naked feed standing on scaleArlene, our health guru, answers your questions about losing weight, lifting weights, and gives us the low-down on energy bars.

I am really struggling to lose weight.  I know that I have a lot of stress in my life and this can cause me to overeat, but generally, I am really strict with my eating.  Why is it that I cannot lose my stomach, any of my trousers fit?

Stress and the battle of the bulge are common companions.  How many times have you reached for a packet of chips when life gets too hard?  Overeating triggered by stress sends extra kilos straight to your belly – with potential consequences to your heart.   Research shows that there is a definite response to an “apple” shape and their reaction to stress.  The apple shape woman secretes more cortisol when under pressure.

So-called visceral fat, which is located deep within the torso, packed around the organs; the surfaces of its cells have more receptors for cortisol than do other kinds of fat.  When cortisol meets these cells, it can activate an enzyme that causes them to get bigger.  This is not just a problem when buying pants.  Plumped up visceral fat cells are more likely to release fat into the bloodstream, where it can clog arteries, hike up triglycerides, and raise bad cholesterol.

To lessen the chances of a dangerous bulge you should meditate, exercise, and have plenty of sleep.  You cannot prevent stressful events, but you can control how you cope with them.

A friend told me I should not lift weights until I lose more weight because otherwise, I’ll look even bigger.  Is this true?

No, quite the opposite.  You will burn calories during your strength workouts and if you use enough resistance, you will gain muscle, which, in turn, can speed up your metabolism.  In fact, if you lose weight without lifting weights, you are likely to lose muscle along with fat; with less muscle, your metabolism will slow down.  Be sure you lift heavy enough weights that your muscles fatigue between 8-12 repetitions.

With lighter weights, you will not develop enough muscle to make a significant difference.  Don’t worry, moderately heavy weights will not make you look bigger. Women have to lift extremely heavyweights in order to see big gains in muscle size.  With a moderate strength-training program you will develop tone, not bulk.  Keep in mind that while the muscle is heavier than fat, it takes up less space.  Women report that as they start to develop muscle, their clothes fit better.

In addition, you will have more power when you hike, jog or use the stair climber, which means you can work at a higher level and burn even more calories.

Should I take my hip measurements at the tops of my hip bones or around my butt?  How often should I measure myself when I am trying to lose weight and centimetres?

Measure around the largest part of your rear, the smallest part of your waist, and the broadest part of your chest.  When you are on a weight loss program, take measurements only every 6-8 weeks.  If you do it too often, you are not going to see much of a difference and you may get discouraged.  If you lose ½ – 1 kg per week, the rate recommended from a health perspective, you should notice a difference in about 6 weeks.

I get so tired and have started eating energy bars and fruit juice to give me energy but they do not seem to help.  I need some assistance!!!

Is what you eat draining your energy?  You can eat and drink all the energy bars and juices you want, but these nutrition don’ts could leave you tapped out in no time:

•    Skipping meals – going for more than three or four hours during the day without eating causes blood sugar levels to plummet, leaving you fatigued and/or uncontrollably hungry.
•    Overindulging – just as eating too little can wipe you out, so can eating too much.  When you overeat you feel lethargic.  So eat every three hours – but have smaller portions.
•    Hitting the vending machines – lollies, cold drinks, and other junk foods give you a quick boost, but that does not last long, and they offer little or no nutritional value.
•    Raising a glass at lunch – drink alcohol early in the day and a siesta may be the only thing you are up for afterwards.
•    No exercise – the fitter you are the more energy your body will muster.  Get moving!!!

I have not exercised in years and really want to boost my energy and lose weight.  What is a good treadmill workout for beginners?

To prevent injury and burnout and to make sure you are successful in your new endeavour, begin by doing less than you think you can do.  You will still feel an energy boost and burn calories.  For most beginners, a good starting point is walking four times a week, gradually building from 10 minutes to 30 minutes at a comfortable pace.  Keep a workout diary to track your fatigue, soreness and progress.

You should not be sore for more than 24 hours after a workout if you are you are overdoing it.  After every workout, gently stretch your hamstrings, calves and shins, holding for at least 30 seconds without bouncing.

After four weeks of consistent exercise, start including intervals of higher intensity exercise, either by cranking up the speed or by using the treadmills incline feature.  For example, after a five-minute warm-up, alternate one minute at an intensity that leaves you slightly out of breath with one minute at a comfortable pace.  After five to 15 minutes of these intervals, cool down for about five minutes.  As you become more fit, increase your intervals so that you are doing two-three minutes at a higher intensity for every minute of rest.

Your body adapts quickly, so in order to keep progressing it is important to keep changing your workout and make them more frequent (daily).  Eventually, you should be working out for about an hour each day.