By The Restaurant Dieter

Tag: research

Why I am not dieting

About a year ago, I rebranded this website from The Restaurant Dieter to Healthy Restaurant 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.

Research: If you want to eat healthy, don’t eat at a restaurant

A study of restaurants in three American cities showed what we’ve always known: eating out a lot makes you fat. And if you have to eat out, pick the restaurant wisely.

The 2011-2014 study looked at 360 dinner entrees at 123 non-chain restaurants in Boston, San Francisco and Little Rock, Ark., according to Vox.

The study showed that the restaurant entrees had an average of 1,200 calories each, the  website said. Chinese, Italian and American restaurants performed the worst; the best choices were at Greek, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese restaurants.

How’s that compare to how many calories we should have? A moderately active adult male 31-50 should have 2,220 a day, and a female in the same age range should have 2,000.

The study appeared in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Calories in dinner entrees at non-chain restaurants

Mexican (1,110)
American (1,451)
Chinese (1,478)
Italian (1,556)
Japanese (945)
Thai (1,163)
Indian (1,250)
Greek (904)
Vietnamese (984)


What the research says about wine, salt, artificial sweeteners and even water

corkscrew-bottle-neck /

corkscrew-bottle-neck /

The New York Times  Upshot column is running a good series looking at the research from some of the hottest health topics. Here’s what they’re saying:

More Scientific Evidence on Why Restaurant Food is Addictive

When the server delivers a plate of honey-chipolte-barbecue chicken fingers to the table, we fully intend to save half that gigantic portion to take home.

But despite the best of intentions to ask for a box, suddenly it’s gone. What happened to that willpower? Why do we fail so often?
The New York Times features new research that again points out the addictive powers of fatty foods. The bodies of rats released a “marijuana-like” chemical immediately when they ingested fatty foods.
The research is just the latest to note the connection.  In his excellent book, “The End of Overeating,” Former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. David A. Kessler writes about the addictive powers of salty-fatty-sugary foods purposely engineered by the restaurant industry. The industry wants us to be satisfied and understands that the combination created foods that are hyper-palatable.
Kessler doesn’t let us off the hook entirely. There are ways to conquer addiction — just as there are with other substances. Still, it’s good to know: It’s not that we’re morally weak or something. Folks who want to eat healthy are up against two powerful foes: their own biology and an industry bent on making us want to keep coming back for more.

Double Portion of Diabetes: Who’s to Blame?

The Economist recently reported that between 1980 and 2008, the number of adults with diabetes more than doubled. In the United States, it increased more than 60 percent; women alone jumped 79 percent.

This is clearly not the restaurant industry’s fault alone. Most people can eat themselves into a diabetic coma pretty good without much help from Wendy’s or Taco Bell.

However, there is ample evidence out there that an increasing number of meals are consumed away from home. Or are consumed at home, but purchased at a restaurant or supermarket takeout counter.

I think the National Restaurant Association can say best: According to the  “Top Ten Facts in 2011”  71 percent of people say they try to eat healthier now at restaurants than they did two years ago.”

The emphasis on the word try was mine.

Because we all know that if the NRA had asked if people were successful at this goal, its membership would be put to shame.

Oh, yes, we are trying. But too many restaurants aren’t helping.

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.