Think Before You Eat

Dietitian Faye Kraus suggests asking yourself where you are on the 'Hunger and Fullness Scale' before eating.

You may not have been aware, but May 6 was No Diet Day. Or if you were, you may have wondered what it was all about.

Aren’t doctors and others always fussing about the obesity epidemic? Surely, the solution is not “no diet” but to diet all the more?

No way, says dietitian Faye Krause, owner of Energized Intentions in Fredericksburg and a licensed facilitator of the Am I Hungry? mindful eating program.

Krause—who has taught earth science, been a personal trainer and is now studying integrative medicine—explained to me how I and many other medical professionals have it wrong.

Destructive Diets

No Diet Day was the concept of British feminist Mary Evans Young, who was anorexic. But there are many players and much information supporting the idea that diets just don’t work—or worse, they do a lot of harm.

A good example were the contestants in “The Biggest Loser,” Krause told me. They lost an average of 129 pounds, but were unable to keep it off. After six years, they had gained back an average of 70 percent—and most gained back more than they lost.

A sinister effect of dieting is that it resets your body weight “set point” and when you lose weight, your body reverts to its stone-age metabolic fear that you are starving by lowering your metabolic rate.

“Biggest Loser” contestants were found to have dropped their resting metabolic rate by 500 calories. This seems to explain the yo-yo diet phenomenon, and why girls who diet at an early age are three times more likely to finish up obese or with an eating disorder. (Reports say that 80 percent of 10-year-old girls already have been on a diet.)

A New Approach

Overweight people are often shamed and told they need to go on a diet for health reasons. But this isn’t warranted, Krause told me—citing the work of neuroscientist and author Sandra Aamodt, who, in an article in The New York Times and in a TED talk, said, “Our culture’s view of obesity as uniquely deadly, is mistaken.”

The reality is, low fitness, smoking, high blood pressure, low income and loneliness are all stronger predictors of early death. Low fitness, for example, is responsible for 16 percent to 17 percent of deaths in the U.S., while obesity accounts for only 2 percent to 3 percent.

A far healthier approach is to become mindful about our eating—which is what Krause teaches in the 8-week mindful eating program, created by family physician Michelle May, who became obese when her parents were having marital problems, making her realize there are many triggers to eating other than hunger.

You will “relearn your natural ability to eat just the right amount of food,” notes May in the forward of her book, “Eat What You Love. Love What You Eat.”

“This is a program to change your relationship with food,” Krause told me. The program includes teaching people to ask themselves where they are on the Hunger and Fullness Scale—with 1 being ravenous and 10 being sick—before eating. The course also includes going to a restaurant to simulate real-life challenges.

Food and eating are affected by emotion and other factors, so learning to understand what prompts us to eat, and the choices we make, is vital. “We need to listen to our bodies and not just eat according to the rules of some diet plan,” she said.

There’s too much emphasis on weight and measurements, said Kraus, who criticizes doctors who insist on patients being weighed every time they come to the office.

A BROKEN ‘Quick Fix’

The diet industry—for whom she worked temporarily when first out of college —“is selling us a quick fix,” but one that doesn’t work in the long term, she said. In private, the diet industry acknowledged this in a memo to the industry in 2003, stating that 231 million Europeans attempted some kind of diet, but “only 1 percent will achieve permanent weight loss.”

Instead, be mindful. Don’t eat in the car or in front of the TV—be like the French or the Italians and revere food. We need to ditch the bathroom scale, says Krause, and not eat—or exercise (she includes instruction on mindful exercise)—determined by some set weight or calorie criteria.

The admonition to be mindful seems to pervade our every activity these days. But if diets don’t work, and are actually making us gain weight in the long run, let’s eat mindfully and make every day No Diet Day.

Dr. Patrick Neustatter of Caroline County is the author of “Managing Your Doctor: The Smart Patient’s Guide to Getting Effective Affordable Healthcare.”

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