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Nutrition Section

Healthy Weight Control

Civilisation is facing a crisis. We have developed our technology to the point where our food is actually killing us!

Early in our history we discovered that starchy foods and foods high in fats rapidly added weight and would help us combat famine or times when food was in short supply. We mastered the art of grinding grains to extract the starches and threw away the husks. The starch from a kilogram of grain could now be consumed in a small loaf of bread, half the size of the bag of grain.

Pre-bronze age quern

A neolithic quern for grinding grain, the grain is ground up by rubbing-crushing the grain with small stone over the surface of the larger quernstone.

 

We did the same with our meat too. We penned it into small areas of rich pasture and selectively bred it for increased meat and fat content. We didn't need to chase it any more. In fact we did this so well that our diet evolved to double our meat intake. The result of all this continuous improvement is we are overweight to the point that we are shortening out own life span and our doctor will tell us to go on a diet to lose weight.

So do weight loss diets work?

Everyone seems to be advertising a "new amazing" weight loss diet. Do these advertised diets really work?
They can work but usually don't.

Most people will lose a little weight, then put it back on again - often more than they lost! Some, usually only 1 in 10, will lose weight and will keep it off.The reason is the diets don't cure the problem. At the very best, they hide the symptom - weight gain.

People become overweight for three reasons:

Lack of exercise - That doesn't only mean laziness. Most of us work in one place, often sitting still for long periods. Our work lacks enough exercise to burn up the energy we get from our food so the body stores the excess as fat, the body's way of storing energy for later. We get our entertainment from watching TV, films or playing video games. If we go and see friends or family, it usually involves food or drinks and sitting around talking as well.

Over eating - this can be too much food in a each meal, too much of a high carbohydrate food or eating between meals - a common peril for people using computers, who have lollies, nuts or snack food at hand.

Medical / Physiological - there are several possible causes here. The thyroid gland controls the body's weight and growth. If there is a malfunction, it can make you gain weight. Some people can trace their lineage to cold climate ancestral homelands (e.g. Finland or Alaska) where it was a genetic advantage to store fat both as insulation and energy for lean times. Their metabolism is programmed to turn excess energy into fat quickly. People come in all shapes and sizes. Some people have a stocky build. Their skeletal structure has shorter bones, usually in the legs and arms but their hips and shoulders are the same width as a tall person. Physiologically, these people will look overweight.

Let's start with a little education . . .

Almost every developed country is facing an obesity crisis today. For the first time in human civilisation, our younger generation will have a life span less than us. Where we had a heart danger age of 45 years old, they will face the same risks at 35 years old. As a by product, diabetes has increased in the last 50 years by more than 500%.

Obesity in the USA

The USA is regarded as the world's obesity capital.

China isolated itself from the rest of the world for over 1000 years and this makes an interesting test case in our research against obesity. It wasn't until the 1950s that China started to communicate with the rest of the world. Since then it has become increasingly more open to Western cultural influences. Although the Chinese were the first to discover diabetes, their rates were far lower than ours in the west. Heart disease was a condition of the elderly and around 25% less than in the USA.

An obesity clinc in China

A nurse administers acupuncture to a patient in an obesity ward in China

In the last decade China is rapidly catching up to Western cultures in heart disease and diabetes. Why has this suddenly changed?

Most diet research claims it is their acceptance of the Western diet. If this was true, then how come our Western society has also experienced a sudden increase in both heart disease and diabetes too?

Obesity in Mexico

Mexico is passing the USA as the most obese country in the world

However one of the main causes is not diet at all. It is a change in behaviour. As a civilisation after the second world war (WWII), two changes occurred in society:

New Technology soared ahead in leaps and bounds and we entered the age of labour saving devices. Pre WWII any devices at home were semi-automated. You used a washing machine to assist you but you still did much of the work. After WWII we see devices that allow us to completely put our feet up. Today I grab an armload of washing, dump it in the machine, throw in a scoop of detergent and turn a dial - that's all. Some machines will even dry it after it's washed. Almost every task has at least halved in terms of labour content, since WWII.

Obesity is even a problem in Saudi Arabia

Obesity is even a problem in Saudi Arabia

Another even more insidious cultural change came with WWII. During the war the soldiers introduced us to chewing gum and snack foods. Pre-war culture was used to meals, where you stopped and ate. Chewing gum was a luxury, often seen in Hollywood movies and expensive in the shops, outside the USA. People didn't walk around chewing all day.

The soldiers rarely had the luxury of regular meal times in combat so their rations included high energy foods like chocolate bars for energy on the go. On leave, in a country with sugar rationing, these were a valuable item for bartering. Seen as the powerhouse of world industry and the land of luxury, the rest of the world was eager to copy the US culture and we see social acceptance of the snack and constant chewing between meals arise. When the troops came home, the soldiers were all used to the American GI's habit of chewing gum and candy bars. Previously these were treats - now they were part of our lifestyle. When they came home they brought this new culture with them.

Sailor homecoming 1945

When our servicemen returned from WWII they brought a culture change with them

As technology advanced we all bought Televisions and learned to eat meals off our lap. Watching the late night shows meant we rose the next morning, just in time for work, skipping breakfast. Before lunch we were starving so a snack was essential.

Separator bar with green apple

The snack culture

Today the snack is part of modern culture but unlike the servicemen of WWII we still have the regular meals too. We have snack machines in the workplace, railway stations, hospital waiting rooms (including the heart ward!) and even in building foyers. The result is that we consume far more energy than we can burn. Our bodies store the extra as fatty tissue. We don't need it - it's become a habit - one we need to change.

You will hear all the experts saying eat less sugar to lose weight (which is misleading compared to eating less starch - see why in the "Glucose" page). You will also be told to exercise more, which is also misleading because when most people increase their exercise, their appetite increases accordingly.

What you will not hear the so-called experts saying is follow this sequence to regain control of your weight first, then and only then, can you start losing weight without putting it back on later.

Coconut Palms

Indonesia's Lethal Food
Did you know that at least 1000 people die in Indonesia every year from falling coconuts? Worldwide, they are more lethal than sharks. A coconut can weigh 5kg and a coconut palm can be up to 30 metres tall.

 

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Bar - Gold bar with Granny Smith Apple

What to do about it

The key to all this is brain training, that's where your appetite and avoidance of exercise comes from. Your excess weight didn't just appear over night; it built up over months, even years. To drop that excess weight suddenly, with a crash diet, will do more harm than good. We need to lose that weight gradually. Losing any more than 2 to 3 kilograms a week is unhealthy and can cause muscle loss as well as fat loss, overload the kidneys and liver. Do it in small steps. When you get used to one step, move on to the next one. Over time you have developed this imbalance between food and exercise, so it will take time to undo that training and develop a set of new eating habits.

1. Begin by changing your eating habits. Stop the snacking between meals. If you settle for a cup of coffee or tea, not soft drink or soda - it has heaps more sugar, or worse - carcinogens (see our " Is it safe" page), don't develop the habit of having a biscuit with it. You will feel it for a few days but after a week, you won't miss it. Don't be fooled into using a replacement food (like a stick of celery) either. The first time you can't get the replacement, you'll go straight back to the high energy stuff again. Your goal is to get your body used to not having something in it's mouth between meals. Aim to develop the habit of three meals a day and nothing in between except a drink. If you work in an office with others who pick at snacks, tell them you are trying this and ask for their help by not offering you food.

Victim of cravings

Lets do this step by step in gradual stages, so we don't develop cravings.

2. Change your cuisine. Once you have mastered the no snacking stage (30 to 60 days), change your cuisine. You don't need all that starch but you need the proteins and other nutrients. That doesn't mean boring tasteless diet food either, try our Asian Cuisine page for some stunning different recipes, like Chicken and Longbean. Asian food is very tasty and high in low-starch vegetables, if you don't eat it with a bed of rice. Avoid fried rice, it has a lot of oil. If you want rice, then use brown rice or boiled white rice. It takes longer to digest, making you feel fuller for longer. Your diet is about to improve both in taste and nutrition. Change your bread to whole grain bread. Like brown rice, it takes longer to digest, leaving you feeling fuller after the meal is over.

3. Change your portion size. Once you are comfortable with these changes, reduce your meal portion size. Don't do this drastically. I heard a dietician telling an obese lady to serve her dinner up on a bread and butter plate rather than a dinner plate. I think that's a big decrease in just one step. The lady later told me it didn't work for her, she just piled her plate higher. Instead, serve up your normal portion size, then take a dessert spoon and take one spoon full off your plate. Rearrange the food on your plate and look at the result - you can hardly see where the spoon full came from. Remember, only do this after steps 1 and 2.

Notice I haven't said do more exercise?
Telling an overweight person to do more exercise is pointless. For a start the exercise we suggest will actually take twice the effort for them to do, than us. It will seem so much harder for them to do, than correct-weight people, that it is demoralising. This would be a drastic change and they would be more likely to give it up before long. What we aim to do is to drop the energy intake to match their daily output, by reducing the starch (or stored energy) content in their diet, then by reducing the amount of food they eat per day by stopping snacking, then reducing their meal size.

4. Maintenance. Once you start to see a slight decrease in weight gain, start looking for ways to increase your exercise. If you are office bound, get up every hour and walk a short distance (perhaps to the water cooler and back). Get a small 5 ounce glass and fill it with water. Drink one glass every hour by sipping it. As the body starts to burn that fat, it will produce more waste products and the added water will help flush out the system as well as put something in your stomach. Over a month, you will replace the habit of putting something in your mouth with sipping water.

By the way, if you currently have type 2 Diabetes (Diabetes Mellitis) healthy weight loss often stops it. It's not cured because if you put that weight back on, it will come back but it's common for people to lose the weight and the diabetes.

Bar - Gold bar with Granny Smith Apple


Basket of Fresh herbs

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