Slim chances improve with sensible approach to diet

December 01, 1992|By Jane E. Brody | Jane E. Brody,New York Times News Service

If you have heard the growing number of obesity specialists who warn that diets are doomed to fail, you are probably wondering whether there is any route to weight control that might be more successful. With food-focused holidays upon us, the tug of war between fear of fat and the desire to indulge is a source of torment for scores of millions.

Before you choose yet another commercial regimen that promises instant slimness or give in to gaining 10 or more unwanted pounds between now and the new year, it may pay to heed the lessons that have emerged from a stack of recent studies on weight loss and maintenance.


In any population, the distribution of body weight, like that of height, forms a bell-shaped curve: There are relatively small numbers of very heavy and very thin people at either end, while a vast majority of people are more or less of average weight and fall under the main hump of the bell. Your body type and the weight that is biologically appropriate for you are determined primarily by the genes you inherited from your parents, and any adjustments made up or down are more or less limited by your biological heritage. The sooner you come to terms with this fact and learn to accept the person you are, the happier you are likely to be.

Remember that as people age,their natural body weight and distribution of fat typically change. Women generally gain 10 to 15 pounds in the decades after midlife, even with little or no change in eating and exercise habits. They also tend to lose the youthful demarcation between waist and hips.

If you have medical problems that are exacerbated by weight, like an elevated cholesterol level or adult-onset diabetes, losing 10 percent to 15 percent of your starting weight will often significantly reduce your health risk, even if you are still considerably above your so-called ideal weight. More and more, obesity specialists recommend seeking your "natural weight" rather than a goal weight based on a chart. In general, natural weight is what results when a person eats normally (about 1,800 calories a day for a woman and 2,200 calories a day for a man) and does the exercise equivalent of a brisk one-hour walk each day.

* Dr. C. Wayne Callaway of George Washington University School Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington lists three common eating behaviors that lead to weight problems: starving, stuffing and skipping. He stresses the importance of adopting a "normal" eating schedule that can retrain and regulate appetite. This means eating a balanced breakfast, lunch and dinner at approximately the same time each day.

Each meal should provide at least one-quarter of the day's

calories. The remaining 25 percent of calories

could be consumed as wholesome between-meal snacks, since

frequent small meals are less likely to result in deposits of fat than one or two large meals.

Although chronic breakfast skippers may at first find that eating early in the day seems to stimulate rather than squelch the appetite, experts say that within weeks it should reduce between-meal cravings and undue hunger and the tendency to overeat later in the day. Repeated studies show that people who skip breakfast generally overcompensate by eating more at other meals or by consuming more high-fat snacks.


All calories are not created equal. Numerous studies show that calorie-for-calorie, fat is by far the most fattening nutrient. Fat contains 2 1/4 times the calories of the equivalent weight of starch, sugar or protein. The body preferentially puts dietary fat into storage as body fat and does so more efficiently than it stores carbohydrates. The body prefers to burn carbohydrates for fuel rather than store them as fat.

By eliminating expendable fats from your diet and eating fiber-rich starchy foods, fruits and vegetables in their place, you will automatically reduce your caloric consumption without having to feel unsatisfied after meals or hungry between them.

Choose lean forms of protein, like well-trimmed meats, skinless poultry and beans, and consume them in moderate portions of three or four ounces at a meal. Stick to low-fat or fat-free dairy products and reduced-calorie or low-fat dressings, condiments and snack foods.


Physical activity by itself is not a very efficient weight-loss tool. But as an accompaniment to a sensible eating plan, it can make the difference between relatively effortless weight loss and maintenance and a perpetual and often-losing struggle to shed pounds by dieting alone.

Exercise uses calories, speeds up the metabolism, reduces body fat, relieves emotional triggers of overeating and enhances vigor and self-esteem. Even without changing your diet, adding a one-hour brisk walk to your daily routine can result in a 30-pound weight loss in one year.


Deprivation and constant self-denial are the dieter's usual downfall. While you are retraining your taste buds to enjoy leaner, healthier foods, allow yourself small indulgences of foods you find hard to resist. It is not the occasional piece of pie or even two cookies eaten every day that result in overweight. Experts who are now using a non-dieting approach to weight control find that by making "forbidden" foods permissible, there is less overeating by people trying to avoid eating the "bad" food and less going on binges when they lose control.

Also remember that one lapse does not a fat person make. Instead of punishing yourself for over-indulging, say at a party, just get back on track the next day.

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