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 Weight Control 
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Diet / Weight Control Infocenter

Can You Spice Up Your Life Without Adding Extra Pounds?

by Caroline J. Cederquist, MD

A woman we know likes to say, 'There are three kinds of cheese: yellow fat, orange fat, and fat with holes.'

Mmmm! Choices, choices.

When it comes to options for sweets and high-fat treats, it seems that the best choice might just be the same one you made yesterday, and the day before, and maybe last week, too.

Research shows that people who have a wide variety of sweets and high-fat treats like cookies and chips, or even cheeses in their diets tend to be heavier in general. And when they do drop weight, they have a harder time keeping it off than people who tend to limit their choices of high-fat foods to one or two items.

But what's variety got to do with it? Calories are calories, right? Fat is fat. What does it matter if you've got a choice of fat in four exciting flavors as opposed to just one? It's not like you eat one serving of each.

Or do you?

As it turns out, that's not too far off. When researchers look at the way people actually eat, they find that the more different things we can eat, the more different things we do eat, even when we've already eaten enough.

It's the buffet effect, in daily miniature. You know how it is when we go to that all-you-can-eat buffet; we just load up. It's not just that we're trying to get our money's worth. The fact is, there's lots of good stuff out there! You want to try a little of everything? or at least you try to stick with 'a little.'

Similarly, someone with three flavors of ice cream in the freezer may start out by having an appropriate- sized serving of butter-brickle belly-buster, but on the way to the sink with that empty bowl, they're quite likely to get detoured back to the freezer somehow, for 'only a little ' of that raspberry ribbon riot, and then after that, well, why not, 'just a taste ' of the fudgy sludge.

And believe it or not, people manage to convince themselves that they've only had one dessert. But those extra bites add up! they don't call it 'Chunky Monkey ' for nothing!

The average American kid can absent-mindedly gnaw through half a bag of potato chips in front of the TV and then, bored, start in on the cheesy poofs, or cookies or whatever's there, just because it is there. Then what started out conveniently sitting on a pantry shelf, very soon ends up inconveniently hanging over that youngster's waistband. When we have it, we eat it, and we gain.

But what might be more important about having multiple high-fat temptations around is what they may predict for our waists and our weight over the long haul.

Earlier studies had already showed that a lot of available variety in high fat foods and treats seems to make people eat more and interferes with weight loss, so researchers took a look at the effect that all that variety has on long-term weight maintenance.

The investigators studied participants in the National Weight Loss Registry, a database of thousands of Americans who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least two years. More than 2,000 registry members were in this study, all of whom had maintained their reduced weight for six to seven years. For comparison, other subjects came from a behavioral weight loss program conducted in a university, and they had all recently lost at least seven percent of their body weight, a significant amount.

But by six months into the study, after examining everyone's reported eating habits within six food groups (five from the USDA Food Guide Pyramid, and a category for combination foods), the researchers found that the folks from the registry had very little variety of high-fat foods in their diets compared to the folks who had recently lost a lot of weight in the university program.

In fact, they found that those who seemed the most successful at keeping their weight off had less variety in their diets overall, except in the fruits and combination foods, like stews and salads.

The researchers say that reducing the selection of different foods probably helps maintain a lower weight, and helps maintain a weight loss, over a long period.

Consider nearly any fad diet you've ever heard of-- the grapefruit diet, the cabbage diet, even the vaunted Atkins diet. They've all got a different nutritional spin, but researchers say these work initially because of the rigorous limitations on what you can eat, so you eat less in general. Even the most ardent carnivore gets sick of steak day in and day out. You can think of these approaches as basically just reduced-calorie programs, masquerading as wonder diets. You lose weight at first, but eventually you have to add in different foods, and if you keep adding until you're back to the typical American carnival of consumption, you'll probably end up adding the weight back on, too.

It wasn't always like this, either. The resplendent dietary variety we're accustomed to with our well- stocked pantries is basically a 20th century phenomenon. It's so cheap and easy to have it all now, so we do. In the past, big meals with a lot of selections and multiple desserts took too much work for daily preparations, so they were typically saved for celebrations, while a few reliable standbys made for daily dining.

So does it sound like the answer is to take the fun out of eating? Give up enjoying food? Really, it's quite the contrary. A generation ago, people rarely ate out. It was a treat for special occasions. Nowadays, nearly half the average American family's food budget is spent on food prepared by someone else. We eat out all the time and have the world's cuisine to choose from! But how many times have you heard, 'Let's go out. What do you want for dinner?' And the answer is merely, 'Whatever.'

Quite frankly, the thrill is gone. If high-fat treats and on-demand desserts are part of the daily diet, what's left to make a special occasion special? Too much of a good thing is no good; not for our health, not even for our enjoyment of those things.

There are plenty of ways to make the daily diet interesting with low-fat, healthy foods instead of sweets and fatty indulgences with little nutritional value. People who have kept their weight off seem to have intuitively figured that out, and kept it simple. And they've got the results to show for it.

But that doesn't mean they're not enjoying? really enjoying? a good feast from time to time, too.

Through Thick and Thin:

We've evolved away from a more physical lifestyle with limited dietary options to a more sedentary one with vast choices for calorie consumption, and we have the expected unhealthy consequences to show for it. Simply eating fewer kinds of foods, especially high-fat, calorie-dense foods, can be a big help in keeping the pounds at bay. Our diet doesn't have to be a smorgasbord every day, and in the long run, it's probably more healthy and enjoyable if it isn't.

See Also:

Is it Pointless to Even Try to Lose Weight? ...The Rebound Effect!
Donít believe those depressing statistics that say everyone regains whatever they lose. When you see people who have succeeded at losing their extra weight and keeping it off, itís not that theyíve worked miracles, itís usually just that theyíve done the necessary work.

Portion Distortion: Supersizing America!
Americans are eating out more and more, and leading researchers say that's a big part of why so many of us are overweight. The biggest part of that big part? Big portions!

Caroline J. Cederquist, M.D. is a board certified Family Physician and a board certified Bariatric Physicians (the medical specialty of weight management). She specializes in lifetime weight management at the Cederquist Medical Wellness Center, her Naples, FL private practice, you can also get more information about Dr Cederquist and her weight management plan by visiting www.DietToYourDoor.com

 

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