Got the holidays behind you now?
Really behind -- to the tune of five pounds, eight pounds? Twenty?
Americans gain an average of seven pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year's, says Neva Cochran, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, and they spend a good part of January and February trying to get it off.
One of the easiest methods is to limit fat intake by counting fat grams. No calories to count, no percentages to calculate, no exchanges to juggle. And people still get to eat cherished foods -- without the guilt.
"It's like a budget," says Ms. Cochran, a registered dietitian who teaches classes at the Southwest Cardiac Rehabilitation Center in Mesquite, Texas. "You have a certain amount of fat to 'spend' in a day, and you make the choices."
Fat budgeting starts by calculating a limit of daily fat based on body weight. Although activity and other factors matter, a simplified rule, says Ms. Cochran, is: Hold fat grams to one half of desired body weight. A woman who wishes to weigh 120 pounds, for example, would limit daily fat grams to 60. As it turns out, this usually keeps the diet at or below the 30 percent of daily calories from fat recommended by health groups.
"It gets people away from calculating percentage of calories from fat in individual foods," she says, "and it helps people see that there aren't good foods and bad foods. A favorite food can still be eaten, and you can still stay within your fat budget."
L People lose weight on such a plan without reducing calories.
"It's because you're eating more carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables and grains), which are used preferentially (by the body) for energy," says Ms. Cochran. "If you're eating less fat, you will automatically eat more carbohydrates, and they will be burned up first."
Calories from fat also are stored more readily as fat; the body must expend more calories to transform carbohydrates and protein to body fat.
So, for 25 grams, you could eat coleslaw (3 grams of fat in 1/2 cup), a bean burrito (5 grams), corn with a teaspoon of butter (5 grams) and a small piece of chocolate cake (10 grams) -- or you could eat one small wedge of bacon quiche (25 grams).
Foods that contain fewer than 3 grams of fat in moderate servings and that can be eaten frequently include baked beans, pinto beans, most fruits and vegetables, candied sweet potatoes, most breads, angel food cake, soft drinks, pretzels, boiled shrimp, frozen yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese and roasted chicken.
But look at these heavyweights, to be eaten sparingly: spareribs (3 ounces, 25 grams), dry roasted peanuts ( 1/2 cup, 20), pureed avocado ( 1/4 cup, 20), pecan pie (small wedge, 25), chicken pot pie (25), McDonald's Big Mac (26), Pizza Hut supreme personal pan pizza (30 grams).
Not all fast foods are high in fat. Some that contain 15 grams of fat or less include Arby's roast beef sandwich, KFC Kentucky Nuggets (five), Egg McMuffin, Pizza Hut Thin 'n Crispy cheese pizza (two slices), Taco Bell Beef or bean burrito and Wendy's chili (9 ounces).
People lose weight on a fat budget -- even when they're not trying. Ross Raulston, a 56-year-old retired Mesquite postal worker, lost 35 pounds in eight weeks after taking Ms. Cochran's class a year ago.
"I had a heart attack in December (1990)," he says. "They [the physicians] wanted me to go on a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet and get on an exercise program."
Mr. Raulston kept track of his fat grams with a daily log.
"With my age and ideal weight, I believe [the limit] was 75 grams per day or less," he says. "I kept it way below that. In fact, the most I got in one day was 58 grams. I kept score."
Karen Blalock was placed on a low-fat diet after an attack of pancreatitis. Her doctor suggested budgeting fat grams; she shed 12 pounds from March to June by holding fat to 40 grams per day.
"It was probably the easiest I had ever taken weight off," she says.
Although dietitians do recommend fat budgeting for weight loss, it is more widely used with patients who have a medical reason to cut the fat.
"I've had the most surprising responses from men," says Wendy Howard, a Dallas dietitian in private practice. "They'll say I'm eating more food than I've ever eaten in my life, and I'm losing weight."
An easy-to-use pocket guide that lists the fat and calorie content for some 300 common foods is available from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington consumer group. Write to CSPI, 1875 Connecticut Ave., No. 300, Washington, D.C. 20009. The 4-by-9-inch guide costs $3.95.
Here's the fat gram content of some common foods and beverages:
Bacon, 3 slices, 10; beef rib roast, 4 ounces, 17; beer, 12 ounces, 0; McDonald's Big Mac, 26; bread, 1 slice, 1; brownie, 1 small, 5; burrito, beef, 10; Canadian bacon, 2 slices, 5; chicken pot pie, 25; roasted chicken, without skin, 3 ounces, 3; Wendy's chili, 9 ounces, 7; coleslaw, 1/2 cup, 3; croissant, 1/2 roll, 5; Doritos, 1 ounce, 6.5; egg beaters, 1/4 cup, 0; McDonald's Egg McMuffin, 11; eggs, 1, 6; fish sticks, 3 ounces, 10; french fries, 10, 10; fruit, all kinds, 0-1; glazed doughnut, 15; graham crackers, 2, 1; green beans, 1/2 cup, 0; ice cream, 1/2 cup, 5-10; ice milk, 1/2 cup, 3; mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon, 11; M&M's (plain), small bag, 12; Milky Way, 11; pecan pie, 1/8 of 9", 25; Polish sausage, 3 ounces, 25; pork chop, broiled, 3 ounces, 15; pretzels, 1 ounce, 1; rice, brown, 1/2 cup, 1; rice, white, 1/2 cup, 0; sour cream, 1 tablespoon, 3; sweet roll, 15; tortilla corn, 1; T-bone steak, 4 ounces, 12; tuna salad, 1/2 cup, 10; wine, 3 1/2 ounces, 0; watermelon, 1/2 cup, 0.