Sunday, November 10, 2013


My mom wasn't always fat
You might look at me and think I'm not a person who struggles with a huge appetite. But you'd be oh-so-wrong. I've spent much of my life thinking about what I was going to eat/drink next. The only thing that stopped me from getting really overweight was this: a mother who nagged. She was such a good nag that though she's been dead for 28 years, I can still hear her say, "Cyndie, don't get fat. Don't ever get fat."

My mom died when she was 60. Pretty much from being fat, or so she thought. The exact cause was breast cancer that had metastasized throughout her body, but that was only one of many illnesses she suffered from: bad teeth, migraines, depression, miscarriages, kidney stones, high blood pressure, Type II diabetes, and finally cancer. All of these ailments come under the heading bad diet and yet, she knew A LOT about "healthy eating"!

She fed us balanced dinners around the dinner table with a meat, a green vegetable, and a starch. She made us fresh squeezed orange juice for breakfast. Made sure we drank three glasses of milk a day and limited our deserts to three cookies. She didn't keep many sweets around the house.

My mom didn't drink alcohol except on special occasions, one cocktail. She knew bread made you fat and always removed one slice from her sandwich in restaurants. At McDonalds (where she didn't eat often -- but back in the 70's it was a special treat and there was no Super Sizing) she'd remove the top half of the bun and we'd split a small bag of fries.

She loved shopping at farm stands and made a big deal about buying what was in season.

She sat in the sun when the weather permitted (no talk about Vitamin D, but she just knew it was good for her). In the winter, when the sun shone through the living room window of our house outside Chicago, she'd lie in that patch with a book or magazine to brighten her mood. She believed in fresh air and swimming in lakes.

My mom knew being fat was bad for her health, but she didn't have the information to prevent piling on the pounds. Neither did I, until just recently. I'm 58. That's a long time to fight cravings. But I've won. I'm no longer fighting constant hunger. But it took three years of trial and error to finally figure it out.

I get angry when I think how much of what I've learned flies in the face of general medical recommendations and the national guidelines about what's healthy. There are people out there giving good advice, but they are still like voices in the wilderness, like the first scientists who warned us about global warning, they're shoveling against a tide of hard-wired bad habits, addictions, a food industry, and a government that's invested in many of the wrong types of foods.

Here is what I know about appetite and controlling cravings that my mom didn't:

1. Wheat makes you hungry -- more than any other ingredient except maybe sugar. Don't eat either of them, particularly early in the day.

2. High glycemic foods make you hungry. Don't eat them for breakfast or you'll feel hungry an hour and a half later... and you'll continue like that all day. If you want high glycemic foods in your diet, eat them at the last meal of the day.

The Australians have done the most research on the glycemic index (GI) of foods, so use the University of Sidney's website to learn about the glycemic index. That's where I learned: Foods with a high GI are those which are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Low-GI foods, by virtue of their slow digestion and absorption, produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels. Diets low in GI foods help control appetite and delay hunger. 

Spoiler alert: potatoes, rice, other grains, and everything containing wheat (think: almost all traditional breakfast foods except bacon and eggs) are among the highest GI rated foods. A high GI rating means your body has to put out a lot of insulin to absorb them. When your insulin soars, it crashes more quickly and then you're hungry again...

3. Sweet drinks, whether regular soda, 100% fruit juice, sports drinks, or artificially sweetened drinks make you hungry. That's because your body wasn't made to take in sugar so quickly and so it doesn't respond with a full feeling the way it would if you chewed up and swallowed foods containing sugar. Drink water. Or coffee or tea. Unsweetened.

4. Sweet fruits make you hungry. Save fruit for deserts and since you don't eat desert for breakfast, that means don't eat fruit the first half of the day.

5. Don't eat unless you're hungry. If you're not hungry in the morning, don't eat breakfast. You might not be hungry until 11, or noon... that's great! When you do get hungry, start the day with protein and vegetables. You won't be hungry again for 3-6 hours. If you habitually eat when you're not hungry, you are not listening to your body. Your gut is like a second brain, give it some respect.

6. Fat is not to be feared. Lots of fats are good for you. You need fat to feel full (and your brain needs fat to function well).  So use a lot of butter, olive oil, and coconut oil when you cook, it will help the meal satisfy you longer.

7. All meals should be half vegetables. Vegetables have the vitamins and minerals and other nutrients your body craves. When you get your vitamins and minerals, your body feels satisfied and stops telling you to eat more. Also, vegetables have lots of fiber which keeps your body busy digesting. When you're digesting, you're not feeling hungry.

8. Calorie counting will get you in trouble. If you think about calories first, you're liable to eat high glycemic index foods, artificially sweetened drinks, items made with wheat and you'll be hungry all the time. And you will give in to your hunger. So instead of thinking about calories, think about nutrition. For example, let's say you're famished at an inconvenient time and you have to buy something quick, like in a convenience store. Choose peanuts or tree nuts. Forget about the calories... there's lots of them. But this snack will fill you up and give your body some processing to do -- which is good! (Here's a great video about how nuts don't make you gain weight: When your body is processing food, it's not telling you you're hungry! Our bodies were meant to process food, not to eat it pre-processed, which brings me to #9.

9. Processed food makes you hungry. Avoid it.

Even after 28 years, I still wish my mom was around to hear all this.  I think she'd appreciate it, and I think she'd knock off a lot of that unhealthy weight.



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