Bad decisions weighed heavy

03:28, Jul 24 2012
tdn eat
Harvard's healthy eating plate

It happened over Easter and it happened fast.

Looking around for scapebunnies didn't help. You see it was me who scoffed the chocolate, the hot cross buns puddled with melted butter, the blue cheese, the camembert and scoffed just about everything I am allowed - in moderation.

Remember, this massive quest to halve my body weight from 120kg down to 60kg, is being done without dieting, but sensible healthy eating, mindfulness and lots of exercise.

tdn eat gal
Harvard's healthy eating plate

So, when I stood on the scales a week after Easter and saw they'd gone up from 90kg to 93kg, I was exceptionally annoyed with myself and that bunny. OK, just me.

It's happened to all of us.

Holidays, weekends away, birthdays, anniversary dinners, weddings, festive celebrations, family gatherings, office morning teas, potluck dinners, barbecues, funeral "join us for refreshments" - life is just one long table of temptations.


And that's without the takeaways, drive-throughs, home deliveries and biscuits in the cupboard.

So how do we survive this overwhelming onslaught of food?

When I need support - and we all do - a good mate sends me amazingly wonderful emails to remind me how far I've come. Then she'll give me one piece of advice that worked for her.

So get yourself a supporter or a whole crew. It could be a best friend, someone who appears out of the blue or a person you seek advice from. Your family also has to be behind you, because this is for life, not this month's fad sure- to-fail diet that will cause your weight to yo-yo and turn food into "the enemy". Because it is OK to love food - I do.

Next, turn to the experts.

While I'm a constant net surfer, there are two places I invariably find myself heading to for the best nutrition advice, up-to-date information and great recipes: Harvard University in the United States and the Healthy Food Guide in New Zealand.

To help people choose what to eat at each sitting, the Harvard School of Public Health and colleagues at Harvard Health Publications unveiled the "healthy eating plate".

This is made up of one half vegetables and fruits, one quarter whole grains, and one quarter healthy protein.

The Harvard nutritionists say the words "whole" and "healthy" are important words on this plate, because refined grains, like white breads, pastas, and rice, have less fibre and fewer nutrients than whole grains, such as wholewheat bread and brown rice.

Healthy proteins include fish, poultry, beans, and nuts, but not red meats or processed meats. "Many studies have shown that red meats and especially processed meats are linked with colorectal cancer - and that you can lower your risk for heart disease by replacing either type of meat with healthier protein sources."

They recommend eating red meats sparingly and only the leanest cuts and avoiding processed meat altogether.

If you want to feel full, pile on the vegetables and fruit, which are high in fibre. These also contain many vitamins and minerals, plus hundreds of beneficial phytochemicals that you can't get in supplements.

"Diets rich in vegetables and fruit can benefit the heart by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and inflammation and improving insulin resistance and blood vessel function," the Harvard specialists say.

"In long-term observational studies, people who eat more fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and weight gain, and those who eat more fruit also have a lower risk of stroke."

Eat in season when you can, especially now in New Zealand while our autumn harvest is so bountiful, but the Harvard crew says when fresh offerings aren't available, it's OK to eat canned, frozen or dried fruit and vegetables when you can't get them, but avoid heavy syrup and salt.

Next up, your plate needs to have the "good fats".

"At one time, we were told to eat less fat, but now we know that it's mainly the type of fat that counts. The most beneficial sources are plants and fish," they say.

People can lower the "bad" LDL cholesterol by eating "good" fats.

These are the mostly polyunsaturated fats in vegetable oils and omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, seeds and nuts, and canola oil, and mono-unsaturated fats, found in avocados and many plant-based oils, such as olive oil and canola oil.

The Harvard nutritionists say that the saturated fats found mostly in dairy and meat products and trans fats, which are the hydrogenated fats found in many fried and baked goods, boost LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, increasing your risk of heart disease.

"Worse still, trans fats reduce your 'good' HDL cholesterol," they say.

But it's not all bad news: "As long as you replace bad fats with good ones, you can get up to 35 per cent of your calories from fat."

There is more than a grain of truth in upping your fibre on the Harvard plate.

By replacing those refined grains and potatoes with whole grains, we will be getting more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and those plant wonders - phytochemicals.

Much of this goodness is removed from refined grains, such as white bread and white rice and is barely present in starches such as potatoes.

"Starches and refined carbohydrates are digested quickly, causing surges in insulin and blood sugar, boosting triglycerides, and lowering HDL cholesterol. These changes increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes," the nutritionists say.

"The rapid rise and fall of blood sugar and insulin can also make you hungry, raising the risk of weight gain."

However, they do say that potatoes aren't all bad; they're a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and fibre. But eat them only occasionally, in small amounts, and with the skins on because that's where the fibre is.

Other good sources of wholegrain fibre are quinoa, millet and amaranth, which can be used in breads, salads, cereals, cooked hot like rice and ground into flours for baking.

One of my favourite articles in the Healthy Food Guide is about reprogramming your mind to avoid winter weight gain.

This is my favourite tip of all and one I constantly pass on to others:

"Take baby steps. Tackle your changes one at a time. Success comes from building mastery in one area first. The confidence you gain from the first mastery will assist the next change on your agenda," Jo Joiner's article says.

Because any life change begins one step at a time, not one leap.

And for the record - I'm back down to 90kg and teetering on the edge of the 80s.

Taranaki Daily News