eat salad from the deli nearby, but I find it very difficult to get protein when most of the places around sell it in prepared forms that are saturated in extra fat/calories and I don't have time to cook it myself.

A:Good for you for being aware of all the stumbling blocks to eating healthy! It can be hard to get nutritious meals that are affordable and calorie conscious, especially when you don’t have an easily accessible kitchen. But, it’s definitely possible and you seem to be on the right track so far. Since it’s hard for you to cook in the downstairs kitchen, try keeping items down there that don’t require preparation. For instance, skim milk, bottled water, pre-cut lettuce, fruits and vegetables, reduced-fat and calorie dressing, low-fat cheese and cottage cheese, peanut butter and sugar-free jelly, and low-fat deli meats. Keep some whole-grain bread in your room so you’ll always be able to make a sandwich. That way, you’ve got some snack and meals that are always on hand that are nutritious and low in fat and calories (and it will save you some money). There’s nothing wrong with eating cereal for a meal, but make sure it’s a whole grain cereal (label will likely say 100% stone ground). Add a banana (which you can keep in your room), and some skim milk and you’ve got a balanced meal. If you find that it doesn’t keep you full long enough, add some protein like a handful of nuts or try some toast with peanut butter.

As far as eating out goes, it can be a challenge to find healthy foods, but it helps if you know what to look for. The biggest fat traps that are found in foods when eating out are full-fat salad dressings, fried foods, and foods cooked and prepared with lots of butter or oil. More than likely, your campus cafeteria offers grilled meats, salads, vegetables, fruit, and sandwiches. If you feel like there aren’t enough healthy options, speak with the cafeteria manager about getting more. When it comes to a salad bar, make sure to use a low-fat or fat-free dressing (if they aren’t labeled, ask) and load up on vegetables and lean proteins like nuts and beans. Avoid high-fat cheese and croutons. Fast food chains and restaurants are offering a wider selection of low fat and reduced calorie menu options. Whenever possible, order from these menus-then you will know the fat and calorie level of what you’ve ordered.

Question 1

Q. How many calories do I need to cut to lose weight?

A. To lose one pound per week you must reduce or burn (or a combination of the two) 3500 calories per week, or 500 calories per day. (Most health professionals recommend slow weight loss as the safest and most effective approach.) Losing weight gradually -- about one-half to two pounds per week helps promotes long-term loss of body fat, not just water weight that can be quickly regained.

To lose one pound, a person must burn 3,500 calories more than are consumed (500 calories per day over the course of a week). For example, reducing calories by 300 per day and increasing daily activity to burn off an additional 200 calories should result in a weight loss of one pound per week.

For example, if your are maintaining your weight by eating 2500 calories but you want to lose weight, you could:

  1. Consume 2200 calories. (That's 300 calories less than this example), and
  2. Burn 200 calories through activity, to result in a 2000-calorie diet! (Be sure to check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.)

Check out the "Modify My Calorie Plan" tool to give you a better idea of the number of calories needed to lose weight. Remember, you’ll also be keeping a daily food diary, recording everything you eat and drink. By keeping track of the amount of calories you are eating, you will have a better idea of the number of calories needed to maintain and lose weight.

Question 2

Q: I keep hearing that muscle weighs more, so if you exercise you will gain weight. Is this true? I'm confused because doesn't muscle burn more calories too?

A. Muscle does weigh more than fat. However, muscle is much more toned and lean. Therefore, you may find that your clothes fit better and are less snug. Muscle does help to burn more calories -- another reason that exercise is helpful in losing and maintaining a healthy weight. Not only does exercise burn calories (while the exercise is being performed), but exercise also helps to build muscle and muscle burns more calories even at rest. Most health professionals recommend a healthy diet and incorporating physical activity when trying to lose weight. Physical activity helps to burn calories (thereby reducing weight) as well as tone and tighten muscles, giving you a leaner appearance.

Question 3

Q. How does using a food diary to keep track of the foods you eat help you lose weight?

A. Health professionals recommend using a food diary to help you keep track of the foods you eat from day to day. Food diaries make you accountable and responsible for the food you've eaten. It's easy to walk through the break room at work and grab a handful of chips and never account for these calories. Or, maybe you eat half of your child's fries after they have finish their plate, but forget about it later. Whatever the case, it's easy to assume that you are eating fewer calories than you are actually consuming. By using a food diary and including all of the foods and beverages you've eaten, you can get a better idea of the number of calories you are eating. The more often you keep records, the more successful you are likely to be at losing weight. That’s why the Online Food Diary is an essential part of For the first two weeks, you’ll keep a daily diary, recording everything you eat and drink, along with information about your moods and activity. It will take some time, but you’ll find that it goes more quickly as you become familiar with the online tools. Make a commitment to use this tool for at least fourteen consecutive days. After that, continue recording for three days a week or more.

With the Online Food Diary, almost all the work is done for you. The Online Food Diary will store and save your information on your own personal Web page. You can also "dump" all of the foods and beverages you've entered into the Food Calorie Calculator into the Online Food Diary with just a click of a button. Talk about simple and easy!

Question 4

Q.  I was making good progress toward my healthy weight goal but all of a sudden the pounds aren't coming off any more. What should I do to get past this hurdle?

A. When it comes to your weight loss plan, you should realize that you will have setbacks. You may find that you regain a pound here or there on your road to weight loss. Or, you may find that the weight comes off immediately, but shortly afterwards you hit a "plateau" and it takes a few weeks before you lose weight again. Whatever your setback, realize that it is not permanent and it's something almost everyone experiences when trying to lose weight. The important thing to do when you have a setback is to reevaluate your priorities, find out what is working and what's not and recommit yourself to your goals.

Plateaus are normal, so don’t get discouraged. Instead, return to these tried-and-true strategies for weight loss success:

  1. Start keeping a food diary again every day. When you don’t keep track of what you eat, it’s easy to consume more calories than you intend. Food records will help you identify those unrealized extras. Refer to the list of “Tips for Trimming Extra Calories.” This may give you new ideas on how to trim calories from your diet.
  2. Go back to measuring what you eat whenever you’re at home. Downsizing your portions is an easy way to reduce calories, and if you haven’t been measuring for a while, it’s time for a refresher course.
  3. Crank up your physical activity. If you’re currently aiming for 30 minutes of exercise, build your time to 45 minutes. If you’ve been exercising five days a week, add some form of activity on the other two days. If you’re using a pedometer, walk an extra mile (about 2000 steps).
  4. Use the “Modify My Calorie Plan” tool to double check how many calories you should be consuming to lose weight.

Question 5

Q. My co-worker and I tend to eat fast food almost every day. I've tried taking my lunch, but I never eat it. I was wondering if there was anything on the menus that might be lower in calories? I tried the salad once but because of the calories in the dressing, I might as well eat the french fries! Any suggestions?

A. Almost everyone leads a fast-paced, hectic lifestyle and dining away from home is inevitable for most people. Although the foods you get in restaurants tend to be higher in fat and calories, you can make choices that include foods that are lower in fat and calories. Many fast food places have nutrition information on their Web site or you can ask a store manager. If you eat out almost every day for lunch, you may want to consider bringing this information with you so that you have a handy guide to help you make the best choice.

For some general tips, avoid "biggie" or "supersized" meals. Instead, order the kids' meal. And, try ordering a diet soda instead of the regular version. That will help reduce calories as well. Although it's tempting, if you are trying to cut calories you may want to consider cutting back on the amount of times you eat out. Instead of eating fast food everyday, why not cut back to three times a week? Not only will you save fat and calories, but you'll also save money! Additionally, many fast food places do not offer a large selection of fruits and vegetables, something you may be missing out on if you eat fast food every day. Why not try bringing an apple or some celery sticks and paring that with a small burger or grilled chicken sandwich (without the mayo) rather than the fries? As for the salad issue, ask for dressing on the side, so that you can control the amount. Or, ask for a low-calorie or low-fat dressing - many fast food places do offer a small selection. Try using balsamic vinegar and lemon juice in place of dressing for added flavor without added fat and calories.

Question 6

Q. I've heard that you shouldn't eat protein and carbohydrates at the same time? If you do, will you gain weight?

A. Weight gain is not caused by eating combinations of various foods such as protein and carbohydrates. Weight gain is due to an imbalance of calories. If you take in more calories than you expend, you will gain weight and the only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you consume. Both protein and carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet and help provide the body with the nutrients it needs to function properly. For example, eating a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread with mustard, lettuce, tomato and pickles would provide carbohydrates, protein and vegetables all in one sitting. There is no reason that eating a food that provides various food groups can not be part of a well-balanced, healthy diet as you strive to lose weight.

Question 7

Q. My problem is that I am okay during the day, but since I am a night owl I get very hungry in the evening. I was wondering if there are any suggestions on snacks after I have gone over my caloric intake for the day? I have read that if you are truly hungry you should eat, because you don't want your body to go into starvation mode. Is this true?

A. A lot of people find that they snack in the evening -- you are not alone. And, snacking is fine, in fact it can prevent you from feeling famished and overeating at other meals. The problem occurs when people snack out of boredom, anxiety, etc., not because they are truly hungry. If you become hungry in the evening on a regular basis, you may want to make room (calorie-wise) for a snack in the evening. For example, try a piece of fruit or vegetables with low-fat dip. Or, consider low-fat cheese with crackers, yogurt with a small amount of granola (for added crunch), or some low-fat ice cream or fruit bar (which can be very low in calories). If you are looking for a sweet treat this summer, such as ice cream, check out your grocer's freezer. There are a lot of low-calorie options including ice-cream sandwiches, ice cream bars, etc. Just read the label to evaluate the calorie and fat content. Whatever snack you decide on, just be sure to account for those calories.

Question 8

Q. How much fat should I include in my diet?

A. Some people seem to be afraid of fat and many people wonder if fat is friend or foe? While fat can lead to excess calorie intake, fat is important and has many functions in the body. For example, you can not absorb fat soluble vitamins (such as vitamin E) without adequate amounts of fat. And, some fats such as the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are actually good for you. Leading health authorities recommend that most of the fat in your diet come from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated sources.

But, be careful. While fat is important, calories count too! In general, no more than 30% of your total calories should come from fat. (For example, if you are on a 2000 calorie diet, you should be consuming approximately 66 grams of fat. To determine the amount of fat you need in your diet - take your calorie level and multiply that number by 30%. That will give you the number of calories you should be consuming from fat. To determine the number of fat grams, divide the number of calories from fat by 9 - there are 9 calories in each gram of fat.)

Question 9

Q. I've heard that eating certain foods at the same time (such as meat and pasta) will cause you to gain weight. Is this true? If so, are there other types of food combinations that I should avoid?

A. Consuming various combinations of food at the same time will not make you gain weight. What makes us gain weight is the over-consumption of calories. Consuming too many calories, no matter the combination of foods, can result in weight gain. A healthy diet is one that includes a variety of foods eaten in moderation, with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Question 10

Q. I really want to lose weight, but I don't enjoy exercising that much. Should I run for a short amount of time and exert a lot of energy or walk for a longer time and exert less energy?

A. First, is about making changes you can live with for life. If you do not enjoy walking or running, chances are you will not do either. You may keep it up for a short time period, but you won't continue to incorporate physical activity over a long time period. Perhaps there are some activities you have not tried before. How about gardening or playing with your children. If you don't have children, try playing with the neighborhood kids. Is there an activity you could do with a friend? Exercising with a buddy can be a lot of fun and allows you time to catch up. Plus, if you make a commitment to each other, you'll be more likely to keep it. The most important thing is to find something you enjoy and stick with it. If you get tired of that activity, choose something else.

As for the second part of your question, you can use the Get Moving Calculator to determine how long it would take for you to burn the same amount of calories walking as it would running. If you only have a short amount of time, maybe running is your best option. If you get home from work early, and can spend more time, try walking!