Week of February 27, 2012
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

AICR HealthTalk
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: I'm trying to lose weight, but each afternoon around four o'clock my energy hits a slump and I end up eating junk food. How will I ever lose weight?

A: It sounds like you're running out of fuel. Eating enough and choosing the right foods are key to maintaining energy while you're trying to lose weight. If your lunch is too light, because you're either skipping lunch or trying too hard to cut back, it won't provide enough energy to get you through the afternoon. Many people find that getting about a quarter to a third of total daily calorie needs at lunch works well. Calorie needs vary, but as an example, someone keeping calories to 1600 a day for weight loss might aim for 400 to 500 calories at lunch (depending on how much snacking they prefer to do and how they spread out meal times). That's why a diet frozen meal, plain cup of soup, or energy bar usually won't suffice. Another possibility relates to the types of foods you choose for lunch. It's also possible that you may not be eating enough protein for lunch. If your lunch is nothing but refined carbohydrates (whether sweets or a low-fiber grain like a large bagel) or plain vegetables or salad with no protein, your blood sugar may go up and down again within a few hours, leaving you feeling pretty run-down. To avoid an afternoon slump, make sure your lunch includes some healthy protein (lean meat, poultry or seafood, low-fat dairy, or a full serving of beans or nuts). Focus your lunch around whole grains plus vegetables and/or fruit to provide energy that lasts. A balanced lunch needn't be high in calories if you don't load up on sweets or high-fat options. If you prefer a smaller lunch or still hit a slump with an improved lunch, get pro-active. Plan a small but nutrient-rich snack for a half-hour or so before the energy slump usually comes. Keep the snack to 100 or 200 calories of foods that slowly release energy; choose fruit, whole grains, nuts or yogurt. And make sure you're drinking enough water, since if you get dehydrated that can also leave you feeling zapped.

Q: I keep hearing about the importance of exercise, but my arthritis is a real barrier. What can I do?

A: You're not alone – a recent federal report found that people with arthritis are far more likely to be lacking physical activity. That's a real concern, because without regular physical activity, you are at greater risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Furthermore, although arthritis pain may be keeping you from being more active, according to the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, appropriate regular physical activity can help manage arthritis. It can keep the muscles around affected joints strong; replenish lubrication to joint cartilage; and help to control joint swelling, stiffness and pain. A large clinical trial (Fitness Arthritis and Seniors Trial – FAST) in older adults with osteoarthritis tested aerobic and strength-training (resistance) exercise and concluded that three 40-minute sessions per week of either type of activity was linked to decreased disability and pain. Talk with your physician about what types and amounts of exercise could be safe for you. And check these S.M.A.R.T. tips for exercise from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, starting with the first, "Start low and go slow." The CDC also has a list of community-based activity programs designed for people with arthritis. Check their website list, and see if any are offered in your community.

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