A Lot To Lose

You ate like crazy in September, then piled on a few more pounds around the holidays. Now it's January, and the scale is getting ugly. Here's how to battle the bulge -- and win.

January 27, 2002|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Staff

Last September you realized life is too short not to eat chocolate doughnuts. Or maybe you just spent too much time in front of the TV, stressed out, watching the war on terrorism on CNN and eating potato chips.

If so, you weren't alone. A survey by the diet program Nutricise found that 80 percent of its 3,500 clients increased their eating of high-calorie, high-fat foods by 30 percent the week after the terrorist attacks.

Then came the holidays.

"I did a lot of partying this year," says Carlotta Chappelle, who lives in East Baltimore and is typical of many of us. "The holidays were filled with family and friends. There was too much wine, too many cookies and too many office parties."

Like others who gained a pound or two last year -- or maybe a little more -- Chappelle is determined to get back in shape now that the new year has started.

"I'm just trying to watch what I eat now," she says. "And I've made a conscious decision to call Weight Watchers."

In spite of the fad diets that appear continually, there are no magic bullets or easy answers. On the other hand, the solution is simple: Eat fewer calories and burn up more of them through physical exercise, and you'll lose weight. The exercise doesn't have to be strenuous or time consuming. You could take the stairs instead of an elevator, or go for a walk instead of watching TV.

As for eating fewer calories, that's particularly hard this time of year when it's dark and cold, and our bodies feel the biological need for an extra layer of fat to keep warm. We crave hearty meals with plenty of animal protein and fat.

The trick is to eat foods that make you feel full, says Barbara Rolls, a professor of nutrition at Penn State University and author of The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan (HarperCollins, 2000). She's sympathetic with people who went off their diets in reaction to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks but says, "People at this point need to get over the 'I don't care.' "

Goal is to feel full

"We can still eat comfort foods and lose weight," she adds. "Soup, traditional stews and chilis can be modified. The point is not to feel hungry and deprived."

Using more vegetables in stews and other high-calorie dishes, for instance, is an easy improvement. "You can reduce the calories by a third by using more vegetables, and most people won't notice," Rolls says.

She emphasizes the importance of adding volume to meals because surveys have shown that most people, day in and day out, are happy if they eat about the same weight of food. The calories can vary. Adding volume and reducing calories can be done in various ways -- mainly by using fiber-rich foods and ones that contain more water. For the most part, those are fruits and vegetables.

New studies have also shown that foods with higher water content and relatively few calories, such as broth-based soups, actually trigger satiety mechanisms, which help you feel full. But sugary drinks don't. They satisfy thirst, which is a different mechanism from satiety, says Rolls. In other words, drink a soda and you'll get the calories without feeling less hungry. The same goes for alcoholic drinks. (Vegetable juices and milk-based drinks do satisfy hunger.)

Anna Nagy, a native of Australia who now lives in Baltimore, says she's eating more fruits and vegetables as part of her weight loss plan. She has a milestone birthday coming up this year and, she says, "I'm not going to be fat and 40."

Nagy isn't as interested in losing pounds as in going down in dress size. "I go by appearance," she says. She's currently a 16 and would like to be a 12 or even a 10.

Sept. 11 had a big impact, she says, "but there is a day when you realize you have to keep going."

During the holidays, "I ate and had a wonderful time. Australians don't celebrate Christmas with cookies. And here it starts with Thanksgiving, and then the parties. I love salty things. Parties have crisps [potato chips] everywhere."

She doesn't believe in diets, she explains. Instead she plans to eat more fruits and vegetables, restrict her alcohol to once a week, be careful of the quality of her food (organic is her first choice), indulge in peanut butter -- her greatest weakness -- in moderation, and eat less animal protein.

As for that last, Rolls suggests that it's best to consume the recommended amounts of protein (to feel satiated), but stick to lower calorie choices such as beans, fish, poultry without skin and lean meats. The recommended amount is about 15 percent of your total calorie intake.

Manage your weakness

If Rolls sounds too good to be true, it turns out she understands what it is to have a weakness. In her case, it's chocolate. But she limits herself to eating it at the end of a meal, not as a snack when she's hungry. "And if it's really good chocolate," she says, "I need less."

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