Approximately two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese spiking health care costs and lost productivity secondary to premature morbidity and mortality. So what is causing our waistbands to continue to expand? Is it wheat (gluten), or maybe high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)? Personally, I don’t believe there is one simple reason, in fact I believe it is a complex issue which I would like to explore with you, and this is the first of a three part series on “What’s making America fat?”
There are multiple factors leading to our expanding waistlines. The obvious issue is our eating habits or patterns, which is what I will focus on in this first article. Another issue is our physical activity and then one you may not have thought about is our coping skills.
Let’s look at some eating patterns that lead to overeating and weight gain. First there is the “meal skipper”. Do you skip meals? How do you feel when you do? For example, if you skip breakfast can you make it to lunch without snacking and if you do can you control your intake? Most often when someone skips a meal they are so hungry at the next meal that it is more important to get food in their stomach than it is to take their time to eat slowly and make good food choices. Your plan should be to eat three meals on a daily basis, with the most important meal of the day being breakfast. Breakfast should be no more than two hours after waking up; this should be followed with a meal every four to six hours with lunch and then dinner. If you find that you get hungry between meals have a healthy snack, something in the 100-200 calorie range, such as a 6-ounce container of light yogurt topped with ¼ cup high fiber cereal, or a piece of fruit with a stick of string cheese.
Could you be a nighttime snacker? You ate your three meals today, but at night when you are relaxing you find you are still hungry so you start the “mindless” snacking in front of the TV. Here’s a few ideas, eat a little more for your midafternoon snack, and make sure you have a balanced dinner, include a lean-protein, a starch, and half of your plate should include vegetables and/or fruit. If you feel you still need a nighttime snack make it healthy, something in the 200-calorie range, such as low-fat pudding cup with 1/2-cup of fresh fruit, a whole grain tortilla with ¼-cup bean dip and salsa, or maybe 100-calorie cup of ice cream with chopped fresh fruit. Another good idea is to just remove unhealthy foods from the home, if the chips and cookies are not in the house; it’s difficult to eat them in the evening.
Could you be a victim of portion-distortion? Do you know portion sizes? Here are a few examples to help you estimate: a serving of dry cereal is one cup, you can visualize this to be about the size of your fist. Half of a baseball is a serving of cooked pasta, rice, and potatoes (1/2 cup), and a deck of cards or the palm of you hand equals a serving of meat, which is three-ounces, cooked. Research shows that we eat with our eyes, so if you use a large plate and try to change to proper portions you may feel as if you are depriving yourself. Instead, switch to a smaller plate (9-inch diameter), bowl, and glassware, this way your plate will look full and you will not feel as if you are sacrificing.
There are several “portion traps” you should be aware of and here are a few easy tips to consider. One portion trap is the buffet at your favorite restaurant, I would suggest just avoiding them, but if you can’t, or won’t, use the two-plate rule – fill your first plate with fruits and vegetables only, use your second plate for small amounts of only three of your favorite choices.
Another trap is the grocery store, number one rule – DO NOT GO HUNGRY. Also, shop from a list, and choose two-for-one deals only if they are for healthy items, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat), or lean proteins (fish or chicken).
If you mindlessly eat the tortilla chips or bread from the bread basket a good tip would be to keep them off the table, or at least push them to the opposite side. Portion control is just one piece of bread or 10 chips. It’s also a good idea to keep the food in the kitchen and not on the table during meals, this helps to cut back on second helpings. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, such as fruits and vegetable side dishes, keep these on the table and encourage seconds!
These are just a few of the eating patterns/habits and suggestions for change to help you achieve and/or maintain a healthy weight. Remember the perfect plate consists of at least half fruits and veggies, a quarter grains and/or starchy veggies (corn, peas), and a quarter lean proteins.
One more tidbit – studies show it takes 21 days to make or break a habit, so give yourself some time to make the changes you need to improve your eating pattern.
Stay tuned, next we’ll explore physical activity or lack thereof!