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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Part 2: Weight Control DOs!


1 Sivan, 5775

Welcome back to a series of posts that received favorable feedback here on the blog and on Facebook.

Without further ado:

Weight Control II:  Do's

© Copyright 2007 

I offer the following modest suggestions for anyone wishing to control their weight:

1) Remember that it may be unhealthier to lose weight than to gain weight. Sure, you get more compliments from your friends when you lose weight. But looks aside, fat is dangerous when it is in your bloodstream, not when it is in folds on your stomach. Fat in your blood can leave deposits on the walls of your blood vessels. It can also feed cancer cells, which generally need more energy than healthy cells - and, for that matter, fat can feed any disease cell that is rapidly growing.

Diabetics are liable to all sorts of health problems precisely because, in the absence of insulin which is necessary for metabolizing sugar, they metabolize too much fat instead. Excessive fat metabolism is very bad for the body. It raises the acidity level of the body and this in turn depresses the nervous system.

Losing several pounds of fat within a short time is at least as bad as eating that much fat because if you lost it, you metabolized it. This is downright unhealthy, for reasons too complicated to be addressed in this essay. If you must lose weight, lose it very gradually.

2) Remember that you want to correct an imbalance of less than one per cent. Think 1 percent, not 30 percent. Avoid like the plague diet doctors who prescribe diets that give you well below what your body needs. Apart from being hungry, you could end up malnourished. For the first few months, you might feel psychologically buoyed by the weight loss. This can positively reinforce your will to stick to the diet, but during these few months you would be living off stored nutritional savings, depleting necessary supplies for your future health. We addressed the problem in Part I.

Eventually this deficit creates an urgent biological need for more than you’re getting from your diet, making it harder and harder to stick to the diet. Most people eventually crack by overeating and regaining most of the weight they lost.  That’s the Boomerang Effect.

I suspect that one of the reasons many dieters want to lose weight quickly is that dieting is so unpleasant that they are anxious to terminate it, and that, consciously or unconsciously, they plan to do exactly that as soon as they lose enough weight to be satisfied by their new appearance. Another reason for quick weigh loss is that dieters want to impress someone, and fast. They develop enthusiasm for weight loss because of some event such as a wedding, graduation or other celebration is about to happen, or they wait until May to sculpt a June beach body from excess fat and untoned muscle.

So if you are overweight, the last thing you want to do is diet. What you need to do is to start caring for yourself.  Even Dr. Robert Atkins, the "king" of weight loss doctors, emphasized the importance of long term healthy living. Although famous for preaching an extremely low carbohydrate intake [1]  he emphasizes that this is only for the short term. He makes it quite clear that over the long term, vegetables and whole grains are necessities.

3) Don't get up from a meal hungry. If you finished the food on your plate and you are still hungry, then don't get up. You have the options of eating more, or just sitting there and not doing much of anything except letting your food digest. Just sitting there can be surprisingly filling. The reason for this is that it takes longer for your food to digest than it does to chew and swallow it. It can take a while until your blood sugar starts to rise, and it is this rise in blood sugar that relieves hunger (think of the ghrelin and leptin mentioned above). It could be that you have eaten enough, but don't yet feel it. If you just sit at rest in your chair at the dining room table for five or ten minutes after a meal, you might feel just as satisfied as you would had you spent the same time eating. And remember, you don't need any excuse to just sit there for a few more minutes. No need to light up a cigarette or anything like that.

4) Store glycogen, not fat. Glycogen is a wonderful substance that stores energy in your body. It typically lasts for about 24 hours before getting used up. When you consume food, and your blood glucose level begins to rise, your liver begins to convert the glucose - which can be burned in an instant by cells - to glycogen, which lasts longer. Glucose is analogous to paper thrown into a fire. It can cause the fire to flare up, but it cannot last long, no matter how much you throw in. Glycogen is more like logs in a fireplace, which burn more slowly and steadily, keeping your living room at a steady, adequate temperature for a reasonably prolonged duration. If it were not for the ability to convert sugar to glycogen, you would wake up every morning (or not) faint from hunger, no matter how much you’d eaten for dinner the night before. The reason is because the blood sugar would not last the night without being resupplied.

Store more glycogen and less fat by eating carbohydrates in the form of whole kernels of grain, not sugar or flour products. Carbohydrates come in two varieties: Simple, i.e. sugars, and Complex which are long chains of sugar molecules fastened together (polysaccharides, e.g. starch). Because they are linked together, they cannot bind to the sugar receptors in your taste buds, except maybe for their end points, where the sugar is exposed. The more the starch is snipped into shorter chains, the more endpoints it develops, and the sweeter it gets.

Energy from Polysaccharides:  Each individual sugar link in the polysaccharide chain has to be unfastened and converted to glucose, the simplest of all sugars, before it can be used by the body as energy. Complex carbohydrates, by the way, last longer because the body has to unfasten the individual sugar links in the polysaccharide. This relatively slow, tedious process of unfastening sugar molecules from polysaccharides, one by one, is far healthier than eating sugar because it provides the body with a slower, steadier source of energy thereby keeping energy supply more in harmony with demand, which is also pretty steady. Thus, starch keeps you satisfied longer than sugar, but even starch does not necessarily last five or six hours, which is the typical time interval between lunch and dinner.

For this reason, the distinction between whole grains and whole flour is important.  So-called whole wheat flour may include every part of the wheat kernel ground up, but it is not whole, and it is burned by the body almost as fast as white flour.  It has been ground up, so it dissolves in your mouth and stomach much faster than a kernel that has to be chewed up. Whole grains, cooked in water, chewed slowly and thoroughly, and ingested slowly will keep you satisfied between meals longer than bread or pasta. Overall, you will have less of a caloric need during the day. And, importantly, you will have less of a craving for fat-rich foods, which people instinctively sense are the most filling and long lasting.

Surges in blood sugar -well above the level needed to function without feeling hungry - promote insulin production. Insulin is what helps sugar to enter fat cells and to be converted into fat. Too much sugar at once can promote excessive insulin production and thus too much sugar consumption by the cells. The ironic consequence of having too much blood sugar at a given time is that, several hours later, you will have less blood sugar than if the original level had been more moderate. Sleepiness then hunger, aka sugar high/sugar shutdown, is what non-diabetics would experience. Diabetics would probably experience fatigue, light-headedness or fainting, known as Diabetic Shock. Too much sugar in a short amount of time is not good for anyone.

Let’s look at the various forms of energy-bearing substances. Without going into the biochemistry, let’s consider a rough analogy: Glucose is like cash, fat is a long term savings account, and glycogen is a checking account. Cellular diseases - in which a disease cell preys off blood sugar - are like muggers most likely to pounce on people who have just cashed their pay check. Eating is like getting paid, and you can get paid in cash (sugar, simple carbohydrates), or by direct deposit into a checking account (glycogen) or savings account (fat). While the details might be complicated, and even vary from one individual to the next, a general rule of thumb is that the form of calories most likely to be stored as fat is fat. Sugar can be stored as fat, but the body extracts a stiff deposit fee for making this conversion - about 30 percent of the total. Assuming evolution has optimized survival strategy, this 30 percent penalty   makes sense only if there is an excess of sugar, such as you would get if you ate something rich in simple, fast-burning carbohydrates.

By taking your calories in the manner that metabolizes slowly, your blood sugar will undergo less post-prandial spiking (the surges that follow a meal). According to the reasoning above, this is less likely to lead to fat storage and more likely to lead to desirable glycogen storage.

Another rule of thumb for encouraging glycogen storage is to avoid stressful things that cause the opposite effect. Stress provokes the body into creating adrenalin, a chemical which makes you feel burdened or rushed while your post-prandial (time after a meal) blood sugar is elevated by food that is digesting. That sort of stress causes glycogen to be converted back into sugar so that it can be used for the flight or fight reflex when you sense danger. It is the opposite of what you want when trying to store enough glycogen after one meal to get you to the next. Think of the situation this way: The fight or flight response is like people about to flee a war zone selling their possessions for cash, or a country at war undergoing inflation because it prints more money to cover the costs of the war. The inflation is merely a formal way of saying that people's savings, their personal spending power, is effectively reduced by the inflation and covering the cost of the war. Just as a government cashes in on the savings of the citizenry to pay for the war, the liver cashes in on glycogen, sending it to the muscles and limbs and converting it to glucose to pay for the energy cost of a fight or flight response.

One reason that stress can encourage disease may simply be that it raises blood sugar. This conventional wisdom seems so logical that biochemical details almost seem superfluous.

5) Eat lots of vegetables, especially leafy greens, with each meal, including breakfast. Vegetables tend to receive insufficient praise in a fast-paced society because they are bulky and have relatively few calories per unit bulk when compared to the stuff that fills the shelves of supermarkets and grocery stores.

You can avoid time-consuming problems by preparing sliced raw or pre-cooked vegetables at your leisure so that they’ll be ready to eat as soon as you want them, instead of scarfing down feel-good-fast junk food that will punish you later.

Low calorie food is not very popular in a fast-paced society because it represents an investment of time with no obvious immediate payback. You know instinctively that leafy greens have few calories to speak of. When you are starving, leafy greens are not what you want to sink your teeth into.

Many people believe that they don't like vegetables because they dislike frozen and canned vegetables. This is like concluding you don't like steak after having tasted Spam, or concluding that you don't like fish after eating canned salmon. Consider the fact that vegetables offer the greatest variety of taste of any food group. Every type of vegetable has its own distinctive taste, and there are more varieties of vegetables than meats or fruits. There are at least several different types of vegetables for most letters of the alphabet e.g. acorn squash, arugula, asparagus, artichokes, bean sprouts of many different kinds, beets, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, burdock, butternut squash, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, chicory, chives, collard greens, corn, cress, cucumber, all the way to zucchini.

The dozens of different types of common vegetables each have their own taste. Most vegetables can be cooked several different ways. When a person orders meat or fish in a restaurant it is perfectly acceptable to request a specific degree of cooking, and the range is from rare, medium rare, medium and all the way to well done. If, on the other hand, you were to tell a waiter how long you wanted the chef to cook the vegetables, he would probably give you an annoyed look. But the taste of a vegetable evolves a great deal as it cooks. An onion that has been cooking for a long time is sweet food. If it has been cooking only over short time, it is quite the reverse.

Vegetables can provide most of the fun in one's diet. As part of a substantial meal, vegetables help you attain a feeling of satisfaction with fewer calories consumed. This is partly because they take up room in your stomach and you feel fuller. But the biochemistry here is indeed interesting: vegetables, especially leafy greens, are rich in potassium and magnesium, which are mineral elements that relax the body. They encourage blood vessels to dilate (unlike the sodium in normal table salt, which causes blood vessels to contract) and have a similar relaxing effect to a hot bath, which is also relaxing because it dilates blood vessels. Dilated blood vessels lower blood pressure and that creates a relaxed sensation. Less blood is squeezed out to the peripheral limbs, and more goes to the intestinal area, so that nutrients can be absorbed into the blood.

Another advantage of vegetables is that they have a lot of fiber. Fiber remains undigested in the intestines, providing a lot of surface area for sugar to stick to and be trapped in. Fiber is like a jungle of thick vegetation. Sugar molecules and the like, even when dissolved, can thus take longer to make their way through the intestinal walls and into the bloodstream. You’ll remain more alert and energetic that way, and be able to go longer after your last meal without eating.

5) Focus on the food in your mouth, not the food on your plate, and definitely not the food in the serving dish or the pot. The food on your plate is not doing you any good yet.

One of the main differences between a wine connoisseur and a wino is that that the connoisseur likes both himself and the wine, whereas the wino likes neither and is merely using each to help eliminate the other. The connoisseur savors the wine in his mouth because he enjoys the sip at that moment. Thinking about the wine in the glass or in the bottle would make the whole experience less satisfying. It would be like dancing with one woman while thinking about another one. Winos don't care if they’re drinking high quality food or low quality wine, even though drinking wine is their primary focus.

Even the simplest foods, especially if they are fresh, have subtle flavors to be savored. Even plain pasta and rice have some taste to be explored. If you eat with the goal of consuming the food on the plate, you tend to be less relaxed as long as there is remaining food, and you’ll need to eat more to feel satisfied. It is better to eat each bite as is if it were the only one. Improve your weight-control efforts by laying down the silverware you are holding while chewing, otherwise there is a tendency to prepare the next bite while you are still chewing the previous one. It’s all about focus.

6) Use contrast as a way of tasting your food better. Like color vision and motion sensation, taste is relative. It can be heightened by contrast. The color one perceives an object to be depends on the background against which it is viewed. To the passengers within, a car that is accelerating rapidly feels like it is moving faster at 30 miles per hour than if it had been going much faster and now decelerating. Similarly, a lone raisin can taste as sweet and more interesting against a background of plain rice than a handful of pure raisins stuffed into your mouth. Clear your palate. Eating the same thing bite after bite causes it to be less pleasurable than if the palate were constantly being cleared by something with a completely different taste. 

7) Exhaling gently through the nose while chewing enhances taste. Except for basic tastes such as sweet, sour, bitter and salty, taste is olfactory in nature. If you hold your nose, you taste very little of your food. Taste usually results from simply smelling the food inside your mouth. The reality works best when the vapors from the food pass through your nasal passages. For the same reason, hot food generally has more of a taste than cold food.

8) To the extent that you consciously or unconsciously pass judgment on food, judge the food for what it is, not for what it isn't. This is a general principle, applicable to almost anything - vegetarian pate, your spouse, etc. Nothing is quite what you would have expected, so if you compare anything to your expectations, you generally find that it doesn't quite meet them. This doesn't mean, however, that you can't enjoy whatever it is that you are indulging in.

9) When not eating, remind yourself why you like being alive, assuming that there is indeed a reason for that besides eating. Spend time doing the things you like to do other than eating.

Keep in mind that eating is very time consuming, especially when you include all the time it takes to cook, clean up, earn the money to pay for the food, refrigerator, kitchen, etc.  Eating takes time away from the rest of your life. Skipping a meal is a perfectly acceptable form of laziness  provided it doesn't cause a junk food backlash several hours later.

And if you are trying not to think about food, beware of negative thinking. The human mind cannot erase files the way a computer can. It is very difficult to avoid thinking about something if you try too hard to avoid thinking about it. The best way to not think about food and eating is to have something else that you like to think about and/or do instead.

10) Don't lose weight for someone else. You might somehow end up resenting them for it. If you think you are better off weighing less, then lose weight for yourself. Self-respect is what good health is all about.

Things take time. In our fast-paced society, this fact of life creates a huge barrier to good health.  It takes more time to eat slowly and relaxed than to eat hurriedly. It takes more time to chew than to gulp, to prepare fresh food than to eat processed prepared food packaged in plastic, to eat vegetables than to not eat them, and to sit and let your food digest than to get up from the table while you have that last mouthful of food in your mouth.  So ask yourself: "Who am I rushing for? Do they really want me to rush or compromise my eating habits? If so, are they worth it? "

[1] {This is to prod the body into burning fat by depriving it of any other source of energy - sort of like bringing coal to Newcastle so that its residents all start using coal-burning cars, furnaces, etc.}

Part III "Snacking" is scheduled to appear soon. Meanwhile...

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Netivotgirl said...

Excellent informative and important article dear Yocheved!! As I really must lose weight (at least 5 kilo) and diet wisely, this article is very helpful! Tizki la'mitzvot!!

Sridhar Chandrasekaran said...

You have such an interesting blog. Thanks for sharing. Reading blogs is my hobby and I randomly found your blog. I enjoyed reading your posts. All the best for your future blogging journey. Please keep in touch with me in Twitter, @ipersuade.

Yocheved Golani said...

I thank each of you for your compliments, NetivotGirl and Sridhar (nice Twitterpage, BTW.)