By Al Sears, MD
How would you answer this question: "Do you have healthy eating habits?"
I just read a study which found that more than 75 percent of obese people say they do.
This study reminded me of a new patient, PR. She came for help in losing weight. She weighed 230 pounds, with most of the extra fat hanging around her waist. Her first comment when I asked how she thought she could lose weight? "I know it can't be my diet, because I eat healthy."
With considerable prodding, PR's eating turned out to be far from healthy in just about every way. She ate no breakfast, large dinners washed down by a liter of Coke, processed snack foods, and continuous between-meals "nibbles." In all, it was a protein-poor, high-carb, high-glycemic, nutrient-poor diet - a prescription for obesity and chronic disease.
This is not always the case, but I am sometimes surprised by the power of the psychological phenomenon of denial. It can completely hide a problem from your conscious awareness.
If you think you need to lose fat but don't know where the problem lies, do this. (I've done it myself from time to time for years.) Simply write down everything you eat for a week. Don't forget to include snacks and drinks.
You will be surprised by what your food log will reveal. If you're eating something that's making you fat, it will draw your attention to it - and you'll be able to correct the problem easily.
A SIMPLE CURE FOR BAD EATING HABITS
I shared my observation that many overweight people believe they have healthy eating habits. But when I look at my overweight patients' food diaries, it is obvious that their eating is far from healthy ... or even sensible. Today, I want to tell you about a simple solution to this common problem.
When it comes to making meal choices, many overweight people don't plan ahead. They improvise at the last minute, and go for whatever is convenient. Doughnuts for breakfast (because somebody brought them into the office ...). A Big Mac and fries for lunch (because that's all you have time for ...). A bucket of buttered popcorn and a sugary soda for dinner (because you decide to see a movie with some friends after work ...). Before long, it becomes a habit
My solution: Plan your meals in advance. This takes some commitment, but it's really not tough to do. Each night, you sit down and decide what you're going to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner the next day. You also decide where you're going to eat. You might, for example, plan to eat breakfast at home, pack a lunch to eat at your desk, and eat dinner at a restaurant.
You won't always stick to it, but at least you'll be starting with a plan for healthy eating. And there's a fringe benefit. You'll not only eat better, you'll also enjoy your meals more when you're not simply grabbing something to put in your mouth. Plus ... you'll probably lose weight.
LET WHAT YOU EAT CONTROL HOW MUCH YOU EAT
I explained that a good way to make sure you don't overeat is to plan your meals ahead of time. Today, I have another tip: Eat more protein.
After 20 years of helping people get lean, the most common cause of overeating I encounter is this: Not enough protein and too much carbohydrate.
For most people, how much they eat depends on how full they feel. Protein boosts your sensitivity to a hormone called leptin. And this hormone tells your brain that you're full. So when you get enough protein in your diet, overeating usually subsides.
Health "experts" usually recommend 50 to 60 grams of protein a day - the amount your body needs to replace what is normally lost on a daily basis. But this is far too little for optimal health. To reduce your appetite - and lose weight - try one gram of protein for every pound of lean muscle.
For example, if you weigh 180 pounds and have 20 percent body fat, you have 144 pounds of lean muscle mass. So shoot for 144 grams of protein a day. If you don't know your exact body fat percentage, figure that it's 20 percent if you're a man and 25 percent if you're a woman. That should be close enough for this purpose.
[Ed. Note: For more tips on weight loss, check out Dr. Sears' book The Doctor's Heart Cure.]