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Forget Diets - To Achieve Health And Wellness, Learn To Eat Intentionally

Mar 11, 2008
South Beach? Jenny Craig? Weight Watchers? Discount Vitamins? Discount Herbs? As America's waistline grows, more of us are looking for help in fighting the battle of the bulge. However, we're bombarded by nutrition information overload, much of it contradictory. Perhaps we can help make some sense of this subject.

First, the simple truth; we gain weight when we burn up fewer calories than we digest. No hocus-pocus can change that. To lose weight, we must reduce the amount we digest, or the amount we burn up. Most weight loss programs target one or more of these points. Some math is inevitable, and we apologize. A pound of fat represents roughly 3,500 calories. A moderate walk might burn 300 calories an hour, so for each pound you want to lose, plan to walk almost 12 hours and 36 miles, about one and a quarter laps of Manhattan Island, or 21 times across the Golden Gate Bridge. There are many benefits we realize from exercise, but losing weight strictly via exercise is a tough road. Therefore, most people end up tackling the calorie intake part of the problem. Here, we have countless choices of diet programs, but most fall into one of these categories; the food pyramid, carbohydrate restricted, and fat restricted.

Diets such as Weight Watchers' Flex Plan concentrate on eating nutritious foods in proportions similar to those of the familiar food pyramid, while limiting total calorie intake. Using a number of psychological tools including group support, the company has one of the best records for sustained success. Companies such as Jenny Craig go one step further, providing clients with premade meals that do away with any decision making. However, they don't come cheap. In the 90's, following in the footsteps of Dr. Dean Ornish's claims that a minimal fat diet could reverse heart damage, low fat diets became popular. None had the impact, however, of Dr. Atkins revolutionary low-carb diet. The notion that we could lose weight while thriving on a regime of sausage and bacon was wildly popular with the public, and has led to offshoots such as the still-popular South Beach Diet.

All have their shortcomings, however. Studies have shown the low-fat diet difficult to maintain. The low-carb diet has been linked with some increased health risks. Jenny Craig, and to a lesser degree Weight Watchers, take an ongoing financial commitment. The chances that weight lost via any of these diets will stay off after we complete the diet are poor, unless we come to accept that eating is a lifetime occupation, and finding the balance between intake and outgo is a life skill, not a campaign. The key to this is eating intentionally.

The first step is learning what our body needs. For our body to function well, it needs protein and fat, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and a thousand other nutrients. Whether from meal replacements or a savvy, wide selection of food, our health and wellness depends on stoking the engine that is our body with the proper fuel. Fortunately, what surprises many of us is that, once we start eating the fruits, vegetables, fiber that our body needs, our cravings for calorie and fat-laden snacks diminishes.

The second step in eating intentionally is breaking the negative cycle of self-criticism. To quote Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, "It's not your fault." Back in the days when we lived in caves and hunted with spears, plentitude and starvation were all to frequent. So our propensity to store food as fat is an instinct, one that served us well for thousands of years. However, this instinct isn't working for us now. In a time where scarcity isn't a problem, we need to learn to reprogram ourselves to reign in this instinct. Changing an instinctual behavior isn't impossible, either; we have learned to manage our instinct to reproduce, for example.

What eating intentionally takes is understanding about nutrition, practice, and patience. Learning how what you eat determines how you feel and function. Practicing wise food selection (and by practicing we mean trying, making mistakes, and trying again). Patience means treating yourself with kindness, looking at eating as a lifelong process, and making steady but gradual changes that last.

Learn to eat intentionally and you can jump off the diet roller coaster forever. And isn't that what we really want?
About the Author
Silvio D'Amato is a leading clinician and health educator. His studies in natural medicine and preventive healthcare management led him inexorably to VitaNet Health Foods, http://vitanetonline.com/ which offers discount vitamins. Please use the link when reproducing article.
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