Starvation diets, fad diets, prescription medications and stomach surgery are examples of methods that might work for the short term, but may actually shorten your life. Why take risks when there is a way to lose weight that is not only effective, but also makes you more energetic and healthier in the process? This method is apparently a well-kept secret. Before I explain a science-based way of eating that is health promoting and enjoyable, let's look at how we got in this big fat mess.
Once upon a time in the wilderness our "primitive" ancestors hunted and gathered their meals. Of course they couldn't do that with a cordless phone from the couch, so we know they got more exercise. But the foods they ate were also dramatically different from what passes for dinner today. They gathered vegetables, nuts, seeds, roots and occasionally berries or something like crab apples. The entrées they hunted were lean wild meats, eggs and fish - all rich in healthful fats. Grains weren't used because they are inedible grasses in the wild. If they found sugar cane, it was hard work to gnaw a bit of sweetness out of it. And don't be fooled by Winnie the Pooh - there is no honey in the trees.
Yes, lives were short because the food supply was unreliable and a sharpened stick was not much protection from an attacking predator. However, the fossil record reveals strong bones and perfect teeth and sturdy bodies with no signs of obesity or degenerative disease. When humans started to congregate in towns and farmed to create a stable food supply, the variety of foods was reduced to what was easy to cultivate. Whole grains were introduced because there was now a way to mill them and make them edible. Animals still grazed and the food was grown locally, unrefined, homemade, and eaten in season. There was no fast food joint to super-size the meal, so folks stopped eating when they were full.
Fast forward to life in modern "civilization". We now "hunt" dinner at gigantic grocery stores where lifeless globs of white flour, sugar, chemicals and dangerous inflammatory fats are adorned with labels that fool consumers into thinking the stuff is food. What do we gather? Coupons for a good deal on a pizza? We are seldom ever more than a few steps from a vending machine or a drive-up window where we can get a soda the size of a washtub. We eat twice as many calories and most of them as refined white flour, sugar and corn syrup. The average person eats over 1 cup of sugar a day!
Besides the calories, sugar and its first cousin "enriched" flour cause blood sugar to rise, which in turn stimulates the release of insulin. Elevation of the hormone insulin causes fat storage and is a cardiovascular risk. Abusing the insulin system leads to diabetes ... don't even get me started on that epidemic. We can't tell how much the food supply has deteriorated just by looking. You might assume that the meat and eggs at the market are the same as what grandma would have purchased. Wrong! Most cows, pigs, chickens and even fish are now fed grains - not their natural diet. So, the resulting meat and eggs are higher in saturated fat and lower in healthful anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fats. Good fats, like the monounsaturated fats in macadamia nut oil, olives and avocados reduce the bad cholesterol and raise the good while helping to prevent cancer and diabetes. Bad fats such as hydrogenated oils do the reverse while annoying the liver and messing up cell membranes.
My advice is to turn the clock back - get healthy and slim by eating real food in as unprocessed a form as possible. Unrefined foods are more satisfying, less addictive and require more of the body's calories to digest and metabolize. Pick a variety of foods that contain mostly monounsaturated fats, and have minimal chemicals and low impact on blood sugar. Not all foods in any category are created equal. To illustrate, I created 5 graphic pyramids - 1 for proteins, 1 for fats and 3 for carbohydrates (grains/vegetables/fruits). Sadly, you won't get help understanding these facts from the government - the USDA just classified French Fries as a fresh vegetable!
A change in diet is easier said than done and obviously it is hard to understand the whole story in such a brief article. Meal plans and recipes are also needed to remind us what a whole foods balanced diet looks and tastes like. It is worth the effort to read and practice because this plan not only helps you lose body fat but also reduces inflammatory and degenerative conditions while increasing energy and vitality. If Americans can become obsessed with eating un-damaged, healthful, real foods in delicious recipes, the weight will take care of itself - forever.
Fred Pescatore, MD, Atkins Center Associate Medical Director for 5 years, now practices integrative medicine in NYC, http://www.piimdocs.com/. His best-selling new book, "The Hamptons Diet" http://www.hamptonsdiet.com/ blends controlled-carb with the healthy Mediterranean diet and serves it up with Hamptons flair.