Q:I'm 28, 5 feet 6 inches, 185 pounds and desperately unhappy about my weight. However, I don't even know if it's worth starting a workout and diet program because I'm planning to become pregnant in a year. All the work would just go out the window. Also, I have a very long commute to work and little time to exercise. Should I even bother?

A:Absolutely. "Exercise and good nutrition are especially important if you're planning to get pregnant," says nutritionist Shea Rarback, M.A., R.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics and pediatric nutrition at the University of Miami School of Medicine. "Think how uncomfortable you'll feel while you're pregnant if you're carrying around even more weight." You may experience more joint and back pain and fatigue than pregnant women of average weight.

Your nutritional status at the time you conceive can greatly influence the health of your baby. For instance, if you don't consume enough folic acid in the first month of your pregnancy -- before most women even realize they're pregnant -- your baby is at greater risk for neural-tube defects such as spina bifida.

"Use your future pregnancy as your motivator to lose weight," Rarback says. "You have enough time to make changes that will make your pregnancy easier for you and healthier for your baby." Rarback suggests making small changes rather than going on a diet. For instance, choose leaner meats for your sandwiches at lunch. Switch from mayo to mustard. Instead of soda, drink flavored sparkling water. Add extra veggies to your dinner salad. Rather than skip breakfast, eat a fortified cereal with fruit.

On the exercise front, take 10 minutes out of your lunch break to go for a walk. As your fitness increases, climb the stairs at work. Walk another 10-15 minutes after dinner each night, and use your days off for longer walks.

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