Have a Question? We Have the Answers.

Scroll through our most frequently asked questions about dieting. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, please feel free to contact us directly.

Diet Planning

In the next few months, I'll be doing a lot of traveling by car. I know that many of my restaurant choices will be fast food. What can I do to keep a harness on my calories?

Luckily, fast food restaurants now offer healthier options. You can choose from salads (use lemon juice or request a low-calorie dressing), grilled chicken sandwiches, baked potatoes without toppings, and fresh fruit. If pizza is your only choice, limit the fat and calories by choosing the plain cheese pizza with vegetables (onions, peppers and mushrooms, for example), rather than pizza topped with high-fat processed meats. More places are offering roasted chicken. Watch the amount you order and be sure to remove the skin before eating, or you'll end up with a high-fat item. Also, don't be afraid to ask for nutrition information to help you make your decisions.

With Halloween coming soon, I am in a quandary. When I buy candy for the trick-or-treaters, I end up gorging on it. Any suggestions?

Depending on your level of control, here are three suggestions: You can be nonfood Halloween treats like gift certificates to area restaurants; colorful pencils; erasers shaped like ghosts, bats, pumpkins and witches; pencil sharpeners; or stickers. Another idea is to buy candy that's not your favorite. If you think you can handle it, buy the candy you usually buy no more than two days in advance and allow yourself one piece per day. Sometimes allowing yourself the candy takes away the desire for it.

I am trying to follow a healthier diet, but my real problem is lunch. I need some ideas beyond a sandwich.

Revitalize your lunches by taking nonfat yogurt and fruit; raw vegetable salads with chunks of chicken; nonfat or 1 percent cottage cheese with raw vegetables or fruit pieces; brown rice salad with chicken chunks; vegetables marinated in nonfat salad dressing served with pita bread; or cold cooked pasta with pieces of raw or cooked vegetables seasoned with nonfat salad dressing. Be sure to keep your cold foods cold!

A friend urges me to eat food I don't want. What can I do?

The best way to handle these uncomfortable situations is directly and assertively. First describe the other person's behavior directly, then express your feelings calmly. Finally, ask for a specific change: "You're pushing me to eat what I don't want. I feel uncomfortable because I'm working on my eating habits and I'm very committed to this goal. Pleases help me by supporting my decision not to eat that food."

How can I follow my eating plan in restaurants?

Make sure you are not ravenous when you arrive at the restaurant. have a snack before you leave. Be the first in your group to order--to avoid being influenced by someone else's choice. Ask for salad dressings, sauces, and gravies to be served on the side. Choose foods that are broiled, grilled, roasted and steamed instead of fried. Enjoy rolls and breads without butter. Steer clear of alcohol--it's high in calories and may impair your self-control. Finally, eat slowly and enjoy the food, the people and the conversation!

What diet should I put my 9-year old daughter on?

Diets can be dangerous for children. When they go on a diet they become very unhappy about themselves, injure their self-esteem and grow even more preoccupied with food. If your child is overweight, help her/him to maintain or slow weight gain through healthy eating (without deprivation) and exercise. Also, it's important to recognize that an overweight child may be a symptom of a problem in family dynamics. A multi-disciplinary team, including a psychologist, nutritionist and physician, may be necessary.

How can I create a healthier Easter Basket for the people I love?

Design a heart-healthy Easter Basket that's easy on the waistline by filling baskets with low-fat candies like gum drops, hard candy, jelly beans, licorice, maple sugar candy, marshmallows, mints, lollipops, and sugarless chewing gum. If you'd rather steer clear of sweets, use non-food fillers like stamps, note cards, lip balm or a small tube of hand cream.

I have heard that when someone reaches a plateau during weight loss efforts, adding calories will increase metabolism. Is this true?

There is no scientific evidence to support the belief that increasing calories will boost metabolism. What may be happening is better adherence to the reducing plan at higher calorie levels: people may feel less deprived and hungry at higher calorie levels, finding it easier to adhere to guidelines.

I heard that if you don't exercise or discontinue your exercise program, your muscle will turn to fat. Is this true?

Muscle and fat cells are completely different, structurally and functionally, and are not interchangeable. Your muscles can lose the gains in strength if you discontinue exercising. You can increase your fat storage if the calories you take in exceed the calories you expend.

Help! I lost 60 pounds six years ago and have successfully kept off 40 of it. But I'm struggling to take off those 20 unwanted pounds. Sweets (desserts, hard candy and so on) are my problem foods. I can't control myself once I get started. Please advise me on ways to overcome this annoying eating habit.

The first step in gaining control of troublesome situations is learning to identify them. You can do this by making a list of situations in which you tend to lose control of your eating. In your list, be as detailed as possible--recognizing when you lose control and how you feel at the time. Then, make a list of the situations in which you make wise food choices. Compare the lists to identify similarities and differences between the two. Next, determine ways you can transfer the behaviors you display in which you are in control to those situations in which you feel out of control. Visualizing yourself taking control of situations may also be helpful. Successful people use visualization effectively by actually imagining themselves going through the actions of successful behavior before they do it.

I try to watch my weight. I find that I can't eat early in the morning because I'm not hungry. If I do eat, I'm constantly hungry through the day, and end up eating more than if I skipped a morning meal. Why does this happen?

Although eating does stimulated the release of digestive juices, food does not prime the digestive system or stimulate the appetite. The effect you describe is more psychological than physiological. People who have a weight problem often overeat at night, causing lack of hunger in the morning. Fear of getting out of control if something is eaten plays a major role in this pattern. Work on normalizing your eating patterns. Then, you'll find it acceptable to be hungry in the morning. Eating at regular time periods will help in this process.

I gained more than 50 pounds during my most recent pregnancy. I'm anxious to lose those extra pounds. Right now, I'm breast-feeding my month-old son.

Severe calorie restriction is out of the question: intakes below 1,500 calories per day are not recommended at any time while you are breast feeding. Restricted diets may adversely affect the volume of milk you produce, resulting in the infant's appetite not being satisfied. A level of at least 1,800 calories daily is encouraged. Check with your physician before starting any program. Aim for a slow weight of about four pounds per month.

A friend says that for weight loss, it doesn't matter if you engage in a high or low-intensity workout. I say that a low-intensity workout is better, because more fat is burned. Who's right?

Sorry, but your friend is on the right track. While it is true that the higher the exercise intensity, the more the body prefers to use glycogen rather than fat for fuel, the type of fuel used during exercise probably doesn't make much difference. The important variable for weight loss is total calorie expenditure. A high-intensity workout that uses 200 calories in 30 minutes will be more beneficial than a low-intensity workout that uses 100 calories in the same time, because the total number of calories burned is greater.

Proportions and Meal Prep

Why do we limit caffeine on our Diet Center Programs?

Caffeine acts as a mild stimulant to the central nervous system and acts as a diuretic resulting in possible fluid loss. For some people, caffeine can speed the heart rate temporarily and increase stomach acid. Caffeine can also cause headaches, insomnia and anxiety. The reason we limit caffeine in our programs, besides the reason above, is because people tent to use coffee or colas in place of better sources of nutrition such as milk, juice or water. Our protocol is put in place to not only help you lose weight but also to teach you about an overall healthy lifestyle.

I've been working on reducing the fat in my diet. Is low-fat milk (2 percent) a good choice in the dairy category?

Compared to whole milk, yes. Compared to skim milk, no. Whole milk contains 8.2 grams of fat and 150 calories per 8 fluid ounces; low fat milk has 4.7 grams of fat and 120 calories; and skim milk, your best bet, wins with 0.4 grams of fat and 86 calories.

My fiancée is a vegetarian, and she believes it is important to combine foods at the same meal to get adequate protein. Is she right?

The protein in any single plant food is incomplete; that is, it contains fewer of the building blocks of protein (amino acids) than animal foods. You don't have to worry about combining foods at each meal, however. You'll get enough protein from a plant-based diet when you eat a variety of foods on a daily basis.

I heard that you need to eat fat to feel satisfied. Is this true?

Because the fat takes longer to digest that protein or carbohydrate, nutritionists used to think it was more satisfying. But recent studies show that, overall, carbohydrate satiates better than fat. Preliminary studies suggest that people who have trouble regulating their body weight may actually be relatively insensitive to the satiety value of fat.

Can I really prevent heart disease by drinking alcohol?

Although alcohol may raise HDL (good) cholesterol, research shows that moderate use of alcohol may indicate other lifestyle-habits--such as effective stress management or good nutrition--that can reduce the risk of heart disease. Also, there are different types of HDL cholesterol: HDL-1, HDL-2, and HDL-3. Alcohol seems to increase HDL-3, which plays no proven role in protecting against heart disease. Finally, the amount of alcohol claimed to raise HDLs can contribute to liver damage and blood pressure problems. Exercise is a more effective way to increase HDLs.

I just lost 25 pounds, and am very pleased with my accomplishment. But I'm scared that I might gain the weight back. What can I do?

Losing weight is just part of the story. Keeping it off can be a much greater challenge. The first three months of maintaining weight loss are critical. The way you handle things during this time will provide a window to how you'll fare in the future. To keep yourself on the maintenance track, set boundaries that--once nudged-- will help you get back to your healthy-eating style. You might limit yourself to a weight gain of three pounds; feeling comfortably full instead of stuffed after meals; or being able to wear a snug piece of clothing. Also, plan ahead for high-risk situations--such as being bored, stressed or confronted with social situations. If you have a plan for how to handle these times, you increase your chances of experiencing success in dealing with them. You might make a list of alternate activities to attack when you're bored; learn how to relax to reduce stress; or plan what you eat throughout the day to accommodate social activities. Last, maintain some form of regular exercise. Studies consistently support that people who incorporate exercise into their lives increase their chances of maintaining weight they lose. At Diet Center, we offer a 1-year maintenance program to give clients the tools, skills, and support they need to successively manage their new weight and eating style.

How much fat do I need to eat each day?

Health professionals recommend that fat make up less than 30 percent of your daily calories. To calculate your fat limit, multiply your calorie level by 0.30 and divide that number by nine (since there are nine calories per gram of fat).

Do smokers need more vitamins?

Smokers have lower blood levels of vitamin C, thought to be due to the body's use of vitamin C to inactivate the free radicals in cigarette smoke. Free radicals damage cells and put smokers at increased risk of damage linked to cancer and heart disease. The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin C is 100 mg per day for smokers compared to 60 mg per day for nonsmokers. A 4-ounce glass of orange juice provides 60 mg of vitamin C.

I am an avid cyclist; in fact, I compete on a regular basis. I'm a 5-foot-8 male weighing 154 pounds. How much protein should I eat?

Much research has been devoted recently to protein needs of athletes. While it is true that athletes may require more protein than the Recommended Dietary Allowance of 0.8 grams per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight, the increased requirement appears to be small--contrary to what you may read in some magazines. Endurance athletes, such as cyclists, have greater protein needs than strength-training athletes. The current recommendation is 1.0 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The amount of protein you would need is about 105 grams. Translated to food, 8 ounces of lean meat, 2 glasses of milk, and 11 servings from the breads, cereals, rice and pasta group would cover your protein needs. Don't forget to round out your food intake with fruits and vegetables.

Foods and Weight Loss Ingredients

Can sugar be part of a healthy diet and weight loss program?

Yes, sugar in moderation can be part of a healthy diet and weight loss program. The US Food Guide Pyramid encourages consumers to have the smallest portion of their energy derived from fats, oils and sugar (top of the pyramid). Diet Center follows these recommendations from the Food Guide Pyramid. All carbohydrates we consume, whether they are complex carbohydrates or simple sugars are broken down into the simplest sugars (glucose, galactose and fructose) in the body during digestion. Therefore complex carbohydrates, as well as, simple sugars affect blood sugar. Getting your carbohydrates from mostly starchy foods or complex carbohydrates is recommended because they usually supply vitamins, minerals and perhaps fiber and they are more nutrient dense than foods made with mostly sugar.

I have a nagging sweet tooth. Are there any lowfat choices that are satisfying?

There certainly are. The following contain 0-3 grams of fat per serving: angel food cake, animal crackers, graham crackers, ginger snacks, vanilla wafers and sherbet. Remember, although low in fat, these foods do contain calories, so if you're watching your weight, be sure to limit the amount you eat.

I need some quick, low-fat snacks.

Try popcorn prepared in a hot air popper. Add a small amount of margarine (1 tablespoon for four cups) to help other seasonings like chili powder, garlic powder, and onion powder stick to the popped kernels. For a hearty snack, fill a pita pocket with chopped vegetables and season with a low-fat dressing. Stock your pantry and refrigerator with whole-grain crackers, unsweetened fruit juices, fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat cheeses, and Diet Center snacks/bars.

Help! I'm trying to convert my recipes to low fat, but I need some smart substitutions. What do you suggest?

My personal favorites: substitute two egg whites for a whole egg in omelets, egg dishes and most baked goods; use applesauce for part of the fat in cakes; and try non-fat or low-fat yogurt in place of sour cream. Also, substituting well-chilled, whipped evaporated skim milk in place of whipped cream comes in handy when making your favorite festive desserts.

Many cookies I find in health food stores are sweetened with fructose instead of sugar. What's the difference?

Nutritionally, there's virtually no difference. Fructose occurs, naturally, along with other sugars, in honey and fruits. Regular cane sugar is sucrose. During digestion, sucrose is broken down into equal parts of glucose and fructose. Fructose is absorbed more slowly than sucrose and goes directly to the liver, where it is converted to glucose. Insulin makes it possible for glucose or blood sugar to enter nearly all cells in the body. Fructose contains 4 calories per gram, the same as sucrose. It provides no clinical advantages for individuals with diabetes and does not aid in weight loss.

I'm confused! I've been careful to cut back on fat in my diet by eating fat-free foods, but my weight keeps going up. What's going on?

As you watch your fat intake, it's critical to remember that fat-free doesn't mean calorie free. For instance, an ounce of jelly beans (about 10) has only 0.1 grams of fat. But at a total of 104 calories, it hardly makes for a low calorie alternative. Make sure your fat-free choices are not adding to your calorie intake instead of reducing it. To lose weight, the number of calories you take in must be less than the number you expend.

Why do products containing NutraSweet have "Phenylketonurics: Contains Phenylalanine" on the label?

NutraSweet is a registered trademark for aspartame, a nutritive sweetener used as a sugar substitute. Aspartame is a combination of two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Individuals with phenylketonuria, a disorder caused by the inability to metabolize phenylalanine in the body, must carefully monitor the amount of phenylalanine in their diets. The warning label alerts these individuals to the presence of the amino acid.

I have a problem eating dairy products, so I take calcium supplements. I have heard that I shouldn't take a calcium supplement because it will bind iron in my intestine, making me lose the iron. Is this true?

It has been found that a 1,250-milligram dose of calcium carbonate can bind much of dietary iron. Rather than give up your calcium, try dividing the doses or use another form, such as calcium lactate or calcium citrate. You might also boost your intake by including vegetable sources of calcium.