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Q I go straight to the gym after work. The problem is, by the time I get home from my workout, I’m ravenously hungry and I’ll eat the first thing I see, even if it’s chocolate cake. What kind of pre-workout snack will keep me from eating like crazy before dinner?

A “Have an afternoon snack that contains both carbohydrate and protein,” says Ruth Carey, R.D., a sports nutritionist in Portland, Ore. The protein-carb combination will keep you satisfied longer than a pure carb snack. “You’ll not only stave off the post-workout craving, but you’ll also have more energy for your workout.”

Carey suggests eating half a turkey sandwich with a piece of fruit, or nonfat yogurt topped with almonds or walnuts. Eat your snack one-and-a-half to two hours before you exercise, she advises, and then have dinner within an hour after your workout.

Q I lost 80 pounds and have stretch marks. Will they eventually go away?

A Most stretch marks in adults don’t, ­says Joshua Fox, M.D., director of the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery, Roslyn, NY. “But they get markedly less obvious over time.” In a year, they fade as much as they ever will. To diminish them more, ask a dermatologist about laser surgery and topical medications. It’s not clear whether cream alone works. Areas with the most muscle tone (such as arms and thighs) respond best to laser treatment.

Q I lost 15 pounds on the Atkins diet, but I couldn’t keep it up and gained back 20 pounds. How can I lose weight for good this time?

A It’s no wonder you were not able to stick to the Atkins plan; it’s too restrictive, not to mention unhealthy. The diet severely limits carbohydrate, including breads, pasta and potatoes, while allowing unlimited amounts of protein and fat. “Any diet that asks you to give up an entire food group is not a good idea,” says Jane Kirby, R.D., author of Dieting for Dummies (IDG Books Worldwide, 1998), written with the American Dietetic Association.

The first phase of the Atkins plan allows no more daily carbohydrates than you’d get in 3 cups of salad – about 4 grams. Ultimately, the diet allows 40-60 grams of carbohydrate per day, less than 25 percent of the carbs most dietitians recommend. The consequences? Eventually, Kirby explains, your body won’t burn fat efficiently and will produce ketones, compounds that accumulate in the blood and strain the kidneys. Side effects include potential kidney damage, nausea, fatigue and bad breath. “Eating high-fat foods day after day is a sure way to increase your risk of heart disease and cancer too,” Kirby says.

Another problem with the Atkins plan: a deficiency of fiber, which is found only in plant-based foods. (A low-fiber diet can cause constipation.) The Atkins plan does call for a daily vitamin supplement, but no pill can provide the thousands of health-promoting phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables. Finally, by restricting carbs, you’ll lack sufficient energy to exercise, which is the key to maintaining weight loss.

This time around, exercise regularly, eat a variety of foods and keep an eye on your total calories. “The changes you make,” Kirby says, “should be changes you can live with for a long, long time.”

Suzanne Schlosberg is a contributing editor to Shape

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