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Compliments to Your Health

Weight Management in the 21st Century:
Part 2 - Food, Glorious Food

by Joann Flora,
Acupressure, Nutrition Counseling, Qigong


November 24, 2004

Ketchikan, Alaska - In Part 1 of this series on Weight Management, we looked at some of the reasons Alaska, and America, seems to be on an ever increasing weight gain status. We identified such things as sedentary life style, transportation, psycho-social  factors,

jpg Joann Flora

Joann Flora
modern food choices, and predisposition. Part 2 will discuss food factors, specifically meal planning and portion control, diets, nutrients, energy, and meal replacements. Much has been written about weight in recent years. We know that clothing manufacturers have been resizing clothes so that we don't think we need to buy larger sizes. The airline industry has identified passenger weight as a cause of increased fuel consumption; small craft airlines may actually charge large passengers additional fare. Diet products have become a mega-industry equal to the financial status of a small country. All the while, fashion advertisements continue to emphasize waif-ness as the desirable body type. If all that doesn't get your attention, how about this: weight gain, and its related health risks,  is currently running neck and neck with tobacco use as the number one cause of preventable death. It is expected to be #1 in the near future. We should not be surprised by this information, though most of us are.
In 1932, Clive McKay of Cornell University studied the health and longevity of rats. He fed a test group of weaned rats 60% fewer calories than a control group. The test group was provided supplements to insure they were not deficient in necessary nutrition. The test group tended to grow slower, be smaller than the control group, and had longevity up to twice that of the controls. Less food and lean bodies equated to longer life. Since that time, America has focused on expanding and enhancing the pre-manufactured food industry, has supersized restaurant portions and created and entire industry devoted to serving meals quickly. At the same time, America has been gaining an average of one pound per year, reaching nearly epidemic levels of heart disease, diabetes, elevated cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Now, 70 years later, we are finally getting serious about recognizing the risks of excess weight. How can we reverse the trend of 70 years?
First, we need to consider what and how we eat:  MEAL PLANNING. As a society, we consume many more calories than we need for health. We tend to do this because it is convenient to do so. Convenience comes in some of the follow forms:

1. Drive-through meals
2. Frozen and pre-packaged meals
3. Restaurants
4. Social events (potlucks, fundraiser dinners, banquets) and recreational eating

When we  cook meals at home using basic ingredients, we tend toward SMALLER PORTIONS and consume fewer calories than when we use the methods above which offer  large portions, foods fried in reused cooking oils, sauces, and breading. It is accurate to say that meals of convenience are generally high calorie, high fat, high sodium, high cholesterol. They frequently contain hydrogenated fats (liquid fats treated to stay solid at room temperature) which are known to be artery clogging. Unfortunately, we believe that our society of two-parent working families, single-parent homes, multiple jobs, and over-scheduled time is not conducive to the kind of home cooking on which many of us were raised. Another factor is that advertising has conditioned us to falsely believe that we simply don't have the time, or energy, to cook, and that our solution is eating out or pre-fab meals. This is not true as frequently as marketers would have us believe. Test it yourself. In the time it takes to gather the family, go to a restaurant, order, be served, eat, and return home, most of us could chop some seasonal vegetable, make a fresh salad, and steam or grill a nice piece of Alaskan seafood. The advent of gas BBQ's makes it possible for us to make beautifully grilled meals most  of the year. Though drive-thru or pre-made meals may be faster than home cooked, no one can dispute that the nutritional value of freshly cooked food is significantly higher, and the calorie/fat content tends to be consistently lower. The key to cooking at home is KEEP IT SIMPLE.  When we keep our meal routine simple, at-home meal planning itself becomes simpler and dining out more of a treat than a routine. Some ideas for quick and simple meals follow. Experiment and make your own.
One-Dish Fish
Layer colorful, seasonal vegetables (EX: Red chard, orange squash, parsnips, red onions), in a steam basket. Place fresh fish (Ex: winter king salmon, rock fish) on veggies. Sprinkle with favorite seasonings (herbs such as rosemary or basil for an earthy taste or spices like Cajun for a warmer flavor). Steam together till fish is tender. If using spinach, wilt it atop the fish when everything else is cooked. Serve with green, veggie, or carrot salad and warm multi-grain rolls. Note: Save and freeze the broth from all steamed foods. When you're ready to make soup (any kind), this broth is the perfect starter.
All-Grilled Meal
Use seafood, chicken strips (unbreaded),  steak strips, or ground turkey burgers. Season or dip in a light sauce (EX: Teriyaki) or marinate during the work day.  Quarter onions, halve zucchini, wedge sweet potatoes. Depending on your grill, you can cook the veggies on the perimeter while the meat is over the fire,  you can skewer the pieces or place them in a grill basket. Some grills allow burner control separately front to back or left to right. Cooking over moderate  heat with lid down speeds cooking and keeps food moister.
A note about grilling non-fatty proteins (fish or skinless chicken): a light coat of mayonnaise on the first side facing the fire helps prevent sticking and conditions the grill for turning. The fat drips down and does not add significant fat to the food.
Roast-Together Dinner
Using a roasting pan with a lid, place chicken pieces topped with veggies (pearl onions, fresh crushed garlic, new or baby red potato slices, baby carrots). Sprinkle with seasonings, spices, or splash with Teriyaki, cover and roast till done. If you roast with the skin on, place the food on a rack, allowing the fat to drip below the food. Using petite vegetables reduces the preparation time. Covered roasting speeds cooking time and keeps foot moist. You can remove the cover near the end for browning. Serve with salad.
Combine the methods above so that you serve steamed, mixed veggies with grilled or roast protein. Cook extra food for a nice, easy to reheat  lunch the next day. Or, freeze left-over meats and veggies and add them to the broth you saved for soup. If you keep your meals small and supplement with nutritious snacks (fruit, nuts, whole grains, veggies) you can, and should, eat five to six times per day, consume less calories than during a super-sized-double-burger- bagged dinner, and keep your metabolism raised for higher efficiency burning calories.
We've considered how we might improve our meal planning and portion control, but what about those of us who stand to benefit from losing weight? How do we do it? The dirty 'D' word, DIET, is D-pressing, D-moralizing, and D-iscouraging to many people. I try never to use it with my nutrition clients. I prefer to work with nutrition programs or meal plans rather than diets as these terms are perceived as positive and beneficial. Many  Americans spend a great deal of their lives on 'diets', which we all know don't work. Why not? The answer is simpler than we think: we have not made a significant, long term change in our eating behavior. Again, I go back to advertising and marketing which repeatedly tells us that we need a certain pill, powder, potion, club, or exercise machine to  reach our ideal weight. So we buy products and programs that promise to solve our weight problems quickly without much effort on our part. They promise we will lose weight while we sleep, eat anything we want, in only 20 minutes a day, three times per week. We are conditioned to believe it can be done, fast without effort. It's a billion dollar fantasy land. The truth is that if we do not somehow reach a 500 negative calorie burn through dietary changes and increased activity, we don't lose weight. Beware of any plan that doesn't call for an increase in your activity level!
If diets don't work, why do the diet books continue to sell and the testimonials continue to roll in? In any diet - Atkins, South Beach, grapefruit, Mayo Clinic Soup, watermelon, etc. - the participant tends to eat less food due to limited choices. Less choice often results in less volume of food and fewer calories consumed. Weight is lost for the duration of the diet, but success turns to failure when we resume regular meals due to a lack of maintenance strategies. Our weight can yo-yo up and down year after year as we go on and off diets due to the evolutionary factors that allowed the primitive body to maintain a desirable weight year round, regardless of food supply availability. The energy flow chart of dieting looks like this:

DIET PLAN = REDUCED CALORIC INTAKE                                 


Each time we diet, we are working against the body's mechanism to protect us from food shortages by storing  calories during times of plenty in preparation for leaner times. Each successive weight  loss period becomes harder and longer, while each period of weight gain brings us more poundage in less time. The process of dieting is a contest of our will over our evolved metabolism as we teach our brain that there are frequent periods of famine followed by times of plenty. The reality of successful weight management is that we need to make consistent changes in eating behavior over a four to five year period of time in order to effect long term loss. The reconditioning of our brain (and thus our evolutionary metabolism) and eating behavior takes that much time; this can't be accomplished quicker. Therefore, whether a person uses an in-vogue diet or simply cuts calories (even to the point of starvation) doesn't seem to matter. The point is that the change must become a permanent reduction in caloric intake and expansion of activity level.
The best caloric restrictions are  the ones that  afford an adequate, regulated intake of MACRO-NUTRIENTS: protein, carbohydrate, and fats. The body requires all three to function adequately and long term deprivation of any one can create an imbalance in the body. If our intake of fat, carbohydrate, and protein equals what we burn (oxidize), we have ENERGY balance and weight maintenance. When we take in less  macro nutrients than we burn, we create a negative energy balance (weight loss). What is important about this factor is that it all really boils down to what we've known for many decades: a calorie is a calorie and we need to burn more than we consume to lose weight. It's therefore irrelevant if we restrict carbohydrate or fat calories, though it is healthier over the long term to restrict fat. Restricting carbohydrates may produce quicker weight loss, but it is not a healthy option for long term  weight management. Though many nutrition professionals scoff at Atkins, South Beach, and other vogue diets, I feel that whatever plan gets you motivated and started is great. Lose some weight, feel good about yourself, and move onto a loss-maintenance program that will keep you healthy and lean for the long haul. Losing only five to ten percent of your body weight is enough to begin lowering your risk of metabolic syndrome (heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, etc). The 200 pound man who would ideally weight 150 can begin to reduce his metabolic risk by losing 10 to 20 pounds. 
ENERGY in vs out is still the best approach to weight loss; exactly what is the "best program" is different for different people. Regardless of your plan specifics, the ideal program shares several characteristics:

1. It provides the largest negative energy status = weight loss
2. It is safe as well as effective = no mal-nourishment
3. It will tend to result in a negative fat balance = supports cardio-vascular adequacy

Last, I wish to address the subject of MEAL REPLACEMENTS (MR's). I have long had an aversion to MR's as they are seldom used appropriately. Meal Replacements are not snacks, they replace meals and contain sufficient calories and macro-nutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) to suffice for a complete meal. Dieters are sometimes known to consume an MR (shake or bar) then have a meal. They  wonder why they cannot lose weight on the 'Slim Fast' (or other MR) plan. MR's that are not satisfying, (do not produce sensations of fullness and adequate food intake), only stimulate us to want to continue eating. Using the 'MR as snack' scenario, it is colossally difficult to reach a 500 negative calorie status. In fact, this practice will often produce weight gain. Susan Bowerman, RD of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition recently shed some light on this issue. One reason MR's can fail to produce the desired results is that they can be a) slow to enter the system, or b) they only provide short term appetite satisfaction. She recommends combining whey and soy proteins for adequate satiety (appetite satisfaction). Bowerman states that using whey protein mixed in soy milk provides the benefit of quick entry into the system (whey) and long term satiety (soy). Shakes can be mixed or blended with yogurt or fruit for variety. I have personally tried this combination and have found it to be very satisfying. People looking to lose considerable weight can use a whey/soy MR for two meals, eat a balanced, sensible dinner with their family and achieve good results. To lose a few pounds, use one whey/soy MR and eat two reasonably light meals. This type of effective MR use can be effective for achieving long term weight loss goals and maintenance. In addition to utilizing MR's, the person wishing to lose weight can adjust meals in the following ways:

1. Substitute small plates for large and eat a plateful of food.
2. Eliminate foods that are breaded, fried, or in rich sauces.
3. Replace pastry-like desserts with fresh fruits or non-fat yogurt.
4. Drink a full glass of water 20 minutes prior to eating to curb appetite.
5. Take salad dressing on the side, dip the fork into the dressing and then the salad.
6. Be sure each meal contains protein (3-4 oz), carbohydrates (whole grain or starchy vegetable), and fat (olive oil, fat from fish) for macro-nutrient balance.
7. Track your calories! Women should aim at 1200 per day and men 1500. Go to for an on-line calorie counter plus lots of additional information about nutrition and weight management.

Reduced calories and balanced nutrition is but a part of the equation. Part 3 of this series will focus on movement as a necessity for effective weight loss. Please feel free to submit your comments and questions about Parts 1 and 2 as well as your suggestions for information to be included in Part 3.


©Compliments To Your Health
Joann Flora 2004

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