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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 14 and have recently started to exercise to try losing weight. I am currently 137 and am 5'4". If I continue to run, dance and do Pilates how long will it take to lose about 20 pounds? Also I think I made a mistake by eating only about 700 calories daily - if I keep doing this will it affect my metabolism or my ability to lose weight?

(Article continued below.)

Before we get into the exercise part of the question, it's necessary to address your diet - 700 calories daily is definitely not enough for you! Even though you want to lose some extra pounds, you have to remember that you are a growing teen and your body needs a lot of nutrients to keep your bones, muscles and organs healthy. Seven hundred calories won't even do that for your grandmother. As a matter of fact, what you eat or don't eat now can even affect how healthy you are when you are your grandmother's age. For example, if you get enough calcium now - at least 1300 mgs. - you will enhance your chances of having healthy bones for all your life.

Even when you are dieting, you need to be eating at least double that amount of calories - perhaps around 1,500, maybe even more. Play around with that amount, give or take a couple hundred calories, until you find what's good for you. Here's the key to successful dieting for teenagers (or for anyone, really) - make every calorie count. In other words, make sure most of the food you are eating has lots of nutritional value. That means lots of veggies, especially brightly colored ones like broccoli, spinach, red and green peppers, tomatoes, carrots, etc. - as long as you don't smother them in gobs of full-fat salad dressing, butter or sauce, you can pretty much eat as many vegetables as you want. (You can certainly use some spices or some low-calorie salad dressing, but don't go crazy - learn to appreciate the veggies' natural flavor.) Instead of eating rice, bread and pastries made of refined flour and sugar, eat whole grains - whole wheat bread and brown rice, for example. Try oatmeal (the real stuff, not the instant stuff) for breakfast instead of a sugary cereal. And make sure you get enough lean protein in your diet, too. If you can opt for a chicken breast over a hamburger, you're doing great! And no, this doesn't mean you can never have hamburger, pizza or a donut ever again. Just use these high-calorie, low-quality foods as the very occasional treat - indulge in one of these no more than one time a week and preferably less. When you are hungry between meals, eat fruit - an apple, orange, a handful of cherries, whatever's in season - or have a piece of string cheese (the cheese gives you a shot of calcium, by the way). The best part about eating foods with high nutritional value is that these are calories that your body can use - empty calories, like those found in highly processed foods, will make you feel hungrier in the long run because your body is starved for the vitamins and minerals it's not getting. So please eat more healthy food!

As for the exercise, it sounds like you're probably on the right track. If you are exercising for at least half an hour to an hour most days of the week, then that is about what you need. The important thing is to make sure you enjoy what you're doing. It's a lot harder to get motivated to do something when you don't like it, so do fun activities, and do a variety of them. The one thing you seem to be missing is some form of strength training. You should try to do this at least a couple times a week because it will help you build muscle, which helps burn more calories in the long run. Plus, strength training makes you feel really good about yourself. You don't need to go to a gym. You can do it at home with the help of some videos or DVDs and maybe a couple of inexpensive pairs of dumbbells. If you need some ideas, check out the video review section of our website - there's a whole area that features toning videos and DVDs, and each review tells you what equipment you will need, if any.

How long will it take you to lose the weight? A lot of that depends on you and how much effort you put into it. If you exercise most days of the week and eat reasonable amounts of nutritious, whole foods, you may lose as many as 15 pounds in 10 to 12 weeks (losing 20 will take a few weeks longer). Maybe this sounds like a long time, but as a teenager, it is especially important that you to go slowly when it comes to weight loss. Once again, you have to remember that you need enough nutrients to support your still-developing body. Also keep in mind that weight loss for you is not crucial - you are not obese. You just want to lose some weight so you look and feel better. When your body makes gradual changes, it's easier for the changes to stick and your risk of gaining the weight back is a lot less. There is a reason you are at the weight you are now - your current lifestyle is supporting that weight. To weigh less and keep the weight off, you need to make changes in your lifestyle. That means more activity and a higher quality diet. Your mind, as well as your body, needs time to adjust to a new exercise routine and way of eating. Believe me, you will be happier with the results if you take your time. Good luck!

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