Preventing obesity is a full-time job


March 14, 1995|By Colleen Pierre | Colleen Pierre,Special to The Sun

It's heartbreaking. It's disappointing. But it's no big surprise.

A 10-year study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine found weight loss produces a decrease in calorie needs that probably lasts forever.

According to press reports of the study done at the New York Obesity Research Center at Rockefeller University, a man who starts at 165 pounds, then loses 15 to weigh in at 150, will require 15 percent fewer calories to maintain 150 than a man who has always weighed 150.

That means your reward for losing weight is a lifetime of staying on your diet, not a return to your old ways, or even to "normal" calorie levels for your weight. You'll have to exercise more than the non-loser. Dieting makes muscles more efficient, so they burn fewer calories during exercise.

Most long-term dieters have noticed these discouraging phenomena, but it's good to have a well-controlled study document our plight. One hopes doctors, employers, family members, friends and even our own consciences will ease up a little on the moralistic tongue lashings.

Nevertheless, even if we stop deriding people about body size, we must accept that being overweight is a major cause of illness and death.

In the United States, obesity has increased in the past 15 years from one in four persons to one in three.

It's one thing to accept that our natural set points keep taking us back to pre-diet weights. It's another thing to give up and just keep getting fatter.

Maybe what we need to do is work together to prevent weight gain. Don't get me wrong. Even preventing weight gain is tough, because we move too little and eat too much in this country. But it's easier than trying to lose weight and keep it off.

For one thing, you don't have to go hungry. Each of us has a built-in calorie counter (our appetite control mechanism) that will tell us exactly when we've had enough food to maintain our current weight. The trick is to start paying attention to it.

Get together with your weight-conscious friends and talk about what it feels like to be hungry. Does your stomach growl? Are you irritable and cranky? Can you tell the difference between hungry and tired? Hungry and bored? Hungry and mad?

Most of us clean our plates whether we're hungry or not. (This makes us "good little children" because we ate it all, and "bad little children" because we ate too much. Is there a conflict?)

We form "collusions" with people who should be our support group. We silently agree to overindulge, even though we say we all want to eat less. (Wishful thinking: calories don't count if we all eat the same amount.) Try talking about this. Agree to help each other stick to healthy eating instead.

We're also locked in by conventions. Birthdays, holidays and special events run together in an endless string. How about eating birthday cake only on your own birthday? Or having just one office birthday party per month? Make a pact: do not bringing your leftover holiday treats to work. Get rid of the candy jar on your desk. Agree to bring in healthy snacks, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Even then, make the "goodie" spot out of the way, not on your way to the copier.

At home, reserve dessert for one day a week. Serve chips and high-calorie snack foods for parties, not daily fare. And buy very small packages instead of the giant economy size.

Reverse your idea of hospitality. Instead of overdoing food, serve just enough. Invest in quality instead of quantity. Encourage family and friends to leave food on their plates when they're satisfied, not stuffed.

Do your part to prevent obesity.

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

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