Dear Dr. Wallace:

This is really important for me. I’m 16 and have knowingly overeaten all of my life, so I have gained a lot of weight over the past few years. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I no longer want to be obese. I promised myself to start my program and to be the “new me” the day I see my letter and your reply in my local newspaper. Please tell me the healthiest and best way to lose weight. I’d like to shed 40 to 50 pounds but don’t know how to do it.

Please don’t tell me to see a doctor or a nutritionist, because I can’t afford one. It’s just a matter of you advising me what to do and me buckling down and actually doing it.

— Seeking motivation, Miami, Florida

Dear Seeking: The healthiest and best approach is to safely lose about 1 pound of excess weight a week via the combination of a varied, well-balanced diet and moderate exercise. It takes 3,500 extra calories to gain 1 pound of body weight. Do a little research to find out your ideal weight and number of calories needed daily to maintain that weight, and then consume 500 less calories per day.

A better way to lose that pound is to eat 250 fewer calories per day and to engage in an exercise program to burn off the additional 250 calories.

It took time to gradually add your extra weight, and it should similarly take time to gradually get rid of it as well.

Start your day with a nutrition-filled breakfast. Not only will it get you going in the morning, but it should also supply you with one-quarter to one-third of your daily nutritional needs. By skipping breakfast, you may, in fact, find it difficult to lose weight, as you may be tempted to overeat later in the day.

If traditional breakfast foods bore you, try a healthy, open-faced sandwich of peanut butter, honey, granola and banana, all layered on raisin, whole-wheat or oatmeal bread.

Drinking enough fluids is also necessary for good health. To keep your body in top working order, you need to drink about eight glasses of fluid a day. Mineral water and club soda are always good calorie-free thirst-quenchers. But to add important nutrients to your diet, try unsweetened fruit juices, skim milk, tomato or vegetable juice, all of which are deliciously low in calories.

Between-meal snacks are the downfall of many dieters, but if you choose tasty, low-calorie, treats they can actually be quite healthy. Since dark-green and yellow vegetables are filled with vitamins, try snacking on cut-up raw broccoli, carrots and zucchini. Instead of reaching for a sugar-filled cookie or piece of candy, fill up on whole-wheat crackers and a wedge of low-fat cheese, which is a good source of much-needed calcium. Fresh fruit always is a good snack choice.

Of course, exercise also should figure prominently into your fitness shape-up. But there is no need to begin a strenuous workout program or sports activity right out of the gate. Take your time, gradually ease into a suitable program and seek to build up your stamina slowly. The key is to be able to stick with your exercise program, so don’t push too hard early on.

Recent studies also show that exercising after a meal speeds up your metabolism, allowing your body to burn calories even faster than if you’d worked out on an empty stomach. For example, a brisk 20-minute walk after dinner can really keep you fit, while a 30-minute run can burn off 300 calories — the equivalent of an average-size cheeseburger. Also, don’t fool yourself into thinking that a good workout will increase your appetite and make you eat more; moderate exercise will actually have the opposite effect.

Write to Dr. Wallace at rwallace@galesburg.net.