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Conversations With Health
By Christopher Hassett
My sister’s wedding is coming up in three months and to look my best I need to lose some weight. My goal is 15 pounds. What’s the safest way to do this? — Lucinda, Lower East Side
There are so many benefits to being at a weight that’s right for our body. One is, as you suggest, it allows us to look and feel our best. But the more important benefits come in how significantly being at an optimum weight reduces, reverses or even eliminates many of the chronic conditions that come with simply carrying too much weight, conditions such as high cholesteral, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, sleep disorders, depression, exhaustion and countless other maladies now plaguing Western society. How, then, should we go about getting to a weight we can be happy with long-term? And how to do this safely?
Dr. Neal Barnard, founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, says perhaps the safest and easiest way to lose weight is to remove meat entirely from your diet. By doing this, he says, you won’t even need to count calories, for the weight will fall off on its own. He speaks of an average weight loss of 22 pounds in one year on a diet without meat. A quicker approach, he says, is to remove all animal products from your diet. According to his studies, the average weight loss in doing this is 13 pounds in three months, which would nearly be your goal. A weekend fast to help cleanse the body of excess toxins could then easily take you over the top.
There are good reasons why Barnard focuses on meat. As a percentage of its calories, meat is very high in fat. Beef at its leanest is 29 percent fat. Chicken is 21 percent. Fish tends to be lower, but a Chinook Salmon is surprisingly 50 percent fat, though only 15 to 30 percent of that fat is saturated, while beef is 50 percent saturated fat. All of which contributes not only to higher cholesteral and cancer rates, but difficulty in losing weight. But if meat is what you want, then eating less of it would certainly help.
Meat, though, is not the sole culprit in why so many of us battle wildly with weight. Consider our options, which through large swaths of this country are decidedly few. Most obviously, fast food is everywhere. In nearly every city these businesses far outnumber restaurants that serve fresh, low-fat, highly nutritious meals. Drive through some of the smaller communities beyond the city and it’s commonplace to see entire towns swallowed whole by these establishments.
But I see little point in singling out fast food, since it’s such an easy target. By now we’re all aware of the lethal long-term consequences such food has on our bodies. Instead, I’ll turn my gaze to those seemingly “safer” family restaurants that, in spite of the foamy sweetness they show us in their ads, in truth care nothing at all about our health. This is evidenced in the massive sums of fat and calories that go unmentioned yet wholly saturate their menus (though they quite happily tout the healthy stats on their few low-calorie dishes).
There are, for instance, 940 calories in an Applebee’s bacon cheeseburger, far more than half of what a normal body requires in a single day. Nearly 60 percent of those calories come in the form of fat. A Chili’s jalapeño smokehouse burger with jalapeño sauce has 2,140 calories! Eat this one burger and you’ve eaten more than a full day’s worth of calories. The namesake cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory has more than 1,500 calories in a single slice. A mere appetizer at T.G.I. Friday’s, aptly called Loaded Potato Skins, has more than 2,000 calories, 65 percent of which is fat!
It becomes apparent that one meal while dining at these so-called “friendly” chains — an appetizer, main course and dessert — can easily total 6,000 calories with the addition of drinks — four days worth of calories in a single meal! This is criminally high and aggressively negligent when considering that the companies that serve these meals absolutely know how ruinous such high intakes of fat and calories can be to our bodies.
Our supermarkets are no better, since they too are literally shelved with products that silently poison us and rapidly fatten us. But the most insidious influence snaking through it all is the relentless marketing directed at us every second of our lives, so that whether we believe it or not, we are continually being lured toward a more unhealthy way of eating.
Consider for a moment the number of ads you see for quinoa or kale in a day? In contrast, how many do you see for Coke? For chips? Pizza? These three make up what many consider to be a light snack. Yet far from light, the three together count in at 700 calories. This is a little less than half of what the average woman at 5 feet 6 inches, 130 pounds would need each day to simply maintain her current weight. That same woman wanting to lose even a little weight would need to aim for no more than 1,200 calories a day. If she were interested in a more rapid weight loss, her daily caloric intake would need to come down to around a 1,000.
You can see how the combination of packaged foods and fast foods, or rather the preponderance of all foods marketed to us each day works against our better impulses to remain healthy, and it all but crushes our ability to stay at an optimum weight. If you’re concerned about either your health or weight, then it’s crucial to remain ever-vigilant of these forces weighing in around you at all times.
On the other hand, should you choose to become a warrior against the commercial machine, you have the entire world of whole, unprocessed foods on your side. A large green-leaf salad light on olive oil, for example, has as little as 100 calories, and the energy you receive from those calories is significantly better than those found in the pizza combo above. A plate of rice and beans counts in at a meager 250 calories. Adding a serving of corn to complete the protein would still bring this supremely healthy dish in at around 300 calories. Yet those generously few calories will keep you satisfied longer, with far more energy and mental clarity, than the Coke, pizza, chips, and perhaps even the 900-calorie burger.
Narrowing the entire discussion down to just the numbers, know that a pound of fat in the body is 3,500 calories. To lose that pound in a week you would have to reduce or burn 500 more calories a day than what the body needs to maintain its current weight. Exercise helps in this process. Even walking makes a difference. Walk a mile and you can burn 100 calories. A more rigorous workout at the gym will burn another few hundred calories. Combine the two with an awareness of all the calories you’re taking in each day and you’re on track to losing a pound a week, and nearly 15 in three months. The wonderful bonus in doing so is that you’re likely to feel better than you have in many years.
Christopher Hassett is a columnist and natural healer living in New York City. Learn more about natural approaches to improved health at www.threeperfections.com. Do you have a question or concern you’d like Christopher to respond to? Please email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Receive an update when a new column is published at: www.facebook.com/threeperfections.