Thursday, May 27, 2010

Forget the Fats? Cut Out the Carbs? Maybe...NOT!

Let’s say you need 2000 calories per day to maintain your weight (actual needs vary based on height, weight, muscle mass and physical activity—this is only an example!)  And suppose you ate 2000 calories each day, but, the calories all came from carbohydrate (“carbs”).  What would happen?

How about if you instead managed to take in 100% of your calories from fat—shall we say, for instance, 16-17 Tablespoons of oil or the equivalent?  I know, I know, it’s a gross concept.
But what would happen to your weight, assuming again that your body needed 2000 calories per day?

It’s kind of like that old, not funny riddle “Which weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of gold?” From a weight standpoint, your body couldn’t care less whether the calories come from carbs, fat or protein.  The foods you eat get digested, and those chemical bonds that make up carbohydrate, fat, protein and alcohol molecules get broken and energy is released.  And your body only cares that it is getting the energy it needs.  It is true, that per gram, protein, fat, carbs and alcohol each provide different amounts of energy. Fats provided the greatest energy, followed by alcohol, and finally by protein and carbohydrate which tie for the lowest calories per gram.

So should you be worried about taking in carbs? Or fats, for instance?  Not at all.  If the total intake matches your need, regardless of the source of those calories, you’re safe, from a weight standpoint.  (And in later posts I will address just how to find that balance.)

Now let me clarify a few points.  You certainly still need all three nutrients (alcohol excluded). You need adequate protein, fat and carbohydrate for your body to be healthy, in addition to vitamins and minerals to prevent disease. So I’m not suggesting you eat only carbs, for instance.  But tomorrow morning when you are contemplating eating some cereal or pancakes or a bagel, rest assured that it doesn’t go right to your hips (or butt, or waist). And having a modest intake of fat may also contribute to your eating pleasure and satisfaction.  And perhaps prevent you from feeling denied and deprived.

If you don’t believe me, try it out.  And keep in mind, it takes 3,500 surplus calories (beyond what your body needs for maintenance) to gain a single pound (or 3,500 calories less to lose it).

The only way to really trust is to experience it. So go ahead and step out of your comfort zone tomorrow.  And when you find that nothing bad happens, please post a comment on the blog and let me know! (By the way, the top photo is of my lunch on a trip to Provence, France.)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Weighing In

It was a charming, tiny, one bedroom Paris apartment we rented for the week, fully equipped with everything we needed—dishwasher, iron, espresso maker.  And a scale.  A scale! There was barely room to get off the bed, but by it’s side was a scale. What kind of vacation has room for a scale, I wondered? Who would choose to step on and off as they enjoyed the French food and wine?

Which brings me to my thoughts about weighing. 
Raise your hand if you think that weighing yourself is helpful in your quest to normalize your weight.  Okay, this is the virtual world, so I can’t see your hands, but I suspect that many of you believe that you need to weigh yourself. That if you don’t, your weight may just spiral out of control. And yet I know that most of you really know better.  If you really stop to think about it and remember the cycle you go through each time you weigh yourself you may not be raising your hand (and I’ll never know). So let’s consider the possibilities that may arise with weighing:

• You’re feeling good, thinking you are eating well to support your goal for weight management (whether it needs to go up, down or stabilize) so you step on the Detecto or other device. But the number is not what you were expecting. Perhaps because you have unrealistic expectations about how much change should occur. Perhaps because of normal fluctuation that has nothing to do with your efforts—hydration, constipation, PMS. You may feel disappointed, annoyed and frustrated with yourself, hopeless even. The result? You sabotage your efforts and undo the positive changes you were making as well as your progress. All because of this metal object determining your worth. Only moments ago, you were feeling good, remember?

• You’ve been off track in terms of your eating and activity and could tell that the scale will only share bad news. And it does. Does it help, seeing the number? You already knew where things were off track. Does the number help the situation, motivate you anymore? Or make you feel worse about yourself?

• You’ve been off track and were expecting the see it reflected in your weight, but lucky for you, that doesn’t occur. So maybe you continue to stay off track, thinking you could get by, and then later it shows up in a big way. Also, not helpful, right?

Before You Step On

So if you are determined to weigh yourself (which by now you can tell I don’t support on a regular basis) I have a few suggestions. Before you hop on the scale, try to do an honest self-assessment. 

• Have you been listening to your body’s signals and responding to them, eating when hungry and stopping when full? Or are you finding yourself detaching from your signals—using fluid loading (coffee, diet soda, water) to fill the void instead of food?

• Are you using food not for hunger but to satisfy many other needs—stress, depression, anxiety, loneliness or boredom? 

• Or because you feel you “ruined it” or “deserve it” or don’t deserve to get healthy and feel well? 

We eat and use food for so many reasons. Once you identify what behaviors are in place/not in place, then set a goal for change.  A practical goal. One you can achieve. And stick to it regardless of what the scale says.  Because you know better than that object on the floor where you stand!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Eating Out—More Lessons from France

Last Saturday at 11 PM, 2 ½ hours after entering the bistro, I comfortably strolled out following my 3 course meal, my final dinner out in France. And my top pants button was intact! Appetizer (they call that the entrée), plat (the main course), dessert and an overpriced café au lait included.

Anything strike you as odd here? Well, to start it strikes me as strange that eating a full multi-course meal including dessert (yes, I almost licked the plate clean) left me feeling physically comfortable. And just to give you some detail, that included a mille-feuille (think Napoleon—those multi layered pastries filled with rich cream filling) with a side of sorbet. So we’re not talking about Edy’s light or anything. In fact, there was nothing light about this meal, which included a delectable risotto, and pistou soup (think pesto, soup style) as well. Being who I am I couldn’t just leave it at that and not analyze my dining experience. So here’s what I’ve determined:

  • Dining out in France is not like eating out in the States. It is an activity unto itself. It is leisurely, with a focus on the food, truly savored and enjoyed. The food is artfully prepared (for the price it ought to be) and people really linger over it. In some ways, it drives me crazy. I have to wait so long for everything, and no one apologizes for it either. That is the way it is. But what a lesson for us impatient foreigners! Slow down and taste the garlic, so to speak. And with a meal lasting more than 45 minutes or so you will actually have enough time to notice if you have had enough.
  • Main dishes (pasta and risotto excluded) come without a starch. Imagine that! Unlike what we are used to here in the US—you know, the balanced plate—the “meat”, starch and vegetable, in France it appears they skip the starch. How can they get away with that, you’re wondering? Because they serve this amazing bread that they know you’ll be eating instead. In contrast, in the US we’re served the starch (potato, rice) and the bread and guess what? We eat them both. And if they threw a third starch in, we’d probably eat that too.
  • Portions are smaller. But the benefit is that you get to enjoy many items without feeling ill from overeating. I wonder if there’s a French term for doggy bag? Quite unlikely.
  • Desserts are no novelty. Spectacular, yes, but not a special occasion, “now or never” occurrence. The French are eating delectable baked goods on a regular basis. Four bakeries in that town of 5000, remember? Somebody’s buying and eating them! So when they eat out they don’t feel obligated to order dessert as if it’s their only chance. I suppose if they feel full, they bypass dessert until the morning, when they pick up a crusty pastry with their morning coffee and baguette.
  • And did you notice the time our meal ended? Eleven PM! Yes, later meals are fashionable in France and no, they are not gaining weight as a result of eating after 8pm!

So once again, consider the French at your next restaurant outing. If you love the bread they serve, eat it! But maybe skip the potato, rice or pasta they serve you in addition. Slow the pace and linger over your meal. And if you’re full, give yourself permission to get dessert—tomorrow!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Greetings from France! There’s so much I’d like to share about food and eating here and what it means for those of you struggling to eat well and maintain some balance in your lives. At the moment, I am staying in a very small town in southern France, population approximately 5000 people. And guess how many bakeries? Four! Yes, four bakeries that serve the most spectacular pastries and freshly baked breads. And I might add that this is not a tourist town. 

So who is buying all these amazing baked goods (besides me)? The locals. For those of you who have not been to France, I’d like to also enlighten you about these baked goods. They are all white flour (although I did see one multi grain bread), and the pastries are to die for. Full cream and butter, nothing low fat about them. And the locals, you are wondering, what do they look like? Let’s just say that high BMIs just don’t seem to exist here. They appear normal weight and healthy as a whole. In my entire first week of traveling in France, I could say that there was only one overweight individual that I encountered—and he was a bus driver, for whatever that’s worth.

So why tell you all this? Because when I am talking with patients back home I constantly hear of phobias about carbs and and fats and the risk of eating these and gaining weight. It seems to me that in past years a fear of carbs has taken over. Perhaps this is a carry over of misinformation from diets such as the Atkins and Zone, but more about that later. The point is, people that live here eat plenty of carbs—refined, white flour, low fiber carbs, and enjoy every bite. And yet, they remain slim and fit. 

Hmmmm. So what to make of this paradox? Several things come to mind. First, the French really know how to eat mindfully and to eat foods they enjoy. Meals last forever (stores close for 2-4 hours, depending on location, for lunchtime). And how many of you take such time for lunch? And actually choose foods you enjoy? And take the time to taste them?

And then there’s the fat content. Just like the pastries, most foods here are not low fat. The French take pride in their cheeses (full fat and delectable) and their olive and walnut oils. But the French don’t appear to be closet eating their pastries or baguettes, those white flour breads. No, they are eating them, savoring them even, in full view. And truly enjoying them, it seems.

Now there is one detail I might add about the French way of eating—the portions. Everything tends to be smaller. I ordered a “grande” coffee this morning and I got about 4 ounces. Imagine that! Five of those would fit in a Starbucks vente. And similarly, they tend to be satisfied with small quantities of foods which taste great. Perhaps we could learn a few things from the French. I do promise to post a few photos of the pastries around France because it is truly other worldly! And I must admit, I’ve enjoyed every croissant, baguette, Napolean and macaron I’ve had (check out the La Duree website to see what I mean).

So this week, try to act French—choose some foods that you’d never consider eating, something truly delectable that meets no nutritional “need”. And savor it, truly taste it with all of your senses. And maybe you’ll find that it takes a lot less to satisfy then you ever imagined.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Miss America

If you were to walk down the hallway in my house you’d see a wall of family photos, spanning many generations. One of my favorites is of my maternal grandmother, a black and white, professionally posed shot, of her in an evening dress at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It’s a sweet photo, apparently taken at the Miss America preliminary competition, or so the story goes. 

“Why is this important”? , you might be thinking? Well, one day I was looking closely at this photo and noticed that there was a thick, black marker line on either side from her waist down past her hips, removing a good couple of inches from her middle! Imagine that! While she had denied it (of course I asked her!), at some point she decided to do a little cosmetic surgery so to speak, to adjust her proportions. In spite of her good looks, I guess she didn’t think they were good enough. She was a normal weight, but I suppose that normal wasn’t good enough.

Well, I didn’t touch up my blog photo (no, really, although I must confess I removed the red eye). But you should know that this was the first time I wore lipstick in more than a year. Now I have nothing against wearing makeup (although because I was frequently told by my parents that I should wear it I have rebelled, and as most of you who know me can attest, I still am rebelling!)

And what does this have to do with the subject of my blog? It has to do with self -acceptance. Okay, I realize you have searched for keywords or linked to me from other sites precisely because you are not okay with where you are at. And you are searching, desperately perhaps, for nutritional guidance to make you feel better. But here’s the catch—if you are full of self-loathing, if you don’t feel deserving of being taken care of, why would you indulge yourself in self-care? In quality meals that taste good? In moving your body to make it strong and fit?

The conclusion? Be nicer. To yourself. Even if you truly need to change your size for health reasons. Just start by accepting where you are at and that you are worth the effort to work on change. And promise me you’ll set realistic goals. Because if the expectations are too great, you’ll set yourself up for failure. And nobody needs more failure.

Thanks for reading!