MANILA, December 20, 2003 (STAR) AN APPLE A DAY By Tyrone M. Reyes, M.D. - Opportunities to eat tempt us 24/7. You can’t go to a shopping mall, movie theater, airport, sports stadium, gas station, or amusement park without running the gauntlet of at least half a dozen food kiosks and fast-food restaurants.

As if that weren’t enough, the holiday season can mean an endless round of parties, receptions, and family gatherings, each with tempting platters of the most appealing foods your hosts can dream up. Here’s how to practice defensive eating ... now and throughout the year. Wired To Eat As a psychologist at Yale University, Kelly Brownell has conducted research on obesity for the last 25 years. The unprecedented changes in the way food is sold, advertised, and prepared has led to what he calls our "toxic food environment."

"The number of opportunities to eat has risen dramatically," observes Brownell. "Food – usually junk food – is everywhere, including institutions like schools, which should be the ones teaching healthy eating habits. We’ve got drive-up windows, packaged meals, home deliveries, and restaurants that stay open for 24 hours. They’re making it easier and easier to eat a terrible diet."

Think of yourself as a target. Restaurants and food stores are competing for what the industry calls "share of stomach." Like any retailer, they’ll do everything they can to tempt you to buy more. Unfortunately, fruits and vegetables are not as tempting to many people as cinnamon buns and chocolate-dipped ice cream cones. "There’s a tremendous financial interest in pushing us to eat junk foods," says Brownell. Of course, it’s not as though people are powerless. But, why can’t we recognize when we’ve had enough?

"We’re biologically wired to eat when we’re not hungry and to prefer food that is high in fat and calories," notes Brownell. "In an ancient environment, that was the way to survive the next famine. But now that we have unlimited access to food 24 hours a day, we continue to eat even during times we really don’t need to."

And it’s not just biology and availability that people have to resist. For instance, our own Philippine culture celebrates food. And since childhood, we have been encouraged to eat as much as we can and not to leave anything on our plates. And we associate food with love and caring. For some, food is a friend or an escape from the world. And during holidays like Christmas, food is the centerpiece of the celebration. Any one of these alone could be a powerful force, but when you add them all together – such as during this holiday season – it’s virtually irresistible! Defensive Strategies Yet, there are many people who manage to stay slim in a fattening world. That’s gotten many scientists, researchers, physicians and nutritionists to zero in on what enables them to finish the day with fewer calories rather than more. Here are some of the defensive eating strategies that they have recommended:

• Serving size. "It doesn’t matter whether you’re obese or lean, or if you were brought up to be a plate-cleaner or not," says Barbara Rolls of Pennsylvania State University. "The bigger the portion, the more people eat ... and they’re not even aware of it." And portions in restaurants keep growing. There are now restaurant dishes that exceed 1,000 calories!

Solution: The next time you pick up a menu, choose the items that are followed by "Serves 2."

• Calorie-dense foods. When you give people foods that pack a lot of calories into a small volume, they ingest more calories.

"Whether we let people serve themselves from a platter or we serve them food on a plate, they consume more calories if the foods are calorie-dense," says Rolls, whose book Volumetrics: Feel Full on Fewer Calories teaches people how to use calorie density to stay slim.

Calorie density explains why fatty foods, sweets, and other refined carbohydrates can add unwanted pounds. And you can practically inhale calorie-dense foods before you feel full. "I can eat a McDonald’s hamburger in about 90 seconds," says Susan Roberts of the Human Nutrition Research Center at Tufts University in Boston. "It takes 30 minutes of eating before satiety hormones kick in to make you feel full." In contrast, you consume fewer calories after eating 30 minutes of low-fat, high-fiber foods like fruits and vegetables. Their low-calorie density makes you feel full on less.

Solution: "Fill up your plate with salad greens and vegetables and use calorie-dense foods as condiments," says Rolls. "But watch the dressing you put on salad because it drives the calorie density way up." Other foods that rock up calories fast: Most deserts, cheese, salads made with mayonnaise, fried foods and meats.

• Variety. " The more varied the food, the more you eat," says Rolls. "So use variety to work for you."

People who have the most body fat eat a greater variety of most foods than others, says Roberts. In other words, stock six rims of cookies in your cupboard and the variety might tempt you to eat more than when you have only one. "If people are offered three different kinds of sandwiches, they’ll eat more than if they are given three of the same sandwich," says Roberts.

The exemption: "People who eat the greatest varieties of vegetables have the least body fat."

Solution: Save your variety for vegetables, fruits, soups, and other foods with low-calorie density. You won’t tire of them easily, and they’ll leave less room in your diet for junk.

• Liquid calories. The calories you drink don’t seem to register as well as the calories in solid food. So when you add a 20-ounce soft drink to your lunch, you usually don’t compensate by eating 250 fewer calories of solid food.

"Alcohol is a worse problem," says Rolls. "It’s not only high in calories, but it makes you lose your inhibitions. So after the first glass of wine, you may say ‘What the heck’ and overeat."

Solution: If you’re watching your calories, stick with water or other low-calorie beverages for most meals.

• Exercise. It’s tough to lose weight and keep it off. But Brown University’s Rena Wing and colleagues have a registry of more than 3,500 people who’ve managed to drop at least 30 pounds and not regain their weight for at least a year.

How do they do it?

According to Wing, they eat a low-fat diet and exercise a tremendous amount," says Wing. They burn an average of 2,800 calories a week that’s equivalent to walking four miles a day, though they typically report a mixture of activities rather than just walking.

Solution: Get off your duff and start moving.

• Restaurants. "Restaurants serve large portions of foods that are calorie-dense, varied and palatable," says Tufts University’s Susan Roberts.

That may explain why people who eat out more often are more likely to be overweight. Restaurants stuff you to the gills. But you can fight their fattening ways.

Solution: Use available charts which list the calories of restaurant foods. Remember that the food usually comes with rice, potatoes and other side dishes which are not yet included in the calorie count. So are deserts which can add an extra 250 to 1,500 calories to your meal.

Just remember however that calories aren’t everything. Other nutrients – like saturated and trans fats, sodium, and sugar – also matter to your health.

Happy holiday eating!

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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