Toward a better weigh

On health and religion

Laurie Wright Brown, M. P. H., R. D., is a nutrition consultant in private practice. This article is provided by the Health and Temperance Department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

As a pastor, almost every day you must deal with problems that concern your church and the personal lives of your parishioners. Today's frenetic pace of life adds to the mental and emotional stresses these problems entail. On top of this, social commitments and obligations never seem to end. There's a potluck to attend, and dinner at Sister Smith'snot to mention the cooking school being planned.

Stresses and social commitments such as these may be part of the reason that your belt no longer fastens on the same notch it did last year. But with the proper motivation, and attention to nutrition and exercise, you can control your weight and live the healthy life God desires for you.

Find lasting motivation

Whether your path to weight control involves a commercial program or individual effort, your motivation plays a leading role in determining your success. The most common motivators are social pressure, the desire for health, and a need for self-worth.

Obesity increases the likelihood of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, back problems, arthritis and other joint-related disorders, and diabetes, and makes surgery more risky. These dangers are very common initial motivators, but motivation born out of fear seldom lasts. To keep success from fading away, you need to find other motivators.

As a pastor, you may also be motivated by social pressures, such as the actual or anticipated reactions of church members or conference officials to your increasing weight. Although, as is true of the fear of ill-health, these pressures often start the quest for weight control, after some initial success self-esteem frequently takes over as the prime motivator. The glow of satisfaction that accompanies initial weight loss perpetuates the process.

The assurance that God will give you the strength, courage, and conviction to achieve the desired weight can enhance these motivations. When confronted with temptation, it is important that you be willing to ask the Lord for His strengthand then to give Him the glory for success.

Once you have made a serious commitment to losing weight, pursue it with determination. Repeated cycles of weight loss and gain appear to make losing weight increasingly difficult.1 Although you can never eliminate stress entirely, you will have a better chance of succeeding if you wait to begin your weight-loss program until stress is at a minimum.

Choose the best foods

Having made the commitment to pursue weight management, a natural place to begin is with dietary habits. One pound of body fat stores 3500 excess calories. All other things being equal, eating 500 calories less each day for a week would produce a one-pound weight loss.

But eating some kinds of food will cause you to gain weight faster than will eating other kindseven though you consume the same amount of calories in each. The body must spend a lot of energy to convert the carbohydrates in potatoes, breads, and cereals into fat, but it can quite efficiently turn the fat in butter, margarine, salad dressing, mayonnaise, nuts, peanut butter, and cheese into body fat. Some researchers have reported that on a normal high-carbohydrate mixed diet the body must expend seven times the calories to convert dietary carbohydrates into a pound of body fat as it does to convert dietary fat into a pound of body fat. 2

In one recent study researchers maintained the caloric level of the subjects' diet but reduced the fat content, replacing it with complex carbohydrates from vegetables, grains, and fruits. In the resulting diet only 20 percent of the calories the subjects consumed came from fat. This simple change brought about an average 13.3-pound weight loss over a period of 16 weeks. 3

Dieters, then, need not deprive themselves of hearty meals in order to lose weight. They can simply replace the fatty foods in their diet with unrefined carbohydrates.

High fat intake not only promotes weight gain, but has also been implicated in heart disease and cancer, especially of the colon, breast, and prostate. The American Heart Association and the American Institute of Cancer Research recommend that a maximum of 30 percent of calories should come from fats. Few food labels disclose the percentage of the calories in the food that come from fat, but from the information on the labels you can determine it for yourself.

The label probably will tell you how many grams of fat are in the food. Multiply the grams of fat by 9 (fat has 9 calories per gram; carbohydrate and protein, 4). Then divide the fat calories by the total calories. Say, for instance, a label shows 90 total calories and 5 grams of fat. Multiplying by 9 reveals that 45 of the 90 calories come from fat 45/90, or 50 percent.

Some of the "lite" foods are high in fat, and therefore not the best choice. For example, fat comprises about 74 percent of the calories in regular cheddar cheese. Kraft Lite 'n Lively cheese derives 51 percent of its calories from fat, and Borden's Lite-Line only 36 percent. But in New Holland's "reduced fat" cheese, fat accounts for 80 percent of the calories! You can replace visible fats with some widely available low-calorie products. For instance, you can save 100 calories by substituting butter-flavored sprinkles for a tablespoon of butter or margarine. Use the sprinkles on foods like cooked vegetables, or pastas. They are also good on baked potatoes: pour a little skim milk on a baked potato, sprinkle the powder on, and mash it in with a fork.

You can save another hundred calories of fat daily by using low-calorie salad dressing in place of regular salad dressing. Substituting three cups of skim milk for the same amount of low-fat (2 percent) milk will save you another 100 calories from fat.

When recipes call for cream, try substituting evaporated skim milk. In recipes calling for an egg, substitute two egg whitessaving about 50 calories, not to mention about five grams of fat (equivalent to one teaspoon of margarine) and 270 milligrams of cholesterol.

A change in cooking methods can also reduce fat intake. Instead of frying, steam, bake, boil, or broil. When you do fry, use the low-calorie, no-stick sprays to reduce the amount of oil you need.

Since unrefined and whole-grain breads and cereals aid weight loss, look for the word whole in the list of ingredients of the foods you buy. In other words, buy bread made with whole-wheat flour rather than simply wheat flour (which is white flour). One study found that participants choosing whole-wheat bread lost six more pounds at the end of eight weeks than did their counterparts who chose refined bread.

Similarly, eating fruit considerably increases the satiety level (reducing hunger) as compared with consuming an equal number of calories in the form of fruit juice (see table). The fiber in whole-grain cereals and fruit increases gastric and intestinal distension. This in turn delays the onset of hunger pangs. Unrefined foods also produce less of an insulin rise and therefore lessen the hypoglycemia that produces the desire to eat again.

Since sugar contains no fiber, avoid sugary foods as much as possible. Not only do they stimulate the appetite for more sugar, but they also greatly increase the secretion of insulinan antagonist to the enzymes that break down fat.

The best nutrition advice is to eat a wide variety of whole, unrefined foods, a good-sized breakfast and lunch, and a very light supper. Look for ways to reduce fat intake from the current average of 37 percent of calories to below 30 percent.4 Over the period of a year, every 100 calories of fat eliminated from daily intake will yield a 10-pound loss.

Plan for temptation

Many occasions focus on food. To control your weight, you must learn how to respond in these situations. As most people trying to lose weight quickly learn, a simple "No, thank you, I'm on a diet" seldom stops the persistent hostess. If the offer of food comes between meals and a simple "No, thank you!" has not worked, a polite "Thank you anyway, but I have made it a rule not to eat between meals" should be helpful. Then stick to your guns.

When you have been invited to a meal, plan ahead. Size up the various dishes and choose wisely. Then, to avoid being prodded into seconds or a large serving of dessert, leave a small portion of food on your plate as an indication that you are full. When asked for seconds, reply that you simply cannot, and point out that you really haven't finished what you already have taken. Assure your hostess that the food was tasty.

When confronted with potluck dinners or meals at which there is a large variety of food, step back and assess the situation. Decide first which are the best choices. Limit yourself to no more than five items, and try not to consume liquids with your meal. If you take dessert, keep your portion small.

Keeping a written record of your food intake through the period of a week can help you identify problem practices, such as snacking, and help you determine what you can do to change them.

Snacking can be a problem of timing, convenience, or frustration. Some find that the temptation to snack strikes them at particular times of the day. They can successfully meet that problem by making food unavailable or staying busy during those times. Others simply react to seeing food and the answer for them lies in keeping foods stored out of sight.

You can help yourself control frustration eating by taking a five- to 10-minute delay when the urge strikes and finding something to do to fill this time. This tactic helps in two ways: First, it develops a tolerance to frustration that gives you a feeling of greater self-control. And, second, snacking urges are usually of short duration and the delay allows them to pass. As you deny these urges, they will strike with decreasing frequency until you can go through a day without snacking.

The problem of snacking also often involves other problem habits, such as eating on-the-go or eating during some other activitylike watching television. In neither of these cases is the mind concentrating on eating. Eat at a time when you can savor your food and are paying attention to what you are doing.

Research indicates that the time at which you eat affects weight control. One study found that the participants who consumed most of their calories at breakfast lost substantially more weight and body fat than did those who consumed most of their calories at supper. 5 In another, some participants ate a 2,000 calorie meal at breakfast, while others ate the same meal at supper. The former were able to lose weight, while most of the latter gained.

Kenneth Cooper's Aerobics Institute tells its clientele that for maximum weight control they should eat 75 percent of their daily calories by 1:00 p.m. 6

This advice agrees with Ellen White's counsel to eat a large breakfast and lunch and a smaller supper if any at all. 7

Burn off those calories

Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is especially important to weight loss. When you consume fewer calories, your body reacts by slowing down the BMRa self-preservation reaction somewhat analogous to turning down the thermostat on a furnace to conserve energy. This reaction explains why many people find that, after a few weeks of dieting, their weight loss tapers off, even though they have maintained the same caloric intake. The discouragement this lack of progress engenders causes many to give up. But if you will exercise regularly while maintaining the reduced caloric intake, you will continue to lose weight at a more regular rate. When you exercise, your body burns extra calories not only during the exercise period itself, but also throughout the day.

Regular exercise offers benefits extending far beyond that of weight control. Some have found a relationship be tween keeping the BMR up and better scholastic performance and increased productivity. Many find exercise to be a great way to release stress. Exercise also regulates the appetite, actually helping it to match one's energy needs.

Regular exercise aids blood pressure regulation, while its lack puts one at risk of coronary heart disease. Because exercise puts stress on the bones, the body supplies them with additional calciuma step toward preventing osteoporosis. Further, the practice of exercising regularly provides the body better control of the hormonal system, including insulin, which helps regulate blood glucose, and the stress hormones, adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. It also affects favorably the various sleep neurotransmitters, thus improving sleep.

For overweight people, walking, swimming, and bicycling comprise some of the best forms of exercise. While these activities exercise the large muscle groups, increasing circulation and respiration, they do not put too much stress on the joints, which the overweight commonly complain of when they start an exercise program.

It is generally recommended that you exercise at least 30 minutes per day, preferably four to five days per week. You should aim at a brisk pace, but one that still allows you to carry on a conversation. It is always wise to confer with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.

Many people argue that they don't have time to incorporate such a program into their daily schedule. Actually, you can use this time very productively. While you are exercising, you can sort through the priorities of the day, mull over sermon ideas and material, meditate, or, if done with your spouse, communicate without interruption. The millions who exercise regularly report that it just plain makes them feel better, and that they wouldn't start their day without it.

In summary

Being on a diet implies that someday your present practice will end. But if your behavior becomes a series of habits, you are less likely to abandon itand then maintaining your proper weight will be a byproduct of your healthful lifestyle.

You can confidently ask the Lord's blessing and help in this endeavor, knowing that it is His will: "Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health" (3 John 2). He is able, ready, and willing if you will allow Him.

1 Kelly Brownell and S. Steen, Physician Sports
Medicine 15 (December 1987): 122.

2 Danforth, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
41 (May 1985): 1136.

3 Roger Hammer, American Journal of Clinical
Nutrition 45 (January 1989).

4 Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and
Health, 1988.

5 Chan and Barter, Journal of the American Medical
Association 245 (1981): 371.

6 Kenneth H. Cooper, The Aerobics Program for
Total Well-being (New York: Bantam Books,
1982), p. 65.

7 See e.g., Counsels on Health (Mountain View,
Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1923), p. 156.


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Laurie Wright Brown, M. P. H., R. D., is a nutrition consultant in private practice. This article is provided by the Health and Temperance Department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

June 1989

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