Friday, February 27, 2009

Study Backs Calorie Counting

A study reported this week in the New England Journal of Medicine says bottom line, it’s calories that count. Yay! Been saying that for ages. Every generation has its fad diets, some a bit more logical-sounding than others: think how 'scientific' the Atkins or Ornish Diets sound over say the Grapefruit Diet or Cabbage Soup Diet. But all of them either tout or damn one nutrient over another. Eat lots of protein! Don’t eat any protein! Go high carb! Go low or no fat! No, go no carbs! According to scientists who conducted the study, the kind of diet doesn’t matter, all that DOES really matter is cutting calories.

More than 800 people were followed for 2 years. In the case study, along with cutting their calories, participants, who were mostly women, were encouraged to exercise 90-minutes a week, keep a food diary, and meet with diet counselors on a regular basis. Well, 2 outta 4 ain’t bad.

On average, people lost 13 pounds in the first 6 months, but had trouble with the pounds trying to creep back up after a year. People who met regularly with diet counselors had a better chance of keeping it off and those who attended meetings lost more weight than those who didn’t - which is probably why Weight Watchers participants do so well on average. The only real disappointment researchers reported was in test subjects actually staying with a particular method of weight-loss for that long. People do like variety. We get bored. We get frustrated.

A point researchers made for calorie counting, which I’ve always said, is that it allows people greater food choices which makes it less boring. If you’re not always cutting out something, depriving yourself of a certain food, you’ll have a better chance of sticking to it. We all need variety in our diets. Cutting out anything, unless it’s medically necessary, is a bad idea in my opinion, because it will eventually backfire.

Some of the test subjects admitting that before participating in the research, they were oblivious to the amount of calories they were taking in each day. After they started measuring and counting, which gives the diet structure, the pounds dropped off.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Surviving Those Servings

Did you know the sugars our bodies don’t use, turn to fat? Yes, our bodies get energy from sugars so when we’re feeling a bit sleepy and leaden at work, a small sweet pick-me-up can do the trick – but if you’re thinking sugar only gives us energy, think again. The body will take what it needs from the sugar you’ve eaten, and then what’s left over turns into fat. That means more calories, more difficult calories to get rid of. So think about taking a ‘bite’ over a ‘bar.’ A piece of cake is too big, a piece of hard candy is better.

And speaking of portions, we all know that serving sizes in American restaurants have pretty well crossed the line into the realm of the ridiculous these days. So decide before you walk through the cafe door, how much of something you’re going to eat. I don’t mean obsess about it, but have a plan. When you get your order, ask the server for a to-go box right then. Then basically cut the order in half: half the entrée, half the veg, etc. You’ll have plenty to eat and you’ll have a second meal to carry home for later!

I know this can be a bit awkward and perhaps too intimidating to do if you’re on a date. So think instead about ordering from the appetizer menu. Ask the waitperson to bring it when he/she brings your date’s entrée. That way you won't be sitting there with your dish getting cold well before your date gets his. It’s just another way to keep the portions down.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Surgical Solutions

I’m staggered by the number of people who are going for weight-loss surgery these days. Several of them number among my friends and family who say they had to do something or they would have died. Recently, leaders from a North Texas county, amid voices of protest, announced they would stop providing the health insurance coverage for gastric bypass surgery because in these tough economic times, they just don't see it as something they can afford any longer. They have already spent 3-million taxpayer dollars on such surgeries for 100 employees. First, I’m stunned that any county government would agree to cover such an elective operation, and second I’m reeling at the number of people who needed it.

What people don’t want to realize, is that just as they used food to the extreme for immediate gratification, weight-loss surgery is simply another quick and extreme choice in the opposite direction. It's certainly not a treatment is it? It’s not keeping the person from physically putting something in their mouth. It’s not the equivalent of tying splints on the elbows or chaining the refrigerator door shut. What keeps people from eating after surgery? Knowing they’ll get sick. It’s the equivalent of aversion therapy or shock therapy where every time the lab rat reaches for cheese he’s shocked, so he eventually stops reaching for cheese.

And yet, for some that’s not even enough. Some people are so addicted to food that they gain weight even after their stomachs are reduced to the size of a golf ball. Why? Because none of these so-called life-saving surgeries deal with the real problem - not hunger pains, but the pain that goes on inside the head. How do they do a bypass on the brain??

One of the reasons groups like Weight Watchers have had long-term success for their clients is because they deal somewhat with people’s need to be noticed, appreciated, valued – and yes, loved. For some of us, there is a deep dark cavernous hole that yearns to be filled. It’s why we eat even when we’re not hungry. In fact, even when we’re full. Unfortunately, no amount of food we are able to consume, will ever, ever fill it.
When I was a child, it was customary for my dad to cook rib eyes out on the grill when family came to visit from out of town. One couple in particular could really put it away. I can’t recall what the husband ate, but the wife would eat 2 full steaks and the center out of a third; this along with French fried potatoes and a salad on the side. She admitted once that food looked just as good to her when she left the table as when she had arrived.

If you are thinking of any kind of weight-loss surgery, please reconsider. As major surgery, it's at the very least, risky. And whereas it alters the inside of your body permanently, what's inside the brain is still there - that deep void that makes us turn to food for artificial comfort. Talk therapy - counseling - would be a much better investment in the long run.