Very occasional thoughts concentrating on the useful.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Where my belly went.

Lots of people have noticed that I've lost 35 pounds (of my previous 200) since August 1, and now random people who I don't know very well have been coming up and asking how I did it. So, now that I've finished selling off my old jeans on ebay (they are now 5 inches too big in the waist!), I'll write up a little blog about it.

The reason I used to weigh 200 pounds was NOT because I was gorging myself. It WASN'T because I didn't exercise enough. It WASN'T because I wasn't making an effort to eat right.
It was because I was eating the kind of foods (unnecessarily-gylcemic foods) that were stimulating my appetite two or three hours later, in part because I had absorbed a lot of bad misinformation from the US Department of Agriculture.

Here are some quotations of Walter Willett, Chairman of Harvard's nutrition department about the USDA's 1992 food pyramid. (All are excerpted from the 2002 edition of [1]. The June 2005 edition will discuss the new USDA pyramid):

Some recommendations on diet and nutrition are misguided because they are based on inadequate or incomplete information. Not the USDA [1992] Pyramid. It is wrong because it ignores the evidence that has been carefully assembled over the past forty years. (p. 18)

At best, the USDA Pyramid offers wishy-washy, scientifically unfounded advice on an absolutely vital topic--what to eat. At worst, the misinformation contributes to overweight, poor health, and unnecessary early deaths. (p. 16)

The thing to keep in mind about the USDA pyramid is that it comes from the Department of Agriculture, the agency responsible for promoting American agriculture, not from agencies established to monitor and protect our health, like the Department of Health and Human Services, or the National Institutes of Health, or the Institute of Medicine. And there's the root of the problem--what's good for some agricultural interests isn't necessarily good for the people who eat their products. (p. 21)

Furthermore, Willett has a damming direct empirical attack on the USDA's advise:

My colleagues and I used the governments Healthy Eating Index to test whether people who follow the recommendations laid out in the USDA Pyramid are healthier than those who don't follow these guidelines. They aren't. Among the 121,000 female nurses who are participating in a long-term study of diet you'll be hearing about in later chapters, those with the highest scores on the Healthy Eating Index were no less likely to develop a major illness or die than those with the lowest scores over a twelve-year period....The pattern was similar for more than 50,000 male health professionals participating in a separate long-term study. (p. 25)

SOME of the principles I'm following are listed below. (I believe there is ample scientific evidence for the advisability these principles, see my sources at the end of this blog):

  1. Eat when I'm hungry, and eat until I'm full.
  2. Snack preemptively to avoid a hunger-attack later.
  3. Avoid added sugar because it will cause you to be hungry two or three hours later, because of some peculiarities of human metabolism. Also avoid certain foods naturally high in sugar.
  4. Avoid the particular carbohydrates which are naturally or artificially low in fiber, making them rapidly-digestible, but DON'T AVOID the slowly digested carbohydrates. (That is avoid glycemic carbohydrates like white potatoes, white pasta, or white rice, but not less-gylcemic ones like low-salt triskets or whole-grains with lots of fiber.)
  5. Avoid saturated fat (like milk and beef fat) and seek out unsaturated fat (like olive oil, nuts, and avocado).
  6. Get sufficient omega-3 fat from fish or GROUND flaxseed.
  7. Eat lots of unsaturated fat. Fat does not make you fat, and unsaturated fat is healthy.
  8. Completely omit trans-fat (hydroginated or partially-hydroginated oils).
  9. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit and beans. It is easy to make tasty vegetables if you cook with good olive oil.
  10. Get plenty of fiber, since it slows digestion and prevents hunger.
  11. Avoid getting too much salt (more than 2.5 grams/day).

Anyway, I highly recommend the following sources. All that was required to loose the belly was some reading and cooking, eating until I was full, without any calorie-counting or deprivation:

1. Eat, Drink, and be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating.
by Walter Willett, co-developed with the Harvard school of Public Health. Be sure to get the June 2005 edition, which will remark on the new USDA pyramid, although there's no link yet.

2. The South beach diet
by Arthur Agatston. I read this book first, and lost most of the weight before finding [1]. Not as authoritatively healthy as [1], but there is considerable overlap between them. This also shows how pre-emptive snacking can prevent a binge later. (I love his explanation that yes, your mother was correct that that snack will ruin your dinner, so you SHOULD have that snack!) I learned about the gylcemic index from here.

3. Some excellent talks on nutrition at the Harvard school of public health.

The speakers are renowned researchers, and the intended audience is composed of policy-makers and restaurant-owners. Accessible but in the scientific style, complete with references and data. A must-see. These lectures finally convinced me that unsaturated fat was healthy, and that vegetables taste great cooked with some olive-oil. There are more health-related Harvard talks here and some written nutrition-information here.

4. A Frontline interview of Walter Willett on PBS.

If you don't have time to get [1] yet.

5. Eat, Drink, & Weight Less, by Katzen & Willett.

(Included retro-actively.) See my blog of May 29, 2006.


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