Healthy Restaurant Eating

By The Restaurant Dieter

Tag: books

Why I am not dieting

About a year ago, I rebranded this website from The Restaurant Dieter to Healthy Restaurant Eating.com. I did not know at the time how wise that decision would be. I’m done with dieting.

And I’m no worse for it.

Yesterday, I weighed in at Weight Watchers. Without tracking and counting Weight Watchers points for two months now, I have remained in the same weight band I have been for the better part of a year.  How have I managed? I have engaged in mindful eating — not at all the same as a diet — and gotten some exercise. I’ve added more nuts to my diet, whenever I feel like it. And I’ve stopped eating when I feel full.

These are the wise conclusions in a revealing new book called “Why Diets Make Us Fat: The Unintended Consequences of Our Obsession with Weight Loss.” Author Sandra Aamodt chronicles her own journey, along with tons of peer-reviewed scientific research that shows why this is a losing battle. Most interesting of all to me is the research that shows the very act of mentally focusing on the weight battle wears us down and results in…more eating.

In a recent column for The New York Times, she wrote:

WHY would dieting lead to weight gain? First, dieting is stressful. Calorie restriction produces stress hormones, which act on fat cells to increase the amount of abdominal fat. Such fat is associated with medical problems like diabetes and heart disease, regardless of overall weight.

 Second, weight anxiety and dieting predict later binge eating, as well as weight gain. Girls who labeled themselves as dieters in early adolescencewere three times more likely to become overweight over the next four years. Another study found that adolescent girls who dieted frequently were 12 times more likely than non-dieters to binge two years later.

How credible is her work? Pretty credible. She has an undergraduate degree in biophysics, a Ph.D. from the University of Rochester and four years of post-doctoral research at Yale University, according to her biography. She’s also was the editor-in-chief of the scientific journal, Nature Neuroscience.

And her own journey will sound achingly familiar to those who have struggled with weight their entire lives.

This is no knock on Weight Watchers, which just this year changes to a new emphasis on eating mindfully, exercising and overall health. It’s called “Beyond the Scale.” In fact, though I am not tracking and writing things down, I am eating the way Weight Watchers recommends on its “Simply Filling” plan, which does not require the level of writing things down that the standard points-tracking plan does.

At some point, I might chuck Weight Watchers entirely, but not yet. I like being able to weigh in to keep my mind on my mindfulness, so to speak. And for a person just starting to get serious about living a healthy lifestyle, I’d still recommend it as a splendid way to get acclimated to eating the good food our bodies need more often.

The Restaurant Dieter’s cookbook

In my introduction to The Restaurant Dieter, I forgot to mention that I had edited a healthy foods cookbook. It seemed so long ago, until I was looking for something and realized copies still were available on Amazon.com.

The HeartSmart Cookbook was a joint venture of the Detroit Free Press, my employer in the mid-1990s, and the Henry Ford Hospital Heart & Vascular Institute in Detroit. At the time, I edited the food section (along with some others). A weekly recurring feature in the food section was the HeartSmart recipe.

My collaborators in this affair were the woman who ran the program at the hospital and the certified home economist who ran the test kitchen at the Detroit Free Press. The latter was a goddess of domestic affairs; for one Thanksgiving, Jeanne crafted a dinner that could be turned out in two hours. She taught me almost everything I know about food, including and especially, the danger posed by raw eggs in a recipe. I think of her fondly and often when I’m cooking.

One of my chores for the newspaper was to edit the recipes in the Food section, which is not as easy as one might think. A mistake in a newspaper story is unfortunate, but a mistake in a recipe can be a disaster. The meatloaf recipe that called for a cup of milk, when it should have called for a tablespoon, still gives me nightmares.

“What am I supposed to do with this mixture?” the woman on the phone demanded of me.

“Add more breadcrumbs?” I offered hopefully.

And then there was that recipe that called for you to mash the potatoes and set them aside. What you were supposed to do with them later to complete the dish was never clear.

Of course, when you’re publishing a cookbook, the necessity for recipes to be accurate is all the more important. A correction cannot be issued in the newspaper the next day. So my job was to thoroughly check the recipes we’d planned to include plus edit the text.

It turned out rather well and racked up sales that any cookbook author today would crave. It helped that the book was offered for sale at the many speaking engagements undertaken by the Henry Ford Hospital Heart & Vascular Institute.

Still, it was nice to pull up Amazon and see 14 new for $6.50; 63 used from 1-cent; and one listed as “collectible” for $3.99.

And, of course, to read the lone user review, which says:

“I have loved this book and the dishes I’ve made from its recipes for years. The editors’ knowledge of food and flavor balance is apparent in every recipe I’ve tried. Some recipes do not excite me but eventually I may try them. Not every recipes is quick to prepare but I’ve always found that the results have been worth the time I’ve spent. I bought my first copy over 20 years ago, recently gave that to a friend and bought another copy for myself. I couldn’t be without it. Oh, yes, and the best part is that the food is healthy!”

Required reading: ‘The End of Overeating’

Dr. David A. Kessler’s “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite” should be required reading for anybody who’s waged a battle with weight.

I’ve lent this 2009 book out often that I no longer have my copy. I’ve given it to complete strangers in my weekly Weight Watchers meetings, because I believe so strongly in its message.

Here’s the gist: It’s not you. Salt, sugar and fat are highly addictive — and the combination much more so. I can’t cite the details off the top of my head, but the book is chock full of research citations and anecdotes from scientific studies. I tell friends they all add up to the same thing: A perfectly well fed mouse gets a taste of something salty or sweet, and runs through the electric fence until he’s dead to get more.

I know this well. A day of good behavior on the Weight Watchers plan can go out the window after a couple of tortilla chips. Spurred on by that craving for more salt and fat, two chips becomes seven. And seven becomes a whole basket.

Kessler was appointed commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration by President George H.W. Bush and also served in that role under President Bill Clinton. He’s a Harvard Med School grad.

Besides the scientific information, the book features comments from anonymous folks who work in product development for major restaurant chains. They strive to make foods super appealing by combining these addictive elements. It’s why chicken fingers, coated in a salty batter and then deep fried, are doused in a honey chipolte sauce. The dish hits all three addictive compass points — fat, salt, sugar.

I’m not pointing a finger at just the chains. Many restaurants go heavy on sugar, salt and fat because people like the taste. Bland food is unsold food; bland restaurants are empty restaurants. Other ingredients that impart flavor to a dish — say fresh herbs or vegetables at the peak of season — can be expensive and require more prep time in the kitchen, which also costs. So using fat, salt and sugar is economical.

When I’m vigilant, I turn the basket of chips away. Or don’t take any at all. I know that if I slip, it’s off to the races for the rest of the day. Sometimes, I can blunt the desire to keep eating by taking a banana, whose potassium counteracts the sodium.

All you can really do is be aware, and that’s why you want to read Kessler’s book. At least understand that it’s not some character flaw on your part.

Thanks Dr. Kessler.

You can follow him @DavidAKesslerMD on Twitter.