Wanting Quick Results vs. Learning for Life

February 25, 2014 in Foodland, Uncategorized, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

The other day while caring for grandchildren at my daughter’s home I stood at the counter making chicken vegetable soup with whole-wheat dumplings. Because it entails lots of chopping of fresh vegetables, I decided to turn the television on while I was preparing the food. An infomercial for a weight loss program was playing; I decided to listen to what the public hears when they listen to one of these interestingly presented pieces, including a famous entertainer who used the product. I should probably admit here that I can’t recall ever watching an infomercial all the way through before. Yes, I’ve seen them for a few seconds, but I listened to the entire presentation while preparing the chicken, vegetables and dumplings.

Have you ever listened to and evaluated a weight loss infomercial? It was fascinating!  The adjectives and adverbs flowed. Whether you needed to lose weight or not, you almost wanted to buy the product because you would have a wonderful and full life; be happy; feel in control; feel unbelievably well; have constant high energy; and you’d look incredible/fantastic and hot. It was so marvelous! You were reminded repeatedly that you could eat whatever you want (Well, that is if what you want was what they make and sell in the little packages that come to your home.). They brag that you never have to bother with counting calories or measuring anything. The program was designed to “meet each individual’s specific needs;” ‘you will eat what you love,’ so you will never feel deprived, nor will you ever feel hungry. I’m guessing that there are many people that love pizza, chocolate, mac and cheese and cheese puffs because they were so frequently mentioned during the program. Yes, I did see one woman who was demonstrating a frosted cinnamon bun. I glanced up from chopping carrots to see the cinnamon bun (My son-in-law keeps the knives really sharp, so I mostly kept my eyes on the cutting board, lest I lose a finger). The bun was a tiny little thing. Well, at least they are enforcing portion control with their little packages.

Reflections on little special packages of food:

My most overarching thought was/is: What happens when you lose the weight and want to eat regular food again?

  • My biggest question is this: the program touts that the customers will learn to eat correctly. I wonder, how? If you’ve been eating pre-measured portions of specially designed, highly processed foods that are very low in fat and carbohydrates, and you’ve lost lots of weight and want to go back to real life and real food, what do you do? Because the foods you’ve been heating and eating from the little containers included: chicken Alfredo; chicken potpie; Salisbury steak with macaroni and cheese; chocolate covered bars; steak and cheese melt in white roll; burgers; spaghetti and meat balls; pasta parmesan; cookies; whoopee pie; Oreo-style cookies; ice cream sandwich; cupcakes; chocolate covered pretzels; stuffed apple pie; walnut chocolate chip cookies; pudding; candy bars; lasagna; and meat loaf. These are very calorie-dense foods in real life, that is, when they are not manufactured with highly processed fillers, fiber and additives to make them seem like versions of the food you would make in your own kitchen, or eat in a restaurant. Actually, the spokeswoman said that you couldn’t just eat these types of foods in their homemade versions to lose weight because their “chefs” make “special” versions without the calories and add all the nutrients that keep you healthy. Seriously, folks….. you can stay alive with added vitamins and minerals, but research has shown over and over that optimal health comes from eating lots of plant foods. There are hundreds of nutrients in real foods – not just a few added nutrients that the food processors put in.  I’ve written quite a bit about this issue, so go back and read some of what’s on this site. The fact is that in addition to taste and comfort, we eat for satiety; for calories to keep us going; and to keep our entire body healthy. Choose real food whenever possible – you don’t need to add vitamins or minerals to an orange, for example. When you have achieved a weight loss goal, what are you supposed to do?  Can you have homemade lasagna one night, and homemade Salisbury steak with mac and cheese another night and expect to keep the weight off? Probably not. The fact is that you will use real cheese, real meat, and real pasta. These diet packet items can be specially manufactured with 250 to 300 calories per serving; but the homemade version may easily be 600 to 800 calories or more for a small portion (even if your home-made portion was small like the little container of packaged food). If you eat an extra 600 calories a day (200 from each meal) then in the first year you could gain back about 62 pounds. This, of course is just one example. The point is that frequently eating very calorie dense foods makes it very difficult to maintain normal weight. If you choose very calorie dense foods and want to maintain normal weight, then you likely will also have to choose: lots of exercise; very small portions; and/or very infrequent inclusion of the calorie-dense items in the menu.
  • Portion size. Seriously, don’t head for Cinnabon at the airport or mall thinking you’re getting the specially prepared cinnamon bun in the tiny little package. The Cinnabon site says the Cinnabon Classic is 880 calories, but sometimes the information is misleading. Other sites list the classic as high as 1945 calories. In my experience, measuring calories, especially in the beginning of a life-style change program, is worth your time. Of course, you don’t have to measure while you are purchasing the little food packages; but how do you learn what a healthy portion is when you’re eating real foods, if you don’t measure a few times to see what it looks like on your plate or bowl?
  • My first reaction on seeing the boxes of little foil-wrapped food packets is that there is no fresh whole food, unless you add it in. This turns the logic of healthy eating upside down:  Start out with processed, engineered food as the centerpiece, then use real whole food as an additive.  Backwards!! The portions are small in the special little packages. So the good thing is that the customers of this weight loss plan are encouraged to add vegetables, fruits and some starchy foods to the packaged foods. This is one of the best things, but it confuses me because the infomercial keeps talking about the person doesn’t have to do anything, as the meals are already cooked and measured. Many of the people who are anxious to lose weight turn to the packaged food because they say they do not have the time to cook. I looked at one of the programs and food they encourage you to add to the packages.  It would take time to shop and prepare that food. Seriously there are precious few vegetables in the entrée items. To stay healthy be sure to add lots of vegetables. But better still; why not just learn to cook real foods that will nourish you. Learn to gradually eat a little less and fill up on vegetables.
  • Enduring weight loss. It seems to me that the ‘little packages of food’ type of program is designed to keep you coming back. It does not equip you with new skills or knowledge, nor with new eating habits.  It lies to you that you can eat these lower calorie versions of calorie dense foods and then can keep eating the non-engineered versions afterward. You lose the weight and then you eat the food that you used to eat (real food) and gradually gain the weight back. Maybe not so gradually for some. Some of those interviewed said (while following a script?) that they learned how to eat in restaurants and for the rest of their life. I wonder how that happens. If you’re eating pre-measured; specially designed and manufactured food to keep the calories down, what prepares the victim for real life. How do you go to Macaroni Grill or Tony Roma’s and order lasagna? Heaven knows you ate something that resembled a small lasagna while you were on the little boxes of food.

As related to weight management we all have to face it. We will either learn how to eat differently while we’re losing the weight or we’ll have to scramble pretty fast after losing the weight to create new habits. One way or the other you have to learn new eating habits or you are destined to have to go through the weight lose phase over and over (the old rollercoaster metaphor). Or alas, just give up and say I’ll be happy heavy. Unfortunately, this choice frequently and eventually comes with poor health. Changing eating habits permanently is the critical control point. It does not mean that you can never eat any of your favorite foods. What it does mean, is that you need to learn to have net lower available calories.  It really does matter how much you exercise and how much you take in. Getting your exercise up and/or reducing your intake calories to maintain the new lower weight are the simple bottom line. All the ‘magic programs’ are ultimately adjusting one or both of these two factors. The main problem is that often people want it to go away instantly. And the makers of the little boxes of premeasured single portions of food claim it can go away relatively quickly. But even if that proves to be true for you, it can come back relatively quickly too. The weight did not come from nowhere; it comes to us just a little extra here and there. But if we’re diligent, and learn new eating habits, we can maintain a lower healthy weight. Nevertheless, if we eat and exercise the same as the way we ate when we were overweight, we can’t expect a different result – we will gain it back. So many people still believe that if they lose weight by eating little packets of food, or shakes, or bars that they will keep the weight off. But the most important part of keeping weight off is the new eating behaviors needed for when the ‘diet’ ends. This is why I don’t recommend going on a ‘diet’ and then going off the ‘diet.’

Places to start for permanent weight loss through life-style changes:

  • Increase fruit and vegetable intake
  • Decrease fatty animal foods like cheese, meat; try both decreasing portion size and reducing the frequency these foods are consumed
  • Be very careful with dressings, gravies, spreads
  • Try new dressings like humus and low fat styles
  • Have a small snack between meals to keep your metabolism churning. Maybe a few nuts; a piece of fruit, some vegetables and low fat dip; a piece of low fat string cheese or Laughing Cow (the idea here is measured); or cut and weigh a chunk of your own cheese. Cheese can add up fast and has lots of saturated fat; but it can also help you feel satisfied for a long time.
  • Measure your food; at least at the beginning of creating new habits. You need to see what right-sized portions for you look like.
  • Look at the many hints for weight management on this website.

You may lose weight very quickly if you’re using the manufactured little packages, but if you decide to invest the time and learn new permanent eating behaviors that work for you while eating real foods – healthy foods, then you will over time develop the skills for maintaining the weight loss. Plus, you will have discovered what works for you – through a learning experience uniquely your own.