Me minus 10: A personal weight-loss challenge

Feb 25, 2010

Eat, Drink and Be Healthy columnist Jennifer Huget discussed her plan to lose 10 pounds before her next birthday. She was joined by Brian Wansink, author of "Mindless Eating" and director of Cornell University's Food and Brain Lab.

Welcome to today's discussion about Me Minus 10, featuring Brian "Mindless Eating" Wansink and me, Jennifer LaRue Huget. I'm the one who wants to lose 10 pounds by the time I turn 50 in December. Brian has offered me some tips for getting there in a mindless-eating kind of way. We look forward to answering your questions this afternoon. So, let's get this chat started!

P.S. Brian's going to be with us in just a few minutes!

Is eating bread as detrimental to weight loss as I keep hearing that it is? Even if it's a dense, multi-grain type?

There's been lots of buzz and research lately about whether low-carb/high protein diets (such as Atkins) or low-fat, higher-carb ones (that might include whole-grain bread) is best. My feeling is that you should find a way of eating that suits your tastes and lifestyle and make it work for you. Please be mindful that "multi-grain" is one of those slippery terms: the package might say the contents are multi-grain, but if none or few of those grains are whole grains, you won't get the benefit of the fiber and nutrients whole grains provide.

What do you consider the most important step in your 10-pound weight loss challenge - upping your exercise routine or decreasing calories? Eating different foods? Other? (Shout-out to my fellow Drake University alum Brian Wansink!) Barb Boose

I'm working on both at once. I actually am looking for ways to make my exercise routine more challenging and calorie-burning without adding many more minutes of activity to my day. As for calories, for now I'm sticking mostly to the healthful foods I love (and my nightly martini), but trying to avoid taking seconds and especially picking at the leftovers while I'm doing the dishes. Brian has suggested I pop a piece of minty chewing gum in my mouth before I do the dishes; that seemed to help last night!

Are you planning to concentrate on a particular "diet," i.e. low-carb, low-fat, etc.?

I am not a big fan of "diets" per se; I plan to try enjoy a broad range of foods, but perhaps in smaller quantities and at more appropriate times of day than I currently do. I'll be writing for next week's Eat, Drink and Be Healthy column about the New Atkins diet and the role saturated fat is thought to play in our health.

I need to lose about 40 pounds and need to do it ASAP. If I start eating healthy, drinking water more often and cut out all the fast food and sugar cravings, do I really need to exercise? Is exercising the key to weight loss? I'm not into weight lifting, jogging, biking, etc.

Most experts will tell you that it's pretty hard to lose weight -- and even harder to keep it off -- without adding physical activity to your routine. But the New Atkins diet book that I'm writing about for next week doesn't require followers to exercise. My personal feeling is that, even if you're not into the activities you list, there's got to be some form of movement that feels good to you. How about just cranking up some tunes and dancing like a maniac?  

Around 4 p.m each afternoon at work I'm most tempted to grab something sweet or caffeinated. What are some healthy , lower calorie snacks that I can keep at my desk so I won't go first for the chocolate candy or Girl Scout cookies? Thanks.

As a former Girl Scout leader, I would first suggest that you can probably treat yourself to a Thin Mint now and then. (But it's so hard not to eat the whole sleeve full, right?) I often eat some sunflower seeds or popcorn (popped stovetop in olive oil, with just a bit of salt) in the afternoon, but Brian has suggested I sometimes put a bowl of baby carrots or cut-up strips of red pepper on my desk instead. I do drink de-caf coffee and tea (black and unsweetened) all afternoon, too. 

just a thought but as opposed to telling someone who you love they need to lose weight or they have a pretty face, why not tell them how beautiful they are? That's all the motivation most people need to be the best they can be. Thanks.

I love this sentiment, and you're so right: We all deserve to be told how beautiful we are. I'm going to start telling my friends how beautiful I think they are more often! Thanks for the thought.

Please ask Brian his thoughts on alcohol and weight loss. I would love to have him say I can still drink one glass of wine a night and still make progress toward that final goal!

Brian's power has been knocked out by a storm, but our producers are still trying to get him hooked up to the chat! He and his team didn't suggest I give up my evening martinis, as those are the kinds of things that make us smile, as he put it. Brian's approach is more about looking for a couple of changes to make at a time, changes so small that you'll hardly notice you're making them. Believe me, I'd notice if my nightcap went missing!

What can you do to stay motivated when you've lost a few pounds and come to a plateau?

The easiest thing is to change your routine in some way. That's true whether you're peaked with exercise or with eating. The best way to stay motivated is to make yourself accountable. In this case, when you start losing motivation everytime you believe you've eaten well that day or you're proud of the way you handled your food decision, put an ex on the calendar. the active action of rewarding  yourself in that small way will keep you on the path.

Which grains will you choose to eat? Is sugar in or out, and what about its siblings?

I am cutting back on grains, but only because lately gluten seems to upset my stomach, and outside of brown rice, there aren't a lot of grains I gravitate toward. As for sugar, I'm not a big user, except on my oatmeal (oh -- there's a grain I'm still enjoying!). And I don't care for artificial sweeteners. I do add some honey to my morning bowl of Greek yogurt and nuts, though. But just a tiny bit.

What is your opinion of the new Jorge Cruise "belly fat" diet, in which he recommends keeping sugar comnsumption under 15 grams per day, and carbs below 135 gr. per day?

Moderation is good but it's probably going to be a lot easier for you to use basic rules of thumb than it will be to count basic grams of sugar. The more you begin to focus on food, it becomes the only thing you think about and you start craving it.

Your article said that you never use artifical sweetner. Why not?

A couple of reasons: First, aspartame gives me a headache. Beyond that, I don't care for the way they taste, and I'd just as soon learn to enjoy as many foods and beverages without sweeteners at all. One of my favorite treats is a Starbucks iced green tea with no water, no sweetener. It's really minty and tastes sweet, even though it's got no sugar or artificial sweetener. 

I've found greatly conflicting reports of calorie counts for sushi and maki rolls. Can you suggest a good source of info?

The best place to look is We use it in our lab for a lot of quick analysis.

Hi Jennifer, I am concerned about the NY Times article you linked to earlier this week about how sitting for too long can wipe out weight loss. Most of my job is spent in front of a computer. Other than installing a treadmill or buying a stability bar, what are some exercises/things I can do while sitting to help keep me active? So far I have just been fidgeting a lot.

I'm concerned about it, too, and I wish I could afford one of those treadmill desks! I, too, am trying to fidget more, but that's hard to do, isn't it? I've been trying to get up out of my chair at every opportunity. I have a very affectionate little terrier who stops by my desk every so often and begs me to play with her; I'm going to take her up on that more often.

By far the best tool you can use can be found at  Check out my pyramid planner. It’s in credible.

But I got a Wii fit as gift and I love it! I do some of the harder exercises and then reward myself with some of the more fun ones.

I've been doing it regularly for 2 months now. I've only lost 3 pounds, but I can tell I'm toning up and my pants are looser. Also people have commented on my slimmer appearance, so my body is changing even if I haven't lost the number of pounds I thought I would by now.

In order to lose those pounds I'm going to have to stop kidding myself that I'm eating well. I thought I was doing great, and will do great for several days. Then I'll blow it with a couple days of terrible eating. I will convince myself I've been eating so great I deserve whatever bad treat I want.

That wouldn't be so bad except I will convince myself several times in a row that I can have "just this one thing" and before I know it I've eaten terrible for 2 solid days.

Congratulations on your success with the Wii! That sounds like a fun way to build physical activity into your day. 

It sounds as though you might be a good candidate for a food journal/diary. Writing down everything you eat -- and the circumstances under which you eat it -- can help you pinpoint patterns of "terrible eating." Then maybe you can figure out how to work around the circumstances that seem to lead you to those "bad" eating episodes. 

Brian recommended I check in with the government's My Pyramid Menu Planner at for a "reality check" every so often. It has calorie counters and all kinds of gadgets to help you assess the value of your diet. He gently suggested that going there might encourage me to rethink the role cheese plays in my daily diet!

Years ago I gave up sugary soft drinks and it really helped me lose weight. What are your thoughts on diet drinks? I realize they don't have any calories but are there other significant health or weight impacts?

Research hasn't found any drawbacks to diet soft drinks other than the amount of sodium they contain. Diet soft drinks are a great substitute for the full calorie options. But tap water is still the best.

How do you figure out how many calories you should take in a day to lose weight vs what you now eat? And how does exercise fit in with decided a calorie limit?

The perfect place to go is and go to my pyramid planner. It will show you how many calories you need per day based on height, weight, sex and physical activity level.

Do you have a pre-planned daily menu?

I don't have a pre-planned daily menu in the strictest sense, but I do try to have an idea of what I'm going to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks once I get up in the morning. I always plan the whole week's worth of dinners on Sunday before I grocery shop, so that's all set. For breakfast, I rotate among a few favorites -- Greek yogurt with nuts, honey, and a dash of cinnamon, oatmeal made with milk and topped with a bit of brown sugar and cinnamon, a scrambled egg with some vegetables and cheese. And for lunch I usually eat some leftovers from the night before.

How do I enjoy my weekends without blowing my diet? I usually eat out at least one night and like to have a few glasses of wine with friends or my husband. I find I gain about 2 pounds over the weekend, which comes off during the week when I go back to my healthier eating habits.

On the days you are going to eat out, be certain that you have a lot more protein for breakfast and for lunch than you might normally have. Also, and when you're eating out, use the restaurant rule of two. You can have any two things you want in addition to your entree, but only two. That can be an appetizer and a glass of wine, bread and dessert or two glasses of wine. You'll eat what you want most without over eating.

Why is it when you decide to lose that 10 pounds, you find you are drawn to unhealthy foods even moreso than you have been? I wish I could just lose without thinking about it, because I sabotage myself....any suggestions?

I don't want to sound as though I'm just plugging Brian Wansink's approach, because I'm listening to all kinds of advice from all kinds of experts. But Brian suggests that the best kind of diet is the one we don't know we're on; he encourages making a few small changes at a time so that you don't really feel as though you're "dieting." I know exactly what you mean about sabotaging yourself, though. That's why counting calories and points has never worked for me: I found myself obsessing about what foods I could fit in, and all that thinking about food made me crazy!

For the poster who asks if exercise is necessary, I have found that the benefit of exercise - even if it is just walking - is that it helps you curb your appetite. You don't have to kill yourself. Just walk for 30 to 45 minutes in the morning. Your appetite is lessened all day. Also, set a time after which "the kitchen is closed." Just say to yourself that you can't eat after 8pm. That really worked for me.

I agree completely. Also, exercise can help relieve stress, which I think many of us would agree contributes mightily to our weight-control problems. 

I'm doing that "the kitchen is closed" thing, too. It is surprisingly easy, once you make up your mind.

I real problem is not physical hunger but psychological hungar. What is the answer for that.

In such cases, it’s usually no more than two or three different times during the day when psychological hunger strikes. Instead of denying it, what you can do is eat something with texture.  A small amount of something with a lot of texture it satisfies this craving in a lot of people.  Eat the crisp cookie instead of cake. Or better yet, eat carrots or an apple.

You mentioned that "I jog on the treadmill for 45 minutes nearly every day." One way to rev up your exercise routine is to mix in some faster running. (You could also go at the same speed and increase the incline on the machine.) It will build muscle - and thus increase your metabolism - and will probably give you more cardiovascular improvements in less time than just steady jogging. The downside: it's a lot harder than just jogging. You'll have to decide whether it's worth the extra effort. Good luck!

Thanks so much for this tip. It must be a great one, because others have suggested it to me, too. I actually tried it for the first time yesterday, and I couldn't believe how invigorated I felt! It's a big change for me, though, as I tend to fall into a meditative trance while jogging on the treadmill, and changing up my routine tends to break my trance. That's okay: I think it's a good tradeoff!

Whenever I stick to the recommended calories to lose weight I am starving at the end of the day. How long does it take for your body to adjust to the lower calories?

You may be cutting out too many calories in the day.  When some people go on deprivation diets, it can really backfire late in the day.  The approach we suggest in “Mindless Eating” is to reduce your calories by only 300 or 400 calories a day. At that point, you don’t realize you’ve eaten less and you don’t feel deprived. Also if you increase your physical activity by walking or exercising it often times short circuits feelings of hunger.

Where did your target of losing 10 come from? BMI tables? How you feel? I'm on a similar quest, but I'm 60 and male. I really should lose 18, but it ain't easy to lose 5, which I've done this year so far.

I started with just a general sense that 10 pounds would do the trick, and going to the BMI tables confirmed my hunch. This is kind of weird, I know, but I looked at all the places on my body where little lumps of fat have piled up, and I tried to estimate how much each little lump might weigh. When I added it all up, it came to about 10 pounds. Not at all scientific, but it's helped me visualize the weight-loss process. Good luck!

Great article! You mentioned that you lost 10 pounds rapidly in the past but regained it; this time you planned to lose weight more slowly in hopes of keeping it off.

I recently lost 10 pounds slowly using Weight Watchers website; it wasn't too difficult--just slow.

In the past 4 or so weeks, I haven't really followed the diet, been eating what I want, but I do try to control portions. To my surprise, I haven't gained a pound.

I've heard our bodies establish new weight "set points" and then naturally gravitate to that set point. Anything to that? Could the slower pace of weight loss help prevent a rapid regain once off the diet because your body is gravitating to the new set point? Thanks.

I think this whole Me Minus 10 thing is a rebellion against the set-point concept! I am not ready to accept that my body is meant to be at 145 pounds just because it's been there for so long. It's not just the number on the scale, though: When I see myself in the mirror at yoga, for instance, I know that my body just doesn't need those arm flaps and belly flab!

To the person who doesn't want to exercise: the real benefit of exercise is not the calories you burn. Thirty minutes on an elliptical machine burns about one candy bar, or an ounce of potato chips, worth of calories.

Exercise makes you feel good! And it can actually kill your appetite for an hour or two afterwards. You need to find something you enjoy. I discovered Yoga classes six months ago, and I feel better than I've ever felt - no aches or pains or stiff joints. And I am 56 years old.

Exactly. When we work with people, we recommend that  you exercise not as a calorie burner but as a way to feel better.  That avoids calorie compensation, which is over eating because you think you've exercised a lot.

How important is weight training wheni t comes to losing weight? I love cardio exercise but am told to include weight training as well. Will this help with the weight loss or am I getting the same affect with cardio?

Recent studies have shown that weight training does end up burning a similar number of total calories as cardio.  If your cardio routine has gotten stale, you won't believe how much weight training will shake you up and make you feel better.

I don't know how to put this without sounding snarky. (Please believe me when I say that I applaud your efforts to get healthier - if that's even possible in your case - or at least to keep up with the health you're at now. However...) I have a lot of weight to lose (100 pounds). Losing this weight will require major changes in my life -- exercise, eating, coming to grips with why I eat the way I eat, etc. It's going to be a slow, sluggish journey (kind of like me now!) through physical, mental, and emotional changes. But I'm doing it, slowly. So, and I really don't know how to put this, reading about someone who is already as healthy as one person can plan to be, who already exercises more in a week than most people do in a month... who is also trying to lose 10 pounds... I mean... it's discouraging. I'm not trying to be a downer; everyone has their own journey toward self-acceptance and this must just be yours. But I'd rather read about someone who has problems to solve, rather than just thinks they do.

I understand where you're coming from, and I anticipated having such conversations when I decided to undertake Me Minus 10. First of all, I'd like to invite you to work with me on those 10 pounds. That would be a big step in the right direction for you, and would probably make you feel better, and we could do it together! 

One of my reasons for doing this project, though, was that while there are lots of resources, supports, and spotlights for people who have a lot of weight to lose, there are also tons of people out there who would feel lots better if they could drop just 10 or 15 pounds but who feel unsupported in that effort because it sounds kind of silly, in the grand scheme of things, to be worrying about that kind of small-scale reduction. I can't tell you how many people have written to me to say they're inspired to get rid of those last ten pounds now, too. It's a matter of degree, I suppose, but if you're unhappy carrying around extra weight, you're unhappy carrying arond extra weight.

Good luck to you! 

Is it possible to accelerate weight loss -- even temporarily -- beyond the "recommended" 2 lbs/week? For instance, if I am consuming 500 calories a day in soda or wine or whatever, and I eliminate it entirely for several weeks in addition to exercise and portion control in other parts of my diet, wouldn't that speed up my weight loss beyond the typical? I don't understand the "rule" of no more than 2 lbs/week. Is it simply a matter of averages or what is LIKELY to be maintained on a long-term basis (e.g., sustainable lifestyle changes that will help keep the weight off) or is it really physiologically impossible to lose more than 2 lbs/week?

It's physiologically possible to lose more than two pounds per week, but it's not recommended by medical professionals. For some people it's too big of a shock to their body. What you end up losing is not fat, as much as water and muscle mass.  Be careful that you don't end up using the wrong sort of weight. We've got a rule of thumb in our lab that the faster you lose the weight the faster you'll put it back on.

I, too, sit in front of the computer 8 hours a day. I do dips using the arms of the chair, and leg raises. I'll get up and pace around the office, or take a 1-minute walk if possible. Depending on how many co-workers can see you, you can do squats, forward bends, or jumping jacks!

I did some jumping jacks and squats yesterday for the first time in eons, and I couldn't believe how hard they were -- and how much fun I had doing them! That fits in with my overall "small changes" approach, too. Keep on jumping!

I heard someone say, If your grandmother doesn't recognize what type of food you are eating it is probably not on the good food list. Basically, eat more natural foods and get away from the word, "diet." Eat well you deserve it. Don't you?

Yes, that's the message Michael Pollan's been sending through his excellent, thought-provoking books. I've been discovering some amazing-tasting foods. My current favorite: I cut up a fennel (anise) bulb, rub it with some olive oil and roast it in the oven till it starts to soften. Then I grate a little Parmesan cheese over the top. Better than any Cheezit I've ever tasted!

First, thank you for having this live chat--I hope this will be something WP Online continues. I really appreciate having an opportunity to ask you and other health experts questions. Second, I am trying to eat healthier but really hate veggies. I try them but they make me gag. I'm not crazy about fruits either, but can stomach a banana and grapes. I am also not a big fan of legumes. Yes, I am extremely picky, but help! I want to eat healthier!


The easiest thing to do is go to and go to my pyramid planner. It has a lot of tips on easy ways to painlessly include more vegetables and fruits in your routine.

One key is not to eat them alone but to eat them with something else. Bananas and cereal, extra vegetables in soup and so on.

Just an observation. As someone who has written down everything I've eaten since Jan. 1, you can't help but count calories and you keep your journal. Not sure you can separate the two. Either way, it works! Best of luck!

Well, I am certainly going to keep an open mind as I take this journey, and if it becomes apparent that I need to change course and start counting calories, I will do so. I do see your point.... Thanks for writing and for your support!

I am 38 years old and I am having difficulty losing those last ten pounds! Rather than making drastic changes to my lifestyle, I'm choosing to make small changes that will stick over the long-term; however, it's frustrating because the scale is not moving! It's "demotivating" but at the same time I understand that I'm not 21 anymore so my metabolism has slowed down. What to do?? Any advice would be appreciated!

Put two short bouts of physical activity in your day. One in the morning and one in the late afternoon. It will rev your metabolism back to where it might have been a few years ago. Come up with one or two small changes and make sure you do them every day. You can find some of these ideas at The key is to be consistent.

Like Jennifer, my weight is within the healthy range, I exercise every day of the week, I eat healthfully, AND I need to lose close to 10 lbs. All of the obvious choices (no butter/margarine, skim dairy, only whole grains) have been part of my life for years. I'm 57, so a slowing metabolism may be part of the problem, but is there anything I can do besides increase the intensity of exercise or cut amounts of healthy food?

I keep hearing that weight training and mixing up my exercise routine to incorporate some high-intensity activity is the way to go. Some -- like the Atkins diet folks (I'm writing about that diet for next week) would recommend you rethink your ban on butter and perhaps slow down on carbs such as whole grains....

In your article, you mentioned you would replace Cheez-its with popcorn and healthier fare. But you are still stress eating and not eating because you are hungry. While everyone does this to a certain extent it is a very slippery slope for some people, and while essentially binging on healthier fare might be marginally better, it doesn't really deal with the issue. Does Mr. Wansink have any suggestions for dealing with this?

One of the most satisfying solutions to hand to mouth stress eating is crunchy food, high texture food -- food with a lot of texture. This could be bad stuff like potatoe chips or it could be good stuff like cut up vegetables like carrots and peppers. Have a bowl of crunchy vegetables near you at your time. You'll be eating a lot fewer calories and it'll be a lot healthier.

If you are told to lose weight because of spinal stenosis pain and loss of movement , diabetes and alergies, how do you find a way to do it? I am eating about 1,600 calories a day now.

I think that folks like yourself with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes and allergies might do best to talk with your physician about your weight-loss plans. There are a lot of variables in play, and you don't want to inadvertently exacerbate those conditions as you try to lose weight.  Best of luck to you.

I know I should drink water and I do but I want something different with my dinner. Is drinking watered down juice acceptable or is that just a bad as soda. I love hot tea and wish I could drink it without sugar. How did you manage to eliminate sugar from your tea

Try an artificial sweetener with your tea. And with dinner try something that you probably haven’t tried in a long time and that’s a glass of non-fat milk. It will give you a lot more than a glass of juice will give you.

What are you current eating habits? Do you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner or snack &/or graze during you day?

I try not to graze, and I try to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks as distinct events. But the timing is different every day, depending on my schedule. For instance, on the four mornings when I go to yoga class, I just have a handful of raisins and nuts beforehand and my regular breakfast afterward. On the other days, I eat breakfast a bit earlier and skip the raisins and nuts.

Well, I think it's time to wrap up! Thanks for all your great questions! I hope we can do this again some time soon! Thanks! Jennifer

P.S. Follow me on Twitter: @jhuget

What have you heard about increasing protein intake to help with weight loss? But not with really low carbs. That doesn't seem healthy to me.

In general most Americans get enough protein in their diet if they eat meat. However, many people find protein much more satisfying than other food groups and it’s been a weight loss solution for a lot of dieters.

In This Chat
Jennifer LaRue Huget
In addition to writing the weekly Eat, Drink and Be Healthy nutrition column, Jennifer also blogs on health news for The Checkup and writes the Lean and Fit newsletter.
Brian Wansink
Food psychologist Brian Wansink is the author of "Mindless Eating" and writes the FoodThink with Wansink blog for Prevention magazine.
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