Ask an Expert...

Every week, a Mercy expert will answer a frequently-asked weight loss question.


Week 12: Maintaining Lifelong Wellness


Q:  How can I maintain the changes I’ve made recently?  I don’t want to fall back into old habits. 

A: You’re not alone.  Many people find long-term maintenance to be the most difficult part of any behavior change.  It’s easy to start off strong but then falter when our motivation wanes.  Let’s look at a few ways that you can continue the success that you’ve experienced:

1. Evaluate your success
When you look over your original goals again, you can easily see how far you’ve come.  You can also recommit to what you really want, which leads to long-term motivation. 

2. Avoid old habits
Stay vigilant against slipping into old behaviors until your new habits become a lifestyle.  However, remember that there’s a difference between a slip-up and a total relapse.  No one is perfect all the time, so be gracious with yourself.  Just don’t allow any old behaviors to become habits again.   

3. Build support
As you continue into your new lifestyle, be sure to surround yourself with cheerleaders.  Choose to spend the most time with people who support what you are trying to accomplish.  Seek out a workout buddy or connect with someone who has a similar goal.  Peer support can have a profound effect on a person’s success.

4. Reset your goals
Don’t forget the power of seeing your goals in writing.  Your goals will evolve as you continue on your path; you’ll need to reassess and write new ones as you cross old ones off your list.  Writing down a new and loftier goal is a great way to recommit to where you’re going with a nod to how far you’ve come.    

Remember that you’ve gotten this far because of the strengths that you possess.  Utilize those strengths as you move forward.  Every success that you’ve had is something you can build on as you continue on your path to lifelong wellness.

-Kate Klefstad, Certified Wellness Coach, Mercy Corporate Wellness


Week 11: The Power of Optimism 


Q: I’m usually a “glass-half-empty” kind of person, but that won’t affect my ability to reach my goals, will it?

A: Great question.  I applaud you in your knowledge of yourself.  Self-assessment is a big first step towards reaching your goals. 

Pessimism can seem innocent on the surface, but it’s subtle and powerful in its ability to prevent us from reaching our goals.  Our self-talk, or our mind’s constant monologue, is a very powerful influencer.  We can create, with our minds, our feelings about a situation. 

Our self-talk can also affect our self-efficacy.  Self-efficacy is our belief in our own ability to make a change and succeed.  High self-efficacy is a key component to success.  When we feel confident in our ability to succeed, we are more successful.  Another key to success is resiliency.  Resiliency is our ability to bounce back after hardship or failure.  Studies have shown that optimistic people have higher resiliency and self-efficacy.  This means that optimistic people believe that they can accomplish their goals, and if they fail, they bounce back quickly and try again.  It’s easy to see how this leads to success.

Often we think of optimism or pessimism as a personality trait.  When we think of them this way, it’s hard to imagine being able to change.  I recommend you read a book called Learned Optimism by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D.  He proposes the idea that optimism can be learned, and in the process, we can change our ability to succeed. 

Optimism is a very powerful way to move forward, and it affects all areas of our life, from simply feeling better about our situation to being more successful in reaching our goals.

-Kate Klefstad, Certified Wellness Coach, Mercy Corporate Wellness


Week 10: Sleep and Weight Management


Q. I heard recently that lack of sleep can be bad for my health and my weight.  Is that true?

A: Unfortunately, yes.  In this fast-paced world, we often mistakenly believe that sleep is a luxury, and that not getting enough rest is no big deal or is an opportunity to get more done.  This could not be further from the truth.  Sleep is essential and while we all have different sleep requirements, many people are not getting enough. It is having a negative impact on waistlines, as well as overall health. 

When we don’t get adequate restful sleep, we not only feel sleepy, grouchy and poorly equipped to function, we also feel hungry!  Our bodies experience metabolic changes involving a complex release of hormones that can result in weight gain, increased likelihood of heart disease and diabetes.

There are many causes of inadequate sleep.  Frequently, people have undiagnosed sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.  Other causes of poor sleep include depression and anxiety,  and use of chemicals like alcohol, tobacco or prescription medications.  Poor sleep hygiene is another culprit.

The good news is that we all have the ability to make healthy changes to improve sleep.  Practice good sleep hygiene and maintain a routine including going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, even on weekends and days off.  Avoid excessive daytime napping.  Eliminate non-essential chemicals like alcohol or nicotine.  Adhere to a regular physical activity routine, but not too close to bedtime.  Create a relaxing sleep environment that’s uncluttered, dark and not too warm.  Try to avoid bringing media sources into the bedroom, such as cell phones, lap-top computers or televisions.

If sleeping difficulty or excessive fatigue persists, consider meeting with your health-care provider.  The cause of your poor rest may be the result of an underlying health condition.  Tests and treatments are available to manage these issues.

-Jody Kolb, ARNP, Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner, Mercy Outpatient Psychiatry


Week 9: Stress and Weight Management 


Q: I’ve heard that stress can affect my weight.  Is that true?  What can I do about it?

A: It is absolutely true, in more ways than you might think.  When we are stressed or feeling overwhelmed, we probably are not making self-care a priority.  During times like this, we are vulnerable to unhealthy eating.  There is a tendency to grab “easy” unhealthy snacks, making excuses that we deserve the indulgence or don’t have time to prepare healthy food.  We find reasons to avoid exercise, stress-reduction measures and sleep.  Exercise or just taking a break takes a back burner to the crisis at hand.  All of these things can contribute to weight gain, but it can be even more complex than this.

Let’s face it, stress is unavoidable.  It is part of life.  Our reaction or inability to cope with stress can have a profound effect on health and, consequently, weight.  Our bodies have a remarkable ability to keep our stress response in check.  There is a complex cascade of hormones and neurochemicals  are released to help our bodies and brains rebound  during periods of stress.  When we are repeatedly exposed to stress, however, these same chemicals, such as cortisol, insulin and dopamine, can work against us and contribute to weight gain.

Fortunately, there are many ways to improve our ability to cope with stress and stop weight gain or even lose weight.  Learning to find balance between work, family and personal needs is a crucial first step.  If you struggle with this, you may want to meet with a wellness coach or therapist who can help you cultivate balance.   Maintaining a regular and adequate sleep schedule and regular physical activity are two additional measures that are crucial in eliminating the stress/weight-gain cycle.  Lastly, simple relaxation techniques like deep breathing, yoga, meditation and humor, can make a big difference.

You may think, “I’m stressed, I don’t have time for any of this.” I would challenge you to consider this: We only have one life, and that life has immeasurable value.  If you don’t make YOU a priority, who will?

-Jody Kolb, ARNP, Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner, Mercy Outpatient Psychiatry


Week 8: Intuitive Eating


Q:  I try to eat well and use portion control, but often I crave unhealthy foods and end up overeating and feeling awful.  What can I do?

A:  This is a very common question!  The answer is rooted in our culture’s shift away from eating “instinctively” toward restrictive eating or overeating. 

It’s a bigger issue than I can cover in this format, so I will direct you to the expert.  Dr. Michelle May is a leading expert on the idea of instinctive or intuitive eating.  She has written several books on the topic, and facilitates workshops to help people with this very issue.

This fun and interesting little article will give you an idea of what intuitive eating is.  I also recommend you read Dr. May’s book, “Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.”  It’s a quick and fascinating read, and could change your life!

-Kate Klefstad, Certified Wellness Coach, Mercy Medical Center


Week 7: Fruits and Vegetables


Q:   I know fruits and vegetables are good for me, but I don't really like them.  Do I really need to eat them to lose weight?

A: In short, yes, fruits and vegetables are helpful for both losing weight and maintaining weight loss. The "Choose MyPlate" food guidance system from the USDA recommends that half of your plate be filled with fruits and vegetables. Without these, your diet may lack fiber, as well as a multitude of vitamins and minerals. Fruits and vegetables can serve as a "low calorie filler" when eating meals. For example; lettuce and tomato slices on a sandwich, a tossed salad with low-fat dressing, and fresh fruit for desserts or as snacks all offer fewer calories than their alternatives.  These items can replace extra helpings of calorie-laden cheese, french fries, high-calorie desserts, and chips or a candy bar at snack times.

If you’re not a fan of fruits and veggies, don't be discouraged. Begin by listing all the fruits and vegetables you like and add them to your meal routine.  Find recipes that interest you that have a fruit or vegetable that you like as an ingredient.

Then, each week try a new fruit or vegetable (in season), in an effort to expand your horizons. You may find there are some fruits and vegetables you actually do like, you may just need to give them a second chance.

-Lori D. Winborn, RD, LD, Outpatient/Clinical Dietitian, Mercy Medical Center 

-Terri Clark, RD, LD, Outpatient/Clinical Dietitian, Mercy Medical Center


Week 6: Portion Control


Q: I struggle with portion control.  Are there any tools that could help me? 

A:  Portion control can make a big difference in weight management.  In our area, and in much of the United States, meat and grain/starch portion sizes are too large, and the intake of fruits and vegetables is smaller than recommended.  This can make managing your weight difficult. 

In 2010, the USDA revised MyPyramid into MyPlate, which is a food guidance system designed to help Americans balance their food intake while increasing the amount of healthy foods. 

Utilizing MyPlate can guide you and your family to limit portion sizes of foods such as pasta and pizza, and focus on balancing meals with produce, by making half of your plate fruits and vegetables.  A benefit of this tool is that it is easy to remember and can be applied in any setting. Additionally, this is posted in most school cafeterias, making this a great talking point for balanced eating at home, school, and when dining out.

For further information on MyPlate, check out

-Lori D. Winborn, RD, LD, Outpatient/Clinical Dietitian, Mercy Medical Center 

-Terri Clark, RD, LD, Outpatient/Clinical Dietitian, Mercy Medical Center


Week 5: Strength Training 


Q: I've heard I should do some strength training if I really want to lose weight, but I'm a woman and am afraid I'll get bulky.  Is strength training really necessary?

A:  The answer is “yes” if you want to:

  • Lose weight
  • Maintain your current weight throughout your lifetime
  • Prevent your bones from becoming brittle and susceptible to osteoporosis
  • Keep your knees, shoulders, neck or back healthy. 


Most women aren’t physically capable of “getting bulky” if they strength train.  We simply don’t have the testosterone levels to achieve that.  If you put two hours into just strength training every day and radically changed your diet, you might be able to develop big muscles.  However, the recommended 30 to 40 minutes three days a week won’t result in a “bulky” appearance.     If you’re a woman who naturally has a high percentage of muscle, simply perform resistance training twice a week and complete two sets instead of three to avoid bulking up too much.


Start working your muscles.  Some studies show we lose ¼ lb. of muscle every year between the ages of 30 and 70.  If you want to maintain weight, lose weight or protect your joints, it’s imperative you maintain your muscle now and throughout your life by strength training.   

-Dacey Waldron, ACSM Health & Fitness Specialist, Mercy Fitness Center


Week 4: Exercise Myths 


Q: I hear so many different things about losing weight and exercise - I don't know who to believe!  What do I really need to know about exercise for weight loss?

A:  I know what you mean!  In my 13 years of experience as a Fitness expert here at Mercy, I have heard many different theories and questions regarding exercise and weight loss.  Let’s discuss a few.


One of the most common things I run into is clients trying to “spot reduce” a problem area.  They may want to lose fat in their bellies or arms, so they try to do crunches or bicep curls lose fat in those areas.  However, spot reduction is impossible!

You will lose fat if you expend more energy during the day than you consume from food.  All exercises, including walking, biking, crunches and pushups, contribute to energy expenditure and thus can help with weight loss.  Everyone’s body stores fat in different areas; the fat your body uses for fuel will depend on its unique preferences for storage.  


Another common question is this: “I’ve been exercising for 6 months now – why haven’t I lost weight?”

When I hear this question, there are several questions I want to follow up with: How often are you exercising?  How would you rate your intensity?  What is your diet like?

Keep in mind, we need to expend about 3500 calories to lose a pound of fat.  If you are walking for 30 minutes, 3 times per week, as is typical for many people, you may expend about 600 calories per week through exercise.  If you kept your diet the same, you could expect to see a pound of fat lost in about 6 weeks. 

If that isn’t quick enough for you, there are three options for faster weight loss:

1) Reduce your daily caloric intake

2) Exercise more often to burn more calories

3) Exercise more often and adjust your diet. 

If you choose to lower your calorie intake, we recommend women staying above 1500/day and men staying above 1700/day to avoid slowing your metabolism.


Another comment I get a lot is: “I only do cardio, because weight lifting will make me bulky, and I only want to lose weight.”  This one is incorrect in many ways, so I’ll devote an entire “Ask an Expert” to it next week.  Stay tuned!

-Dacey Waldron, ACSM Health & Fitness Specialist, Mercy Fitness Center


Week 3: Peer Support 


Q: I’ve heard that working out with a “buddy” can be really helpful.  I want to give it a try, but I’m not sure what to look for.  Any advice?

A:  You’re right, working out with a buddy is a great idea.  Peer support is incredibly effective in helping us attain our goals.  Studies find that one of the greatest predictors of whether or not someone will be physically active during the day is if they schedule it into their day’s activities.  Planning your workouts with a friend can ensure that you have a schedule that you’ll stick to!

There are several things you can look for in a workout buddy.  Look for someone who:

  • Challenges you.  The person doesn’t have to be at the same fitness level as you, but they need to be someone who will encourage you to not give up and push you to finish what you start. 
  • Is dependable.  You want someone who will show up as planned, so that you feel compelled to show up, as well!
  • Has a similar goal as you.  This isn’t a necessity, but you may find it helpful to pair with someone who is on the same track as you.
  • Is supportive.  You want someone who will cheer you on when the going gets rough.

Workout buddies can be incredibly effective in helping you set some new workout routines.  Be careful that it doesn’t become a crutch, however.  For instance, if your workout buddy is sick, will you still exercise?  Setting goals that you’re committed to on a personal level will help you stick it out even if your buddy doesn’t. 

If you find that workouts with your buddy aren’t happening on a regular basis like you planned, try using that buddy for moral support instead.  Try an email or phone check-in to support each other’s workout goals. 

A good workout buddy provides overall support, so even if they can’t physically make it to a workout, they can still be there with a supportive attitude

-Kayla Sodawasser, ACSM Health & Fitness Specialist, Mercy Fitness Center


Week 2: Motivation 


Q: I’ve tried to lose weight more times than I can count, in more ways than I can count.  How can this time be different?  How can I find the motivation I need?

A:  You are not alone!  This is a question I get often. 

First, try to visualize why this change is important to you right now.  How will things change if you succeed?  What would happen if things stayed the same?  These questions can help us understand where our motivation comes from.

Next, remember that motivation is only one part of making a lifestyle change.  We so easily can get wrapped up in seeing results quickly, and we miss the basic premise of real change: changing our habits. 

The key to maintaining our new, healthy lifestyle is actually less about motivation and more about habits.  Motivation gets us started, but habits keep us going.

So, how do we change our habits?

We make new habits by taking small, manageable steps over and over.  The more often you do something, the more it sticks. 

For example, if you’re trying to start exercising regularly, try writing a goal to do something (even just a few minutes) every day.  You won’t see big changes quickly, but you’re starting a new pattern.  You’ll get to a point where the idea of not doing your short walk or exercise would feel strange.  That’s because you’ve built a new habit!  Then, you can start to build up into an exercise routine that will make a change in your body and weight.  

Being highly motivated at the beginning may tempt you to jump in with both feet.  When you’re trying to make changes that will stick, however, it can be better to move slowly and focus on developing habits to last a lifetime.

-Kate Klefstad, Certified Wellness Coach, Mercy Corporate Wellness


Week 1: Goal-Setting 


Q: I’ve never been good at goal-setting.  How can I set goals that I can actually achieve?

A: People often make the mistake of setting goals that are lofty and broad. However, the key to success with goal-setting is to start small. Think about what your very next step is, write it down and plan to do it this week.

If you don't feel quite ready for action, don't be afraid to start in the planning stage and set a goal to do research or brainstorm options.

Then, reassess and plan to take the next step. Before you know it, you'll be well on your way.

For example, maybe you'd like to start exercising, but you're not sure you can.  Jumping right in to an exercise plan may lead to burnout and a feeling of failure.  Instead, start in the planning stage and set a goal to make a list of your options.  Maybe you list all the local gyms with amenity and price comparisons or brainstorm a list of exercises you enjoy.  Then, you can assess what your next step is with a feeling of preparedness and success. 

"Baby steps" may feel small when you're writing them down as a goal, but they feel fantastic when they're one success after another.  The clients I see who have the best success are the ones who aren't afraid to start small and build up. 

-Kate Klefstad, Certified Wellness Coach, Mercy Corporate Wellness