More Good Choices for Managing Our Weight

April 24, 2012 in fiber, Mediterranean, Nutrition, Uncategorized, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

A rose by any other name is good and beautiful – Let a thousand of them bloom!

There are diets and eating plans of all stripes. Some are fad diets designed to get quick results and make money off your anguish.  You soon yo-yo back up in weight as your body rebounds from feeling starved much of the time.  Others are “getting it” – that is the large and growing body of research that says we need to shift our life style by replacing calorie dense, unhealthy foods with healthy and tasty ones having fewer calories, while keeping our hunger mechanism from alarming our bodies’ defenses against starvation.

Volumetrics is a newer way of describing the rose bouquet. Mediterranean-style of eating is an older one. There are others, and many of them, if we will seriously change our unhealthy eating habits permanently, will reduce our caloric intake, keep our hunger in check, and let us feel satisfied.  Our body will be grateful to us, and will show its gratitude by working better and longer for us. The interesting thing for me, after all these years of studying and helping individuals learn how to lose and maintain healthy weight is that the name of each vision for attaining a healthy eating style (at least among those that reflect a valid reading of the research) may look a little different, but the goals and methods are fairly consistent. Most successful eating styles that support managing a healthy weight – a weight, that can be maintained for years (or your entire life) are eating plans that are encouraging us to learn to chose, prepare (or have prepared), and relish the fiber and water filled plant foods. The name of the healthy eating style that works best for the individual is a matter of choice.

Studies of Energy Density (ED) have become fairly popular. There’s mounting evidence that ED is associated with improved weight loss and/or maintaining weight loss (which is always the difficult, but most important aspect of body weight goals.) We are being chided to not be dense; to trim calories per bite in order to trim pounds. Today I will briefly review ED for you; but first, I want to make a point. The point is, that it seems to me, authors keep coming up with new ways to say the same thing. I believe most of the newer eating styles with any validity are encouraging people to decrease intake of calorie-dense foods (fat, fatty meats, dairy, cheese, starchy foods, and sugary foods) and increase intake of lower density foods (vegetables, fruits, fish, skinless chicken, fat-free dairy).

The focus on ED appears to be presented as a new way of looking at weight loss and weight management. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know I’m certainly for the goals: weight loss, if necessary; and weight management. If looking at the same issues in a different way helps people lose and/or maintain weight, then I say ‘do it.’ The latest book written by Barbara Rolls, PhD, RD, Chair of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State and the past-president of The Obesity Society and the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior is The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet. It’s really not very important to me if people use the terms “Mediterranean Style” of eating or “Volumetrics”; if individuals adopt lifetime habits by following the recommendations, they get to the same place. Some styles and explanations for specific plans work better for different individuals, so the trick is finding what works for you.

  • The Volumetrics Diet is based on the premise (Learned from scientific research in the 1990s) that people unconsciously eat a consistent amount of food, essentially the same volume/weight of food on a normal basis. People are, therefore, not really regulating calories directly, but are regulating an accustomed volume/weight of food.
  • The key to Volumetrics is eating foods containing more water. Certainly, this works because water provides no calories, but satisfies our volume/weight needs.
  • Since vegetables are mostly water, adding more vegetables decreases the caloric density of a meal or menu item. If you’re familiar with the Mediterranean style of eating, you realize that it too is encouraging the use of the same mechanism – eat more vegetables and fruits. This supports meeting your usual volume/weight needs, but with fewer calories.
  • A fascinating fact is that when you’re eating more fruits and vegetables you actually eat more food (by volume/weight) and lose weight – most of us like being satiated while we’re losing weight and maintaining weight. I’ve often said, ‘If you don’t get enough food and you’re hungry, then it’s pretty likely that you will not be able to maintain an eating plan in the long term. So it follows that the first step in cutting calories is including more vegetables to your meal plan – they help you stay full while consuming fewer calories.’ This is certainly a long-term goal.
  • The Volumetrics plan focuses on eating big portions of low-calorie-dense foods (think vegetables and fruits) – the individual is satisfied with the size of the serving, while avoiding too many calories.
  • There are limitations with low calorie beverages, like tea and coffee, because the body treats hunger for solid foods separately from thirst for liquid foods. Hunger and thirst are regulated by different mechanisms. Only a few liquids seem to satiate like solid foods; for example soups and milk generally perform more like foods. Because your hunger mechanism differentiates between liquids and solid foods, cutting liquid calories is very important. Volumetrics encourages cutting liquid calories as a first step in lowering calorie intake. Soda and fruit drinks are adding hundreds of calories a day to many people’s intake.
  • The Volumetrics plan cuts fat, sugar and refined grains – suggestions are made to replace some of the beef, white breads, white rice, creamy sauces, and cheesy foods, with vegetables.
  • Volumetrics encourages adding vegetables, fruits, whole grains and seafood. For our long-term readers – do you see the commonalities with the Mediterranean eating style?
  • One of the nicest aspects of Volumetrics is that you continue to eat the foods that you enjoy, that flexibility does not mandate you to eat foods that you’re not used to. Since the best healthy but water-rich foods are vegetables, it is wise to discover those you like - as many of them as you can, prepared in ways that you enjoy, if you do not already do so. By lowering the density of most of the foods you eat on a regular basis, you take in fewer calories. The foods with higher calorie density are eaten less often and in moderation.
  • Volumetrics divides foods into groups, ranging from very-low; low; medium; and high-calorie density. This aspect of comparison may be very helpful for those who are not familiar with the differences in calorie density being delivered by different foods.

I like the illustration on the cover of the latest edition of the Volumetrics diet. It shows pictures of five bowls. The first, contains a few jelly beans in the bottom of a small bowl; the second is raisins and a little more volume than jelly beans (Remember raisins are a healthy option, but the water is removed, so you can eat quite a bit more than when you’re eating fresh grapes.); next is the same size bowl with grapes stacked above the top; the fourth bowl, is stacked with slices of fresh apple – again above the top; the fifth and last bowl appears to be about double the size of the other four bowls and is filled with cherry tomatoes. I really like the illustration, as I think that it is a very effective way to help people see how the difference of water in plant-based foods impacts calories. If you double click on the picture of the book cover (the book icon above) it will enlarge and you can see what I’ve described.

A Variety of Valid Options – Alternate Rose Bouquets

If you like the idea of combining the best of both the Mediterranean and the Asian diet, you may discover that the MediterrAsian way works for you. If you prefer straight Mediterranean, then The Advanced Mediterranean Diet: Lose Weight, Feel Better, Live Longer (2nd Edition) may be a good choice for you. One author even focused on Mediterranean for diabetics - The Mediterranean Diabetes Cookbook. I believe that just about anyone can find a diet plan that will work for them; especially if they don’t think of it as a short-term treatment to drop some weight, but rather as a life-style plan that will help them redesign their own healthier life. The Kindle Edition of The Mediterranean Diet got my attention with the scene of Santorini on the cover. It really is one of the most beautiful sights in the Greek Islands bathing in the Aegean Sea; and, of course, not far from Crete, where Ancel Keys (page down the newsletter to "Pure and Simple News") did so much of his seminal work on the Mediterranean diet (1950s – 1970s). The Spark is a very popular plan that helps people get started. None of the books that I’ve mentioned are designed for rapid weight loss, or a temporary fix. They are all encouraging a permanent eating style. Fad, unbalanced, weird diets not only waste your time, but have never been shown to be a healthy long-term option that can be used to keep the weight off permanently. Worse than wasted time, the yo-yo weight loss, then gain, then loss then gain is discouraging to the mind and hard on the body (not to mention the wardrobe). My advice is: Don’t risk your health with an unbalanced fad diet.

You may want to think of your eating style as a process. You keep fine-tuning a process of food selection, preparation, and eating that works for you. When you learn something new that you can use long-term – great. Keep stepping back to see if there are areas that can be improved. The ultimate goal is to eat a diet that will support health, keep you satiated, and maintain a healthy weight. Be creative – consider a new way of looking at your menus.

The following are a few ideas of how you can actually make it happen – by lowering the calorie density:

Starting with Breakfast:

Lunch and dinner are traditional vegetable serving time:

  • Salads – How many very low-calorie-density vegetables can you add to your salad? Start with celery, cucumber, lettuce, radish, green onions, asparagus, tomatoes, bell peppers of any color, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, and cooled cooked green beans. You may want to use our “How To” for Salads.
  • Broth based vegetable soups are another naturally low-calorie density item. A moderate amount of pasta, rice, beans, and meat helps to hold the calories down.
  • You may want to consider trying some new recipes for vegetables. Sparking up your vegetable recipes is a great way to increase the volume eaten of this low-calorie-density choice, while finding ways of preparing them that are yummy for you and those who eat with you.
  • Mixing in addition vegetables into your standard stir-fry and casserole recipes is yet another option.
  • Work in more fish for lunch and/or dinner. Use it to replace more calorie-dense red meats, and to provide flavor and pleasure to go with the increased volume of vegetables. Meat does not have to be the centerpiece.  In many cultures for many years it has been kept small, to add flavor and texture, not as the main ingredient. Now the many valid eating plans we have discussed are taking us back to what older cultures – Mediterranean, Asian, and others, have long understood.

Energy Density is a relatively new and popular way of providing us bouquets of wonderful roses (by other names). Each of these, in their own way, shows us something that has been known for a long time. That is, if we want to be satisfied with a sufficient volume of food, we need to include more of the low-density items like vegetables and fruits and use the more dense foods moderately or sparingly. If we learn that the low-density foods add a tremendous and delicious variety and flavor to our meals, we may also learn to love the health, vigor, and (with exercise) the trim bodies that come with the life-style changes.