For the last two columns, I’ve written about some of the things we know and don’t know about our “overweight” epidemic and some of the myths of dieting. With that in mind, let’s head over to the science table to see what’s happening.
1. Breakfast counts: There is reasonably sound evidence that this is true. People who are the right weight tend not to rush out the door in the mornings with a cup of coffee in one hand and a doughnut in the other. Many of my overweight patients skip breakfast and lunch, too, often porking out at dinner.
I recommend you look at breakfast the way your mom did – as the most important meal of the day. To make it super, I suggest a high-fiber cereal soaked in low-fat milk (or soy or almond milk if you prefer). Top it off with a piece of fruit and a dollop of yogurt.
If you add a six-ounce glass of calcium-fortified orange juice, you’ll have three of the four calcium servings you need for the day, two servings of fruit and some fiber to help your digestive system.
I’m also a proponent of eggs, just not every day. Varying your breakfast with a couple of eggs a couple of times a week will add Lutein, which is an essential nutrient to ward off macular degeneration, an all-too-common form of blindness.
2. Eat your greens and fruits: The darker the vegetable, the more nutritious. You can eat nearly as many vegetables as you want, except for some such as avocado – which technically is a fruit.
Fruits are different. They have more calories. A typical apple, pear or banana are about 125 calories, about the same as half a Snickers candy bar. A couple pieces of fruit each day are fine; a dozen are not.
Perishables are expensive. Recently, a patient told me she just couldn’t afford them. She could, however, afford an $8 pack of Marlboros. When I mentioned this to her, you can guess what her response was.
Yes, good stuff costs more – so save up for it. Americans spend 6 percent of their income on food, the Brits spend 9 percent and the French 15 percent. If you want to eat well, you have to shop wisely and shop well. Read labels and do the math.
3. Beware of hidden calories: Mayo, salad dressing, cheese that seems to be put in everything – these will add calories that don’t give you extra satisfaction. Look for low-fat, low-calorie dressings and nonfat sauces whenever you eat. “Secret” sauces usually harbor secret calories.
4. Genetics and childhood: Your genes and your early childhood do count, but you are not a slave to them. Don’t blame your parents for your weight. Studies show that genes are only about 50 percent of the culprit, with environment the other 50 percent.
5. Exercise: It’s important but only so much. If you run five miles and burn 500 calories, that takes care of a typical McDonald’s large fries. You’d need to run for 10 miles to burn off the Big Mac you have with it. What we do know is that people who exercise weigh less, possibly because exercise can help to curb appetite.
6. Snacks: Snacking doesn’t always produce weight gain, but bad snacking does. If you grab a handful of nutritious nuts, you might not eat as much at dinner.
7. Diet plans: Programs where you buy food that’s on the plan work for many. The challenge comes when you stop eating the packaged items. If you’re committed, then it’s a good jump-start.
8. Bariatric surgery: This can produce long-term gains for the morbidly obese. It’s a godsend for those who have totally failed with other weight-loss methods. But remember, surgery is surgery, pure and simple, and comes with risks.
My spin: The dismal fact is this – only 5 percent of people who have lost weight have kept it off two years later. If you want to be the success story, then chose a program that’s right for you.
Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician, university professor and author. He also hosts a call-in radio program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7.