Our obsession with obesity and idiotic diets is something I just wish would go away, like smoking indoors.
“Snap out of it, America!” is the theme of my merry assault on addictive and fake foods. Eat real food. No added sugar. Exercise regularly. Be mindful about portion size. End of story!
But no. The more we learn, the less we know. This December, the Nutrition Action Healthletter – one of my favorite ways to keep up with smart-eating information – featured the work of Dr. Christopher Gardner, a leading obesity researcher and director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. It turns out, we’ve been led astray. Way, way astray.
“We had three decades of low-fat and we had a decade of ‘Oh wait, no, maybe low-carb,’ and then at the end of that, we said, ‘Oh, never mind, neither of them works,’ ” Gardner told reporter Bonnie Liebman.
In his A to Z Weight Loss Study, Gardner and his team measured the effectiveness of the low-carb Atkins and low-fat Ornish diets, with the Zone and LEARN diets in between. His research found very few differences between these popular diets, and a review of the literature shows that how people lose weight and keep it off is still individual, elusive and mysterious.
“If you pool all the studies, there’s no difference in weight loss between low-fat and low-carb diets . . . but even more disappointing, neither is very good for the average person.”
I’m going to break into Gardner’s quote and repeat it: “Neither is very good for the average person.”
“People aren’t losing a lot of weight and keeping it off, regardless of which diet they follow. You can argue about petty differences, but when you look at average weight loss, it’s hugely disappointing.”
So much for what’s going wrong on a national scale.
What about your scale?
Diets don’t work, so what does? Here are a few more tasty tidbits gleaned from Gardner’s research and others:
Get Enough Sleep
Scientists have discovered people who sleep less (usually six or fewer hours a night) are more likely to gain weight over time than people who sleep more (seven to eight hours).
Why? The studies are detailed in the Nutrition Action Healthletter (www.cspinet.org), but I’ll sum up: If you cheat yourself of sleep, the part of your brain that involves impulse-control goes haywire, and suddenly, you’re reaching for that second handful of candy.
Other studies show that lack of sleep also raises blood sugar, making insulin less effective and boosting production of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates your appetite.
Give your body the sleep it needs and it won’t rebel by making you eat more.
Grow Healthy Microbiota
Your stomach has a wisdom of its own, and scientists are discovering that having healthy microbes in your gut appear to help in regulating weight.
“Healthy microbiota thrive on a high volume of diverse fiber,” Garner explained in the Nutrition Action Healthletter. And what foods have diverse fiber? “Whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruit.”
Eating high-quality food is also essential: organic and seasonal vegetables; pasture-raised chicken and eggs; and grass-fed beef or pork.
“If they want cheese,” Gardner says, “we’d say, ‘Don’t go for the Kraft Singles.’ ”
Eat Real Food
“We ask everyone to eliminate added sugars. That means less processed, packaged food and more cooking. I tell people to go to farmer’s markets more, because those words are somehow more intuitive that telling them to add up how many grams of unsaturated fat, how many grams of fish oil, how many grams of fiber, soluble or insoluble, glycemic index or . . . ‘My brain’s on overload,’ ” Gardner explains. “So I say, ‘Go to the farmer’s market and buy what’s fresh.’ ”
Could it be any simpler? Eat more plant foods as opposed to foods made in plants.
Marilynn Preston – healthy lifestyle expert and Emmy-winning producer – is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, marilynnpreston.com, and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com.