Wednesday, May 30, 2007

cutting through the confusion

In the conference call last week(audio link), Dr. Hill said that instead of focusing too much on what to eat (low-carb, low-fat, etc.), we should cut back on how much we eat. That really hit home for me. In recent years we have seen the low-fat craze (Susan Powter and her "Fat makes you fat!" mantra), low-carb fanatacism, "healthy fats," "dark chocolate is so good for you, it's practically a vitamin," and on and on. It can get pretty confusing. In the most recent issue of Health magazine, there is a feature on how sushi can blow your diet. It warns you of the dangers of imitation wasabi, which contains fat and sugar. Yes, it does, but it's also 7 calories a tablespoon and burns your mouth, so how much diet damage can anyone really do with it?

I'm not saying that what we eat doesn't matter, but if we start thinking of some foods as "healthy" and others as "bad" without paying attention to things like calories and portions, we're likely to make things harder on ourselves than we need to be. For a while, I had completely stopped putting butter on my bread because butter was fat and it made you fat. I ate two or three rolls but didn't butter them. Now that I know that one pat of real butter is only 36 calories and one Weight Watchers point, I figure it's better for to have one roll with butter, if that will satisfy me, than to empty the bread basket and congratulate myself on eating a fat-free snack. I've also stopped bothering with artificial sweeteners, except in sodas, because a teaspoon of sugar is 15 calories. I don't put sugar in my coffee or on my cereal, but for strawberries or in recipes, I'd rather stick to the real thing and not have that yucky artificial sweetener aftertaste.

Having a currency for making food decisions helps. Calories are fine, if you can keep track of them. I've never been good with numbers, so it's easier for me to use Weight Watchers points, which are smaller numbers to add up. It's having a set of guidelines for making choices that matters. Within those guidelines, I think that it's important to choose things that keep you satisfied and provide nutritional benefits, of course.

Everyone's big criticism of Weight Watchers is that you could eat nothing but Pop Tarts and still be under your points. Try it sometime, though, and you'll figure out that 25 points of Pop Tarts is a lot less satisfying than 25 points of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, lowfat dairy and all that other good stuff. Maybe it's time to stop combing the headlines for guidance on what we should eat and just listen to our guts. Literally.


  1. Jen, I so agree with you about the low fat thing. I came to the same conclusion awhile back. By the way, you are doing so well, make sure you give yourself a pat on the back!!

  2. Eating less has been the difference for me. I used to try the diets that did not limit portions, just the types of food. But I always overate. That's my problem, too much. And at times the wrong stuff. Weight Watchers is very successful. Probably because people learn to cut back on amounts, and stay within a budget.

  3. oops I was not quite finished. As I was saying, like your butter example, some foods are much more satisfying, and a little goes a long way. So long as I can stop at the correct portion.

  4. Anonymous8:59 AM

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    Author Interviews & Book Reviews

  5. What a great post. Since I have changed my eating habits, friends or family see me eating something that is not considered "diet" and ask me if I am allowed to have it. I tell them if I make myself suffer I will never make my goal and keep the weight off for good. Portion control is the key

  6. Portion control has definitely been the answer for me. I got through holidays, birthdays, and all sorts of "occasions" where there was special food around and I kept on track, because I kept track of my points. I basically don't do diet food (other than skim milk, sometimes salad spriters, ff hot dogs and occasionally low fat cheese). I eat normal food in reasonable portions. For example last night we had a meal that most people would consider a dieter's nightmare: Italian sausage, spaghetti sauce, polenta, and green beans with butter on them. Yet by carefully having only one sausage link I was able to have a decent and satisfying meal without messing up my points. I ate plum pudding at Christmas (with hard sauce no less), I had birthday cake on my birthday, I ate stuffing and pie at Thanksgiving and I do put butter on my toast at least part of the time (sometimes it's olive oil instead). I've eaten with the family routinely this past year and while my son has lost a little weight (he's trying to), my husband really hasn't and dd who's only here occasionally on weekends has actually gained a couple of pounds (again intentionally). I will say that being aware of fat and fiber do help, but the points do that for you. I also think that leaning towards whole grains, vegetables,fruits, and lean protein also helps. Eating mostly "clean" works better on so many levels than subsisting on 100 calorie packs, Skinny Cow desserts, and Lean Cuisine meals. I figured out early on in this journey that most diet food was a rip off both economically and in terms of satisfaction. I can put together a much more satisfying meal for lunch for fewer points and at a lower cost than any Smart Ones or Lean Cuisine on the market. Despite the addition of more fresh fruits and vegetables and buying leaner cuts of beef our grocery budget has not gone up this past year (of course it helps that I'm no longer buying two to three pounds of butter a week). I do think that it takes some people a long time to figure out that while a brownie once in awhile isn't going to wreck your diet, that you can't expect to feel satisfied if you spend points on brownies that should have been spent on protein, dairies, or fruits and veggies. Still it's great to be living a lifestyle where I can have an occasional brownie without guilt, where I can eat strawberry shortcake (in reasonable portions) three times in a week during the peak of strawberry season and happily and guilt free enjoy every bite.


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07