Weight loss experts tackle the ups and downs of dieting, metabolism, meals

How much weight should you expect to lose in a month? Where do you begin if you want to drop 100 pounds? How can you keep from gaining weight at restaurant buffets? And what are the best snacks to keep on hand for an overweight child?

These were among the diet questions from people who participated in a nationwide online chat Wednesday. Their questions were fielded by four national nutrition experts. Here’s a sample of the questions and answers:

Q: I have steadily gained weight since the death of my wife. What is the best advice you can give someone who seriously wants to lose about 100 pounds? — Resident of St. George, Utah

A: Try to lose only 15 or 20 pounds to start. It will make you feel better. If you lose more, great, but it’s hard to lose 100 pounds, and I don’t want you to be disappointed if you don’t make it. Studies show that people who set a weight goal that’s too great and don’t reach it may give up.

Also, some people gain weight when depressed after an event like the death of a family member. Talk to you doctor about this possibility. If he feels you need a medicine, we recommend Wellbutrin for treatment of depression associated with weight gain. It may cause weight loss, and most other anti-depressants cause weight gain. — Louis Aronne, director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital

Q: I’m 50 years old and 60 pounds overweight. I have tried everything and can’t seem to get the weight off. Four years ago, I weighed 340. I now weigh 230. Everyone tells me that’s great, but I’m still too heavy. Can you help? — Resident of Columbus, Ohio

A: When you lose a lot of weight, your body responds by slowing down your metabolic rate. As a result, you reach a plateau beyond which it’s very hard to lose more. You may be at that point now. Try increasing the intensity of your exercise. I think it prevents the changes in metabolism that cause the plateau. — Aronne

Q: I have an 18-year-old daughter who is overweight. When I try to talk to her about this, she gets very defensive. How would you suggest a parent deal with this? — A mother from Glenwood Springs, Colo.

A: As difficult as it might be, it’s important to accept that trying to talk to your adult daughter about her weight is likely to do little other than strain your relationship. Your daughter’s defensiveness suggests that she is aware of her weight problem, which is an important first step for her. But until she is mentally and emotionally ready to make the changes in her diet and activity habits that weight loss requires, there is little you can do but be supportive and positive toward her as a person.

The reasons people become overweight, and the triggers that allow them to gain control over their habits, are varied and complex. But we do know that frustration, depression and low self-esteem are common among those who struggle with a weight problem. We also know that a supportive and positive environment is very important in promoting positive change. So, until your daughter comes to you for support, all you can do is let her know you are there to listen, support and help her in any way you can. — Joan Carter, a registered dietitian at the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Q: I have a 14-year-old stepson who weighs 270, and he is about 6 feet tall. He lifts weights and plays ball. He lost his mother not too long ago, and I’m trying to help him lose the weight. When I married his father, he weighed 302. I need some suggestion as to what kind of snacks to have in the house for him since he is at home for three hours without someone to watch what he eats. — Woman from Thornville, Ohio

A: Keep in mind that hungry children usually grab whatever is easy and tastes good. So, to improve your stepson’s after-school snacking, make sure the healthy treats are not only those he likes but are the first things he sees when he opens the refrigerator or cabinet. Some ideas include low-fat yogurt, low-fat pudding, string cheese, or calcium-fortified juice. Keep ready-to-eat baby carrots and a low-fat dip on the main shelf of the refrigerator. Other snacks include orange segments, apples or other fruits. — Carter

Q: What is the safest, easiest way to lose five to 10 pounds? Everyone I work with would like to know. — Resident of Asheville, N.C.

A: Try for five by February. If you and everyone you work with focus on watching what you eat and exercising more, you all can lose between 1 to 1 pounds a week. So in a month, you’ll have lost four to six pounds. Why not have a Five By February Club at work? — Edith Howard Hogan, a registered dietitian in Washington, D.C., and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association

Q: How important is metabolism (and knowing our metabolic rate) in losing weight? — New York City resident

A: Increasing lean muscle mass can have a significant effect on metabolism. Eating smaller meals more frequently also may increase it. The knowledge of one’s metabolic rate is less important that the application of positive lifestyle choices to improve it. — David Grotto, director of nutrition education and a clinical nutrition specialist at Block Medical Center in Evanston, Ill.

Q: I live in Las Vegas, the home of cheap buffets. I am 66, and my wife and I enjoy eating out. My problem is that I have gained about 20 pounds. Any suggestions? —Man from Henderson, Nev.

A: Choose low-calorie options on the buffet by avoiding items with heavy sauces. Make a deal with yourself that one trip to the buffet will do. Eat something small and healthy before going so you make better choices. Everything looks better when you are hungry. Go for a walk afterward. — Grotto

Q: How do I cook healthy meals when I work days and my husband works nights? I don’t get home until 6:30, I have two teenage boys. One is overweight and one underweight. It is a real problem. Can you give me any suggestions? — Mother from Newark, Ohio

A: This will take a bit of creative cooking and planning. For your underweight son, make sure he has a high-calorie snack before bedtime, like a milkshake. For the son who needs to lose weight — give him some of nature’s fast food: fruits.

When you have time to cook, make a double or triple batch. Get those guys to help out and spend an hour washing and trimming vegetables or cooking lean beef ahead for tacos. Use quick cooking methods, like stir-fry, and slice meat and veggies thin for fast cooking.

Serve “assemble your own” meals like sandwiches, minipizzas on English muffins, baked potatoes with a variety of toppings. Prepare meals that pack variety in one dish — chicken fajitas in soft taco shells, tuna and vegetable salad in a pita pocket, a spinach and ham quiche or a big salad topped with sliced cheese, turkey, and ham.


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