This section of my website used to be dedicated to triathlon training, personal race results and certification reviews, like Turbo Kick. I am expanding it to include more generic health & fitness topics. Also, I talk a lot about "D" -- he's my husband (Dave Liu)!

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

The Diet That Works: What science tells us about successful weight loss

Wonderful article in the Wall Street Journal today entitled The Diet That Works that provides tips for losing weight. I'll summarize the main points here with my own commentary interspersed throughout:

  • Stop Drinking Soda: Cutting out one regular soda a day (or switching to diet) is the equivalent of consuming 50,000 fewer calories per year (about 15 pounds).
    "But calories alone are not what make beverages so insidious. Liquid calories have the potential to do more damage in terms of weight gain because they don't make you feel as full. The body simply doesn't "notice" calories that you drink as much as it does calories from solid foods -- so you end up consuming far more calories than you would otherwise. (Liquid diets don't pose the same problem because the drink is intended as a replacement for other food.)"
    In a similar vein, I've stopped drinking fruit juices. Instead of drinking a cup of orange juice, for instance, I'll just eat an orange. Same number of calories, but the orange is much more filling
  • Write It Down: In general, people think that they eat less and exercise more than they really do. By writing down everything, you are much more cognizant of what you're putting in your mouth. It certainly helped me when I kept a journal because I'd always think twice before eating chocolate/chips/whatever.
    "... many studies show dieters who religiously record what they eat lose more weight and keep it off better than those who don't keep food records. The more days a person records the food they eat, the greater the weight loss. A Chicago study looked at eating habits over the holidays. On average, participants gained 500% more in holiday weeks than in other weeks. But those who consistently kept food records lost weight."
  • Weigh Yourself Often: I thought this was interesting advice because unless you have "a lot" of weight to lose (everything is relative), you may not see results that quickly. Also, if you decrease your % body fat, and increasing your mass with lean muscle, you may not even see weight loss, or even experience weight gain. I'm a big fan of the "jeans test" and "mirror" test. But here's some fascinating info the Journal provides:
    "Look at the members of the National Weight Control Registry, a collection of 4,500 successful dieters who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for a year. (The average member has lost 66 pounds and kept it off for six years.) Seventy-five percent of registry members weigh themselves at least once a week, while 44.5% weigh at least once a day. (To join the registry, call 1-800-606-NWCR.)"
  • Eat Big Food: Apparently, your body feels full more as a response to the physical volume of food you eat, as opposed to the number of calories.
    "... the trick for the dieter isn't to eat less food, but to pick foods that pack relatively few calories by weight, says Barbara J. Rolls, the Penn State nutrition professor and author of the "volumetrics" diet books. An easy way to do this is to think big. Choose foods that are bulked up by water or fiber. For instance, for 100 calories, you can eat a quarter-cup of raisins or two cups of grapes. Adding vegetables can double the size of a pasta dish without much of a calorie increase."

    The article says that soup is considered "big food" and I agree. I eat that for dinner a lot.

  • Pay Attention to Portions: These days, everything seems to be "supersized". Combine that with our tendency to eat everything put in front of us (my parents taught me to clean my plate ... "think of all the starving children in [insert country name]!"), and hey presto! Instant weight gain. Here's a trick I discovered when eating out: I usually order 2 appetizers instead of 1 appetizer + 1 main course. It's usually enough food (for me) and cheaper too!
  • Replace a Meal: I don't know about this one. I'm a big fan of eating real food instead of ingesting "Slimfast" or other meal replacements. The exception to this are energy bars/granola bars which I eat as a snack. Well, that doesn't really count either because I eat them as a snack and not as a meal. But the Journal makes a good point:
    "Counting calories is hard. How many were in the dinner you made last night, or the meal at the restaurant last week?"
    "That may be one reason several studies have shown that people who replace several meals a week with portion-controlled foods such as commercial liquid diets or frozen meals have more success losing weight and keeping it off."
  • Monotony Works: My coworkers tease me about eating the same foods at the same restaurant several times a week, but turns out this may not be such a bad thing after all. Here's why:
    "Variety excites the appetite. For dieters, though, variety is trouble. The more choices you have, the more you will eat. In laboratory studies, people choosing from a variety of foods will eat 60% more than those given a single food -- bad news for dieters who love a good buffet. But monotonous eaters walk a tightrope. If they feel too restricted, they will become bored with their diet. As a result, they seek variety on special occasions -- weekends or holidays -- and then quickly get back to the more predictable routine."
  • Watch the Morning Carbs: Here's a great quote:
    "Losing weight is all about calories. But sticking to a diet is all about hunger."
    "There's growing evidence that some carbohydrates make you hungrier. The worst culprits are those found in refined grain products, like white bread, doughnuts, bagels and cereals. Your body uses them far more quickly than slow-release carbs found in most fruits and vegetables."
    "Eating bad carbs early in the day -- and many breakfast foods qualify as bad carbs -- may make matters worse. Some researchers think carbs in the morning may block the body's ability to keep blood sugar stable later in the day -- meaning that you stay hungry even if you have protein for lunch. It may simply be that carbs in the morning are worse because you have more hours left in the day for hunger to screw up your diet."

    The article points out that the evidence is not conclusive but here's a great rule of thumb by Susan B. Roberts, who runs the Tufts University energy metabolism laboratory:

    "If you're hungry two hours after a meal, you're eating the wrong foods."
  • Rethink Exercise: Apparently, exercise alone will not cause you to lose a significant amount weight. HOWEVER,
    "While exercise often won't make you thin, it's generally the only way to keep from getting fat again."

    Even so, I'm a huge proponent of exericse because it provides so many other benefits. It's not just about weight loss!

Here are some interesting statistics that were also provided in the article:

  • 14: Number of calories in a potato chip
  • 29: Number of pounds you would gain from eating one extra potato chip a day for 20 years
  • 19.8: Percentage of adults who say they are obese
  • 30.5: Percentage of adults who really are medically obese
  • 30: Percentage by which people typically underestimate how many calories they eat
  • 1,795: Average number of daily calories successful weight losers probably eat
  • 23: Percentage of U.S. adults who consume five servings of fruits and vegetables a day
  • 510: Number of calories in a plain Panera cinnamon crunch bagel
  • 2: Hours it would take a 160-pound person to walk off a plain Panera cinnamon crunch bagel
  • 14: Hours a 160-pound person needs to walk to lose a pound
  • 148: Average increase in daily calories consumed, compared with 20 years ago
  • 140: Calories in a regular 12-ounce Coke
  • 10: Diameter, in inches, of a typical restaurant plate 20 years ago
  • 12: Diameter, in inches, of a typical restaurant plate today

Sources: Purdue University Department of Foods and Nutrition; Journal of the American Medical Association; National Weight Control Registry; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;;; U.S. Department of Agriculture; Coca-Cola Co.; American Institute for Cancer Research

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