Does The “Diet” Belong in “Diet Sodas”?

Let’s say that you–like me, and about 99 percent of the rest of the population of the United States–are always trying to lose a few pounds. Should “diet sodas” be part of your weight loss regimen? It’s a good question, and one that has produced lots of conflicting data. Some studies indicate that diet drinks are helpful, while others show the opposite.

The most recent study looked at the effect of diet sodas sweetened with sucralose on appetite. It concluded that, for women and people who are struggling with obesity, those beverages caused increased activity in the parts of the brain that control appetite and food cravings and also caused a decline in the level of hormones that communicate that “full stomach” feeling. Participants in the study consumed the same quantities of fluids–plain water, diet soda with sucralose, and beverages sweetened with sugar–and then had their brains scanned by MRIs to gather the brain activity data while they were being shown photos of enticing foods like donuts and juicy cheeseburgers (which really seems like unfair entrapment, when you think about it).

One of the researchers concluded: “By studying different groups we were able to show that females and people with obesity may be more sensitive to artificial sweeteners. For these groups, drinking artificially sweetened drinks may trick the brain into feeling hungry, which may in turn result in more calories being consumed.”

I used to be a regular consumer of diet drinks, but I’ve pretty much stopped–mostly because my tastes changed and I’m a cheapskate, besides. I try to stick to water and coffee, and if I really feel like I want something with a more distinctive flavor I’ll put a few drops of lemon or lime juice into my water glass. A cold glass of tap water or a cup of hot coffee are pretty satisfying, when you get right down to it.

Intuitive Eating

Tired of having to follow some strict dietary regimen?  Tired of having to weigh your food, or buy weird special foods because your dietary plan says you must do so?  Tired of weighing yourself constantly and feeling disappointed because you’re not meeting your weight-loss goals?

10-principles-ofMeet “intuitive eating.”

It seems to be the latest “new” approach to eating.  As a recent article about the concept in The Atlantic puts it, the idea is to “encourage followers to work on their relationship with food without worrying about their weight, and to reject the notions of virtue and sin that have underpinned cultural ideas about eating since time immemorial.”  Intuitive eating teaches that weight loss isn’t the top priority, and the cycle of losing weight and gaining it back is harmful.  And here’s the key point:  “Eat what you want, with no rules about what to eat, how much of it, or when. Intuitive eating has 10 tenets, but the most well-known one is that no foods are off limits, and that there is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” food.”

So how is that supposed to work, exactly?  One underlying theory of intuitive eating is that there is a strong psychological component to eating.  The notion is that people are attracted to the forbidden fruit — or in this case, perhaps, the forbidden ice cream — so saying that something is off limits just makes it seem all that more irresistible.  People who switch to intuitive eating sometimes binge on their favorite guilty pleasure that had been strictly outlawed, but advocates of the approach say they ultimately strike a balance with food that is healthy and sustainable.  With all of the mystique and the calorie-counting and guilt stripped away, the intuitive eaters do what people traditionally used to do:  they eat when they’re hungry, and don’t eat when they aren’t.  And they spend a lot less on diet books, and scales, and special foods that strict diets require.

Does intuitive eating make sense?  I don’t know, honestly — but I do think that our notions of food seem to have gotten out of whack.  There are so many health issues associated with obesity that avoiding obesity obviously should be a lifelong goal, and if you are looking to lose a few pounds — or more than a few — a diet can help to kick start the cycle of loss that gets you to your desired range.  In my case, going low-carb for a few months a few years ago was an important step toward feeling healthier.  But you can’t stay on diets forever, and at some point cycling over to a more sustainable approach to food and eating has to happen.

Who’d have thought that, with all of the diets and food advice out there, human beings might get back to the simple concept of eating when you’re hungry?

The 160-Pound Me

Last week my doctor’s assistant had me stand barefoot on a scale-like contraption and hold a metal bar that was linked to the scale so that the fingers and thumbs on both hands were touching the metal.  The device, she said, would measure my muscle-to-body-fat ratio and also give me an overall weight goal.

I eyed the contraption with skepticism and trepidation.  More than a year ago I made a concerted effort to lose weight through a low-carb regimen and lost about 20 pounds.  I was happy with the results and decided to stop at that point, and I thought I had been pretty successful in keeping the weight off — but I don’t weigh myself regularly.  The scale/handle device therefore would be the acid test.

I followed the procedure and waited for the results.  The good news was that my weight was within a pound or two of where I was when I stopped the low-carb approach last year, and the device concluded that the amount of muscle was where it should be, too.  The bad news, though, is that the device said that I needed to lose about 25 pounds and get below 160 on the scale.

160?  Seriously?  160?!?  That’s less than I weighed when Kish and I got married in 1982, which was the skinniest I’ve ever been as an adult. If you wanted to find the last time I weighed less than 160 pounds you’d probably have to go back more than 40 years.

I get the need to watch your weight, and I understand the different health problems that can be caused by excessive weight.  But getting below 160 pounds seems like a pretty outlandish goal.  Presumably it would require a radical change in diet and exercise efforts, and I wonder if it would be sustainable.  I don’t want to lose two stone eating twigs and raw lettuce, buy an entirely new beanpole wardrobe, and then see my weight pop back up.  And yo-yoing on your weight doesn’t seem like a particularly healthy thing, either.

I’m rationalizing here, I’m sure, and I’ll talk to my doctor, of course.  But for now I’m thinking I’ll just take things one step at a time, and try to get down to the 170s and see how I feel about it.  I’m having a really hard time envisioning the 160-pound me.

The Winter Fat-Burning Workout

We’re all eager to shed some of those lingering holiday pig-out pounds.  The best way to achieve your goal is not to go to your health club or workout facility, but to head out into the Great White North, where there are plenty of ways to lose that weight and tone your flabby carcass.

The snow shovel lift and hurl:  Shoveling snow is like the Bow-Flex of winter outdoor exercises — it can involve virtually every kind of motion and form of exercise.  Lift your shovel.  Bend at the waist and apply force to your shovel to scrape the driveway clean.  Lift that heavy load of snow.  Twist with your torso and hurl the snow onto the piles to the right and left.  Hope for that magical combination of weather factors that cause ice and wet snow to freeze to your shovel, increasing the weight of each shovel-load by a factor of ten.

The windshield stretch and scrape:  Retrieve your cob-webbed scraper from the dusty recesses of the garage.  Use the scraper to chisel ice off your car’s side windows.  A vigorous up-and-down motion works best.  Then, stretch as far as you can over your snow-bound car and scrape the snow and ice from your windshield and back window and ponder the inevitable question:  why do they make the scrapers so short?

The icy walkway balance beam:  Venture out onto the icy sidewalk, walking with tiny, mincing steps to try to maintain maximum contact with the frozen surface.  Then, react with lightning speed to deftly regain your balance when you begin to slip.  Bonus points if you can do a pirouette without falling.

The sleet avoidance car dash:  Sleet is the worst of all weather conditions, a devilish combination of rain, snow, and ice.  Don’t just stand there getting pelted — run to your car in the Wal-Mart parking lot!  And pray that a benevolent deity guides your footsteps, so they don’t inadvertently find that hidden patch of ice.

Remember, bundle up = weight down:  Dress in layers — it’s cold out there!  After a few minutes of hard shoveling, though, you’ll be overheated, your heart will be pounding, and you’ll be sweating like a blast furnace worker.   Your knit cap will be sodden and you’ll pull at that scarf that now seems to be choking you.  Oh, and your nose will be running, too.  In fact, “running” really does not begin to describe the gushing flow pouring out of those red, flaring nostrils.  With all of that moisture leaving your body through every possible route, you’ll be assured of massive water weight loss!

Now, get out there — and feel the burn!

It’s Heavy

My new favorite show is Heavy on the Arts and Entertainment channel airing Monday nights at 10 pm. Heavy is a docudrama that follows two individuals each episode, one man and one woman who are facing life threatening health consequences because of their obesity. The men may weigh as much as 600 lbs and the women may weigh as much as 400 lbs. The show documents their transformation during a six month treatment program.

Last weeks episode was about Bill – age 52 – unemployed – who weighed in at 443 lbs and Julia – age 25 – unemployed – who weighed in 254 lbs when they entered Hilton Head Health for a six month stay where they are placed under the watchful eye of their personal trainer Beverly.

Bill was a football player for the University of Alabama in the late seventies. He played some professional football for the San Diego Chargers, but his career was cut short due to injuries. His addiction to drugs and alcohol caused him to finally lose his wife, his house and his job.

Julia was recently dumped by her boyfriend who no longer found her attractive and she became the caregiver for her mother who eventually lost a four year battle with cancer. Both Bill and Julia’s coping mechanism became food.

Typically the participants wonder how they have let their weight get so out of control, but under Beverly’s guidance Bill and Julia learn to exercise daily and adjust to a normal diet limiting portion size to around 300 calories per meal as opposed to the fast food meals they are used to eating that averaged 3000 calories.

To make a long story short, Bill lost 160 lbs when he left Hilton Head Health and Julia lost 90 lbs. My favorite part of the show is the reveal at the end when they inevitably say “I’ve got my life back” and their families and friends get to see their new and improved look, it always brings a smile to my face.

I have a couple of friends that are working hard to lose weight by watching their calorie intake and exercising as much as possible. I really have to commend them and wish them much success in their efforts.