Chat about weight management

February 12, 2008

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

How's your New Year's diet going? If you're looking for inspiration - or just have a question about dieting or exercise - Brianne Guilford will be here to answer your questions. She's weight management program coordinator at Kansas University's Energy Balance Laboratory. The chat begins at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.


Hi, everybody. I'm Terry Rombeck, our features/special sections editor, and I'll moderate today's chat. Brianne is here, and we're going to get started a little early. We've got some great questions today, but feel free to send more in as we're going. Welcome, Brianne.

Brianne Guilford:

Hello and thank you Terry for having me.


As a woman with more than 100 lbs to lose, I have found that weight comes off easily the first few weeks of a weight loss plan, and then stalls or comes completely to a stop, even though I continue to follow the plan and exercise regularly. I have been told that I may not be eating enough calories to support my weight loss and exercise regimen. Can you explain this, and is there a way to figure out the right number of calories for someone with a lot of weight to lose?

Brianne Guilford:

It is common that weight loss is more rapid during the first few weeks of a weight loss plan which is often due to water weight loss, especially in the first 1-2 weeks of a weight loss program. If weight loss is slowing down or plateauing during your weight loss program, it is not likely that low caloric intake is responsible for the diminished weekly weight loss throughout the program. Basically, it all comes down to calories in vs. calories out. To continue losing weight, you must expend more calories than you are consuming. This can be done by decreasing caloric intake and/or increasing physical activity.

There are many factors that could be responsible for weight loss plateau during a program and I will give a few examples below:

Although you may feel you are following the plan and maintaining the same quantity of exercise, it is helpful to check yourself by keeping a daily log of food intake and duration, type, and approximate intensity of the exercise you are doing (i.e. treadmill speed, heart rate, elliptical resistance and grade, etc.). If your exercise intensity decreases while the amount of time you spend exercising remains the same, you will be burning less calories. Over time, this could potentially account for a weight loss plateau. Or, it may be slight increases in caloric intake that overtime, could be responsible for a weight loss plateau if you are not carefully monitoring your intake.

If we assume you are keeping accurate food records and indeed are expending roughly the same amount of calories during exercise, decreased body mass, which is directly associated with a decrease in resting metabolic rate (the amount of calories you burn per day at rest to simply stay alive and breathe), is likely responsible for the plateau. As you lose weight, your body needs less calories to support daily function. Your body has less mass, thus you expend less to move your body around doing day to day activities. Therefore, as you lose weight, the amont of calories you must consume to maintain that weight is less. If you want to lose weight, you must make additional reductions in energy intake.

The best way to figure out the correct number of calories you need to maintain your current weight and the deficit needed to significantly lose weight each week is by determining your resting metabolic rate. This can be estimated using the Harris-Benedict equation which takes into account your gender, age, and weight or by using a metabolic test that is done in a laboratory. After determining your resting metabolic rate using the Harris-Benedict equation, then you use a multiplier called an activity factor to account for the energy you expend during daily activity. These calculations will give you an estimate of the amount of calories you must consume to maintain your current weight. Since 3500 calories = 1 lb, if a person were to reduce their caloric by 500 kcals per day, theoretically, he or she could potentially lose 1 lb. per week. To estimate your daily energy expenditure and the amount of calories needed to lose weight, I would recommend meeting with a dietician to assist you with these calculations.

Finally, lack of weight loss can also potentially be attributed to hypothyroidism which must be determined and diagnosed by a physician.


My mother was telling me that the hormone "cortisol," produced when under stress, can cause weight gain around the mid-section. Is this true?

Brianne Guilford:

Yes, it is true that cortisol is a hormone that is produced when under stress and there has been some research supporting the theory that cortisol can cause weight gain specifically around the mid-section.


When I was younger and dieted and exercised, my weight loss was wonderful and I had no problem maintaining my willpower. Now i'm over 50 and working harder than ever on it with little or sometimes no results now. Any suggestions for 50+ and weight loss?

Brianne Guilford:

Unfortunately, as you age, your resting metabolic rate (which I commented on above), does decrease slightly. Over a period of 20 years, the small daily decrease in resting metabolic rate can result in a gain of 20 lbs if not offset by reduced energy intake or increased physical activity. The interesting part about this is that when a particular study compared older highly active men to young inactive men, there were not significant differences is resting metabolic rate. Those results suggest that greater difficulty maintaining and losing weight as a person ages is more attributed to declines in physical activity than with a decrease in metabolism due to age. So, for those 50+ out there, you will need to do more physical activity to lose the same amount of weight as you did in your younger years. For that matter, individuals should be increasing physical activity as they age as opposed to the common trend of decreased physical activity a person ages in order to maintain weight.

To answer a similar question regarding weight loss for post-menopausal women:
Not only do post-menopausal have decreased metabolism with age, you also lose the beneficial effects of estrogen (which can affect muscle mass, bone density, and many other body processes) that can influence metabolism and in turn increase weight gain and slow weight loss.


In Europe it is common to ridicule someone in public for being obese. Here it is extremely rude. Have there been any studies on the effectiveness of being unpleasantly honest to obese people? Europeans do seem to be thinner, on average.

Brianne Guilford:

In my opinion, based on my personal experiences travelling and living in Europe, I do not feel it is more common for an obese person to be ridiculed in public as compared with the U.S. I am not aware of any published studies on the effectiveness of being unpleasantly honest to obese people. However, it doesn't mean there isn't a study out there or that one isn't currently being done. Pub Med is a great place to search for weight management, physical activity, and nutrition research.

Yes, I agree, Europeans do seem to be thinner on average and past studies have documented that prevalence of overweight and obesity is less in European countries. In addition, there has been research suggesting that it is lifestyle physical activity (i.e. walking or riding a bike instead of driving), specifically for transportation is a primary factor influencing body weight in Europeans. If you think about this issue in terms of urban sprawl, Europeans often have more opportunities to avoid commuting by car due to the simple central location of the city centre and place of business.


We have time for one more question. Here goes...


100 lbs overweight, no money for expensive diet plans, food, etc. Limited money for organic veggies....healthy food is expensive. No time to exercise, classes in the evening and I already get up at 6 am. So really, what are my options. Is there are free or low cost program available at KU that I would fit into?

Brianne Guilford:

Yes, actually, we do have free research programs available at KU for individuals that meet the criteria to qualify. You can find information on all of the current Energy Balance Laboratory research studies on our website:

For specific information on the KU Weight Management Program and to complete a general screening form go to:

Our programs do require that individuals make major lifestyle changes which include making time for regular exercise and purchasing/preparing fruits and vegetables. However, individuals in our programs often comment that making these lifestyle changes within a supportive group environment which includes classes lead by weight management professionals has made it much easier to lose and maintain weight rather than if they were doing it on their own.


That does it for today's chat. Thanks, Brianne, for coming in, and thanks for all your questions.

Brianne Guilford:

Thank you, Terry, and I wish you all the best in working toward your weight management goals.


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