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Q & A

Got a question about some aspect of mind-body-spirit fitness? Ask! It can be as earthly as "Can a heart monitor really enhance my workout?" (the short answer to that is yes) or as heady as, "Don't I need to sell all my worldly goods and go live on a mountain top to find enlightenment?" (the short answer here is no). Needless to say, we can't answer every question we receive, but we will take one every month and answer it here. If you've got a burning need to know about something, email us, and you may find your query featured next time around.

I am 48 years old and need to lose about 50 pounds. I have been walking about 3 times a week for starters and am trying to change how and what I eat. However, this past month I got a new job where I have to sit a lot. (I used to teach and was on my feet all day.) I get very sleepy after a while and was wondering what I should eat for breakfast, mid-morning snacks, lunch, etc. to keep my body and mind alert but not add pounds. I don't want to defeat my goal of losing weight because I lack the energy or stamina to even want to get out of the chair. Can you help me?

(Article continued below.)

It's ironic how sitting around can make you even more tired than when you are moving around! And that lazy feeling can endanger a diet because it's so easy to reach for something sugary or starchy to give you a quick energy jolt. There are several problems with grabbing a candy bar or pastry for your morning or afternoon snacks, however. I don't have to remind you of all the extra, empty calories these foods have, but there's more. Simple sugars and starches, while giving you a quick energy boost, let you down just as quickly, leaving you with even less energy than before. This leaves you craving more starch and more sugar and it becomes a vicious circle.

The good news is that there are countless ways to eat healthy meals and snacks that keep your energy balanced so that you avoid sabotaging your weight loss efforts. The secret is not just in what you eat, however, but in the combination of food you are eating. I'm not talking about the "food combining" fad diet that's popular in some circles — what I mean by combining food is that whether you're eating a full meal or a snack, it should contain a combination of protein, "good" (non-refined) carbs and some fat (preferably not unhealthy saturated fat or trans fat).

Your breakfast starts the whole tone of the day, both energy-wise and nutritionally. It doesn't have to be heavy or time consuming. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Granola mixed into a cup of low fat yogurt.
  • Scrambled eggs on a slice of whole-grain toast, topped with salsa.
  • A smoothie with protein powder, orange juice, half a banana, frozen blueberries or strawberries and nonfat or soymilk.
  • Any whole-grain, high-fiber cereal with nonfat milk or soymilk.
  • Oatmeal with raisins, milk or soymilk and a drizzle of real maple syrup.

At lunchtime you should go light on bread and pasta, as these can drag down your energy in the afternoon. Stick to protein-rich salads with low-calorie dressing on the side or a chicken or fish entrée with a couple sides of vegetables if you're eating out — and do send that bread basket away! Sandwiches are okay if they're on whole grain bread, not buns, rolls or baguettes — and skip the full-fat mayo in favor of mustard, ketchup or another low-calorie spread. Here are a few make-at-home ideas:

  • Tuna salad made with low-fat mayo and served on a bed of dark, leafy greens.
  • A salad with dark, leafy greens, carrots, your favorite veggies, garbanzo beans and light vinaigrette dressing packed separately.
  • Turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread with lots of lettuce, tomato slices and a slice of low fat cheese.
  • A quarter avocado, sliced, on whole-grain bread with sprouts or greens and low fat Swiss cheese.
  • Half a whole-wheat pita bread, stuffed with hummus and veggies.

When it comes to midmorning and afternoon snacks, there are so many healthy, energizing choices, it's a wonder that people even think of choosing a donut or candy! These suggestions are just the beginning:

  • Whole grain crackers with low fat cheese or peanut butter.
  • Low fat yogurt, with blueberries added.
  • Make your own trail mix: take half a cup of low fat granola and add a tablespoon of raisins or dried cranberries and half a tablespoon of sunflower seeds or nuts.
  • An orange, banana, apple, cherries or grapes — whatever fruit is in season. Add a few nuts or half a slice of cheese.
  • A cup of homemade soup, brought from home (not the sodium and chemical-filled cups on the supermarket shelves).
  • Veggies with low fat ranch dressing for dipping.
  • Hummus with veggies for dipping.
  • A piece of string cheese and a couple of whole grain crackers.
  • A small handful of soybeans or soy nuts.
  • Cottage cheese topped with applesauce and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
  • A rolled up piece of deli meat and a couple of whole grain crackers.
  • A LaraBar (eat half in the morning save the other half in a sealed sandwich baggie for the afternoon).

Like lunch, dinner should focus on lean protein and veggies, with whole grain carbs playing a distant third in the equation. A heavy, calorie-laden dinner can undo all the good stuff you did for yourself during the day.

In addition to enjoying a combination of protein, veggies and/ or non-refined carbs and some fat each time you eat, you should also be aware of portion control. Even the healthiest foods will pack on pounds if you eat enough of them. Try to keep your snacks to around a hundred calories, not much more. And for your meals, keep in mind that a real serving of cereal is usually a cup (and for some, like Grape Nuts, a half-cup is considered a serving). A serving of chicken or beef is around 3 ounces and fish is 4 to 6 ounces. One slice of bread — not two — is considered one serving of carbs. Read your labels and know how many calories and how many servings you are really consuming!

The above menu suggestions are just the beginning. There are many healthy cookbooks on the market that will help you eat in a way that's low in calories and energizing at the same time. You'll find some below.

One last suggestion — you also may want to take some time during your breaks and during lunch to take quick walks. Brief spurts of exercise are also energizing, and will definitely keep your energy up. And every hour make sure you stretch so that your body doesn't get too stiff from sitting most of the day. The human body wasn't really meant to spend all its time in an office; it was meant to move. So give your body a break now and then — it'll keep you healthier, and more productive, in the long run.

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