Weighty issues are not the only ones


January 03, 1995|By Colleen Pierre | Colleen Pierre,Special to The Sun

It's time for the annual post-holiday purge. Americans, having gained an average of seven pounds from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, will do a little penance diet for a while, and be back to normal in a couple of months.

Recent research says yo-yo dieting may not be all that bad for our health, and thereby encourages our indulgence in the annual ritual. Still, it probably is a good idea to knock off those holiday pounds before they become a permanent fixture.

But while you're getting ready for this annual battle, be sure to set your sights on achieving good health to go along with that weight loss.

In our preoccupation with weight, we often forget that food is more than just calories. Food also provides the building blocks for body parts. Diets too low in calories are also likely to fall short in vitamins, minerals, proteins and other food components that help to build strong bodies and protect health.

The "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" point out that getting enough of some nutrients is difficult on diets of 1,200 calories or less.

"Do not try to lose weight too fast." they advise. "A steady loss of 1/2 to 1 pound a week until your reach your goal is generally safe. Long-term success usually depends upon new and better lifelong habits of both exercise and eating."

Dr. Lawrence J. Cheskin, who is director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, concurs.

"Women are so busy subtracting things for weight control," he says, "they often end up deficient in iron and calcium."

Iron, of course, is one substance that is essential for energy. It's the critical part of blood's hemoglobin that carries oxygen to

muscle cells and creates movement.

The best dietary sources of iron include lean meat, poultry and fish. Dried beans, peas and legumes are also good iron sources, especially when they are eaten in combination with foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruit, berries, kiwi, tomatoes and dark green leafy vegetables.

Calcium, which has been in the news a lot lately, is the major mineral that gives strength to bones. Best sources include low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, canned fish with bones, tofu, and dark green leafy vegetables.

The guidelines also suggest avoiding weight-loss diets that severely restrict the variety of foods you can have, a seductive flaw that dooms most weight-loss attempts right from the start.

While it seems easy at first to limit choices to just a few foods, eventually boredom overtakes most people. Too many people have been tuna-d and turkeyed to death, because these are the lowest-fat "meat" choices in the Food Guide Pyramid.

In fact, if your week of dinners included a 3-ounce portion of beef, pork, shrimp, turkey and chicken, then centered on a couple of slices of pizza one night, and a bowl of bean soup another, you'd have a delicious variety of foods providing a wide range of nutrients.

You'd be well within calorie and fat limits, and never notice that you were suffering.

Unfortunately, when folks are in a restrictive rut, then break out into the world of forbidden foods, they have no guidelines. They "go hog wild" as it were. Then follows a lot of guilt, remorse and sense of failure. Many people never get back on track.

In reality, there is no food that has to be eliminated from a healthy eating plan, even while you're losing weight. Sure, it takes a little more effort to accommodate wider choices, but your satisfaction is likely to be greater.

That makes it easier to stick with it over time -- and time is what it takes to achieve healthy weight.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultan the the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

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