Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

October 17, 2012

Advice to avoid common pitfalls for kids, adults

Healthy choices
The Andover Townsman

---- — The Townsman has started an exercise and nutrition column, drawing on the experience and knowledge of Andover’s fitness experts. If you are an Andover exercise professional interested in offering your answers to future questions, send an email to with “fitness column” in the subject line.

This week, two Andover experts offering their advice are:

Cara Green, member advancement director at the Andover/ North Andover YMCA, 165 Haverhill St.

Art McDermott, owner and operator of Matrix Strength & Fitness

Here are this week’s questions and answers:


How could you help an overweight kid who doesn’t like sports, but does love video games and junk food? (Some parents work and can’t drive kids to after school activities and monitor every meal.)

Cara Green: There are great gaming systems out there like Wii and Xbox Connect. They get kids moving with games like Just Dance and a variety of sports. Studies are being done to show that these games are helping kids to stay active and burn calories.

I would never tell a child that they cannot eat junk food. I would find out what their favorite junk foods are and discuss how they can be a treat or a “less food” and then make a plan to work them into their daily calorie intake.

Art McDermott: This is a difficult one. The initial problem deals with the maturity level of the kids involved. Telling a 10-year-old to think about health implications 10 or 20 years down the road calls for more insight than most are capable of at that age.

While a lack of physical activity is a huge part of the problem, scientifically speaking nutrition accounts for roughly 65-70 percent of weight management. A parent will get the best “bang for the buck” by focusing here.

The reality is that the child is NOT the one going to Market Basket to do the food shopping. That falls to mom or dad. If poor food choices are a problem, than it is up to the parents to make sure the candy, soda and chips are not available in the first place. As a parent myself I realize this is easier said than done.

I recommend a “family meeting” where the children and parents can come to agreement about what foods can be available after school. Include the kids in the process of selecting alternatives. As a compromise, parents could allow one “cheat meal” per week where the rules are relaxed a bit.


How can I figure out how many calories I am supposed to eat? What did YOU eat yesterday?

Cara Green: There are great calorie-counting apps and websites out there to assist anyone in counting calories. Based on height, weight and activity level, it will calculate how many calories you need to maintain or lose weight. I track my calories and exercise on My Fitness Pal. I eat around 1200 net calories per day. Yesterday I ate 1840 calories but I burned 638.


What do you see as the most common obstacles people face when trying to lose weight? What is your solution?

Cara Green: I think a lot of people look at achieving a healthy weight as a burden and deprivation. Living healthy is a lifestyle and it needs to be something you can maintain on a regular basis. Crash diets and physical activity that is unreasonable or something you truly hate to do, will not keep you motivated.

I recommend finding a good variety of healthy food that you enjoy. Also, continue trying new things and add them to your diet. Never say never. If you want something that isn’t a healthy choice, go ahead, but limit those things to once a week. Not a whole day of it but maybe a meal or snack. Also, stay active doing things you enjoy. You can burn calories and have fun at the same time.

Art McDermott: More and more I believe the obstacles preventing weight loss can fall under two major headings:

1) Time: We live in an incredibly fast-paced society now that does not always allow for proper food selection/preparation. Of course, this lack of time is a great excuse for folks not to workout.

Solution? Set aside a fixed time each week for steaming veggies, grilling meat(s) of your choice and shopping for fresh food. Also, remember, if you don’t make time for your health now, you will have to make time for your illness later.

2) Food Quality: This is a highly-charged topic. The industrialization of the food industry means we are getting an abundance of poor quality food. Last year, 2,800 new candies, desserts, ice-cream, and snacks were introduced to the marketplace, compared to 230 new fruits or vegetable products.

In addition, even “healthy” foods such as salads have fewer nutrients than just a few short decades ago due to soil depletion, among other issues. Always keep in mind that the goal of the food industry is to get us to buy more, just like any other business. They will say and do anything to make that happen. All of this means we are making poor food choices because these products are more readily available and cheaper. This is a great model for the food companies, not so much for our waistlines.

Solution? Whenever possible buy locally grown, organic products.