Picking Your Game Plan
by Larry C. Baker
June 13, 2004
In a world where fast-food
restaurants reside on every block and even gas stations are
as ready to fill you up with sweets as they are to fill up
your car with unleaded, losing and keeping off weight is a
Because of our toxic food environment, losing weight
requires a cogent plan, a series of actionable events.
Picking your game plan for weight loss entails deciding
which diets and exercise programs are best for you as an
individual. Focus on a diet that's good for the long run.
Pick out a plan you can stick to, that fits your personal
style and preferences, and then follow it consistently. Then
you can win the diet game and keep on winning!
Today, many observers have noted that the sport of creating
weight-loss programs runs rampant.
Frequently, a pushy announcer appears on early morning TV
promoting a new, improved slant on losing weight. Then, even
before the next commercial break, at least five other
nutritionists begin promoting variations on the new dietary
But the overweight situation in the US today is truly
reaching a desperate state, and public medical officials
believe that we face a rapidly developing crisis
inextricably linked to America's growing weight problem.
So the most important measure for improving your health is
to pick a dependable weight-loss plan and stick to it until
you reach a healthy goal weight.
Then, you'll need to modify your diet so you can stay at
that healthy weight for the rest of your life.
The most popular lose-weight variations can be generally
• Carbohydrate counting
• Calorie counting
Which diet is right for you? You make the call.
Seems like counting carbs to control weight has become a
national pastime. Experts estimate that up to two out of
three Americans are now counting carbs.
While some critics feel the carb obsession is just a new hot
trend, others point to it as a health and weight control
revolution. And carb counters testify to its effectiveness.
Many point to their significant long-term success at taking
weight off, and to feeling more energetic and healthier than
they have felt in many years.
As a result of these low-carb developments, food makers,
supermarkets and restaurants have hurried to make enough
low-carb products available to fulfill consumers' dieting
In the meantime, food labels everywhere now loudly proclaim
the absence of carbs, and wary consumers are poring over
package labels to make sure that goods they contain are low
in sugars and starch.
Simultaneously, in the search to hold down their
carbohydrate consumption, folks concerned about their health
are cutting way back on starchy breads, carb-filled
potatoes, spaghetti, rice, soft drinks and many different
types of fruit.
To initially launch a low-carb diet, or keep on course for
your long-term weight maintenance, keeping careful count of
carbs is crucial for reaching and staying at your goal
In this weight-loss process, you have to be sure of, and
keep daily track of, your carbs. After calculating your
daily carbohydrate needs, it's a relatively simple manner to
stay within your predetermined carb boundaries and keep on
That's a big reason why counting carbs has been such
remarkably successful game plan for so many dieters: Simply
counting carbs, these dieters have found, keeps them right
on track for taking off pounds and getting down to their
A side benefit of losing these pounds is a sense of renewed
energy, health and vitality when carbs are limited in this
fashion. (Of course, taking up a consistent exercise program
at the same time doesn't hurt, either.)
A factor that feeds into the popularity of carb counting are
the tools available to help dieters stay on the
tried-and-true path of carbohydrate limitation. Yes, many
folks do check food labels and add up their daily
carbohydrate intake. But many have found that so-called carb
counters make keeping track of carbs very simple.
These counting devices are also handy for revealing the
hidden carbs in foods like beans, which may have 50 grams of
carbs in a cup; dried fruit, which has 50 grams in half a
cup; and some forms of squash, which contain practically 11
grams of carb in half of a cup.
For many people the thought of independently keeping track
of these carbohydrates is daunting. Luckily, the modern-day
carb counter doesn't have to do it all by herself. Quite a
few easy-to-use calculators can be had to assist in the
counting, usable even for those unable to count on their
fingers and toes. With the use of these tools, you can very
accurately add up your daily carbohydrate totals and ensure
that you are locking in your best low-carb dieting results.
For instance, a tool called KetoCounter, located at
www.ketocounter.com, totals up carb counts and contains a
myriad of nutrition information on thousands of different
At this website, carb counters can roam through a wealth of
food categories, feed in their serving sizes and have
KetoCounter calculate their carb counts. Even if you are
math phobic, KetoCounter makes sure you come up with the
right total. To keep your low-carbohydrate diet on track
nutritionally, tools like KetoCounter help you make sure
that your meals don't dip too low in certain nutrients. (If
they do, you can make up the difference with the right
The utility of KetoCounter is its ability to help dieters
perform more accurate dietary analyses than they can do on
The advantages of counting carbs in this way: Careful daily
carb counts ensures weight loss. Analyzing your nutritional
intakes allows you to figure out what kind of dietary
supplements you may need. Your digestion may also be
improved by getting the right nutrients in this way.
Another advantage to this type of carb counting is the extra
help dieters receive to make sure they don't get hung up in
the weight-loss doldrums. By carefully adding supplements,
lags in weight loss can usually be overcome.
Most importantly, proper supplementation enables you to stay
healthy even as you lose weight: you don't have to sacrifice
your health for a low-carbohydrate diet. KetoCounter can
serve as a warning flag, alerting dieters when their
nutritional intake is simply not adequate.
It is easy to calculate carbohydrates for packaged foods,
once you know how to properly read a nutrition label. With
the aid of a nutrition calculator like KetoCounter, tracking
carbs is easier than ever.
Proof is in the Loss
Research is starting to pile up that proves counting carbs
and eating more protein is one of the most effective way to
maintain a healthy weight. When researchers in Germany, for
example, put lab animals on a variety of diets, they found
that those eating more protein had more antioxidants in
their bodies. That kind of extra help against free radical
buildup produces a potentially stronger resistance to
life-threatening diseases (Journal of Nutrition 2000;
Meanwhile, when scientists at Duke University put 50
volunteers on a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet, the
researchers found that four out of five of them stayed on
the diet for six months and lost an average of 20 pounds
each. None of these dieters felt deprived as they lost
In the Duke research, people ate as much meat and eggs as
they wanted plus a couple of cups of salad and a cup of low-carb
vegetables like broccoli every day, and they still lost
Counting carbohydrates helps health because it limits
consumption of simple sugars. How dangerous to our health
are simple sugars? Well, according to experts, the fact that
we are drinking vastly more soft drinks and fruit juices
than we used to is a major contributor to our obesity
epidemic and our diabetic dilemmas.
" Over the past several years, a number of studies have
emerged that indicated how soft drink and fruit drink intake
are adversely linked with adolescent and adult weight gain
in the United States and Europe," notes Dr. Barry Popkin,
PhD, professor of nutrition at the University of North
In the decades since 1977, Dr. Popkin's research shows that
sugary drinks alone have added 66 calories a day from sugar
to the average American's diet. During that time period,
American citizens, on average, increased their daily intake
of sugar calories by 83 calories.
" When the results of this study are coupled with earlier
studies, we can clearly see the pronounced shift in the [US
and the] world's diet toward increased consumption of
caloric sweeteners and away from higher-fiber foods," the
researchers note. "Thus, we are increasingly consuming foods
that provide energy but few other nutrients."
A calorie-counting program is appealing to many people
because of its simplicity: it limits food (calories) but
doesn't require you to pay that much attention to what kinds
of foods you consume.
As part of this effort, most experts recommend strict
portion control. Don't serve yourself overly large amounts
of food, and limit the amount of food you have available in
your house. Be especially vigilant when eating out;
restaurants tend to fill plates with way too much food.
Limiting portions is crucial because people tend to eat the
food put before them. For instance, when Penn State
scientists served sandwiches of various sizes to 75 people
once a week for a month, they offered sandwiches that were
six, eight, ten or twelve inches long each time. The people
in the study could eat as much or as little as they desired.
The results weren't surprising. While not all the food was
eaten, being served larger portions led to more consumption
(Journal of the American Dietetic Association March 2004).
The researchers conclude that having less on the plate in
front of you means you eat less and, therefore, should weigh
Counting calories, while relatively simple in concept, may
not be for everyone. This approach to weight loss entails
knowing and calculating how many calories are in the food
you eat and then tracking your daily totals. This effort can
be time consuming: a pound of body fat equals about 3,500
calories, so if you cut back your food intake by 100
calories a day, it will take you more than a month to lose a
pound. To maintain a weekly weight loss of about one pound,
you need to eliminate 500 calories a day.
Make Your Calories Count
Cutting down on your calorie intake requires that you get
the biggest nutritional bang for your buck from the calories
that are left. That means eating complex carbohydrates, such
as vegetables and whole grains. These foods contain an
impressive array of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients
usually missing from more refined foods.
Another advantage of complex carbs on a calorie-counting
diet lies in their high fiber content. Fiber is considered a
big help to dieters since it makes you feel full but,
because it is not absorbed by the body, cannot be a source
of calories used to create new body fat. Fiber also helps
keep your intestines in peak condition, and helps hold your
cholesterol down, to boot.
How do you make room for complex carbohydrates when you cut
calories? One of the best ways is to avoid empty sugar
According to Sandra Woodruff, RD, author of The Best Kept
Secrets of Healthy Cooking (Avery), "[S]ugary foods are
typically eaten in place of nutritious foods....sugary foods
are usually loaded with calories, making them a real menace
if you're watching your weight."
If you are cutting calories and worried about the sugar in
your meals and in your blood, researchers who have studied
people with diabetes have noted 12 good eating habits to
keep sugar under control and three bad habits you should
The habits to embrace, says Carla Miller, PhD, Penn State
nutrition professor, include: Strictly curtail your
consumption of high-sugar foods; limit all your food portion
sizes; cut way back on desserts; ease off the fatty foods;
eat complex carbs for breakfast.
Dr. Miller says you should eat three meals a day (don't
skip!) and take a shopping list to the health food store.
And while you can eat two vegetables with dinner, limit your
starchy carbs, like bread, pasta, rice, crackers or
When you go out to eat, don't eat at buffets, which
encourage overconsumption of all foods, and stay away from
fast food joints and large chain restaurants. The choices
there often contain way too much sugar.
To burn more calories as you diet, increasing the amount of
time you spend exercising is crucial. Some experts recommend
wearing a pedometer (which counts your steps) and trying to
take at least 10,000 steps a day. That kind of activity can
burn up to 3,000 calories a week.
This kind of dieting can help control weight, although
whether it is effective over a long period of time is open
to question. Counting calories all the time can become
boring and oppressive after awhile.
However, an advantage to calorie cutting is the possibility
that limiting your food this way may help you live longer.
An impressive amount of research in laboratories has shown
that when lab animals eat less (but still receive adequate
nutrition in terms of vitamins and minerals) their life
However, no one has ever shown that eating less extends
lifespan among humans. Nevertheless, investigations with
mice do show that taking in fewer calories-about a third
less food than normal-does extend life significantly, at
least if you are a mouse. Can the same technique work for
Well, in larger animals, researchers have found that cutting
back on food seems to lower so-called biomarkers of aging:
substances in the blood that show the aging-related
breakdown of organs (American Journal of Physiology 1994;
Studies show that eating a tiny amount of food (while taking
supplements to fill in your missing nutrients) can possibly
keep your nervous system from deteriorating, preserve the
function of your reproductive organs and keep hormones at
younger levels. In laboratory tests, food restriction helps
the immune system; in addition, it seems to postpone the
development of some cancers (Journals of Gerontology:
Biology Sciences and Medical Sciences 1999; 54:B89-96).
Whether or not you count carbohydrates or calories, eating a
vegetarian diet can help you keep off the pounds. Vegetarian
diets, of course, are different things to different people.
For some, it's a moral choice not to consume animal
products. For others, it's a health decision to lower their
risk of cancer and heart disease while staying slender.
Sticking to vegetarian foods can help you lose weight, since
it can be an effective way to cut calories without having to
Unfortunately, merely cutting out animal products from your
diet-if you're a typical American-may leave you deprived of
nutrients like iron and protein. The healthiest way to eat
as a vegetarian and still eat a nutritious diet is to
utilize recipes and dishes from other cultures in which
people have traditionally dined on vegetarian foods.
As Madhur Jaffrey points out in World Vegetarian (Clarkson
Potter), "Vegetarian traditions have existed in China and
India for thousands of years, and like the dietary rules and
restrictions of Islam and Judaism, have been prompted by the
strong religious beliefs of large numbers of people. There
is, thus, a deep core to them that explains their endurance.
The great variety in eastern vegetarian dishes may be
explained by their slow evolution as they were tested and
added to over time."
Today, about 3% of Americans are vegetarians. In general,
those 3% weigh less than the average American. " Vegetarians
have been reported to have healthier body weight than
non-vegetarians, as well as lower rates of death from heart
disease, lower blood cholesterol levels and lower rates of
high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and prostate and colon
cancer," says Cynthia Sass, RD, a spokesperson for the
American Dietetic Association.
" Planning a healthy vegetarian diet doesn't need to be
complicated, but steps should be taken to ensure the diet is
nutrient-dense," she notes. "Just as with a meat-based diet,
the key to ensuring the body meets all its nutritional needs
is to choose a wide variety of foods."
Pick a Plan, Any Plan
No matter which diet plan you pick, if you lose weight and
exercise, you are sure to improve your health.
Certainly, the evidence is clear about which eating plan not
to choose: Research shows that the typical fat-filled
fast-food meal produces unfortunate effects on both your
weight and body.
A study at the State University of New York at Buffalo found
that eating a breakfast of Egg McMuffin and hash browns
releases a flood of oxidants (free radicals) that may damage
blood vessels (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition April
" Eating that 900-calorie, high-fat meal temporarily floods
the blood stream with inflammatory components, overwhelming
the body's natural inflammation-fighting mechanisms," warns
Ahmad Aljada, PhD, research assistant professor in the
Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, at
Buffalo's School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
So stay away from those fast-food binges and start walking
every day. Your body, freed from the ravages of free
radicals, may shrink radically, but your good health will
have every opportunity to expand.
Reasons to Diet
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC), approximately 130 million Americans, or 64% of the
population, are overweight or obese. Linked to this weight
gain is an epidemic over the past ten years of type 2
diabetes. Your chances of this type of diabetes is greatly
increased when you gain weight and you don't exercise.
The CDC figures that more than 18 million people in the US
now suffer from diabetes, and more than nine of ten of them
have type 2. Frighteningly, the proportion of adults with
diabetes jumped 65% from 1990 to 2001.
" Statistically, adults in the US have gained 2 billion
pounds over the past decade, which is an average of one
pound per year per person. This is true for both men and
women," says C. Ronald Kahn, MD, president and director of
the Joslin Diabetes Center.
" For every one-pound increase in [your] weight, [you have]
a 3% to 4% increase in [your chances] of type 2 diabetes.
[That translates into]...about 800,000 new cases. We urge
individual Americans to take steps to reduce their own risk
of diabetes, but I also believe prevention must be a
priority for the healthcare industry, the food industry and
Picking a Diet
The most important weight-loss question for every overweight
American, according to Dr. Kahn, is not whether a low-fat
diet or a vegetarian diet works better or worse than
low-carbohydrate diets, but the simple fact that you have to
do something, go on a diet and exercise, to lose pounds and
control your weight. " It boils down to how much we eat and
how active we are," he warns.
Despite what many people believe, a large body of research
shows that a majority of the factors that determine how much
you weigh are in your control, says Dr. Kahn.
" While research performed at Joslin and elsewhere has shown
that genetics and metabolic factors both play key roles in
body weight, we know that Americans' expanding waistlines
can be tightened with at least two simple changes-portion
control and increased physical activity," he says.
" No matter what diet regimen you advocate, a calorie is a
calorie," Dr. Kahn adds. "The overall caloric intake in the
US is simply too high. Americans are eating too much. If you
regularly eat more calories than you burn, you will become
Lose a Little
Research into how your weight affects your health
demonstrates that small losses in weight can have big
benefits on your well-being.
Losing a moderate amount of weight-on the order of a
10-pound reduction-and moderate exercise, such as walking a
mere 30 minutes a day, can drop your risk of developing type
2 diabetes by almost 60%.
" However," Dr. Kahn warns, "I believe we can accelerate our
efforts to decrease obesity and type 2 diabetes if the
government, the food industry and the health care industry
partner for prevention."
No matter what diet you are on, be careful about what you
order in restaurants. " More restaurants," says Dr. Kahn,
"both fast food and fancy food, should re-examine their
offerings as McDonald's did...when it an-nounced plans to
eliminate its supersized offerings. The food industry needs
to boost its efforts to clearly label nutrition facts and
cut marketing of unhealthy, high-calorie snacks to kids.
" Too often are consumers fooled by foods that look healthy
but are excessively calorically dense, like mixtures of
yogurt and fruit whips, or by misleading caloric
information, like reporting calories on a giant cookie snack
assuming the portion eaten will be only one quarter of the
cookie. " And the health care and health insurance
industries must not only increase study of the fundamental
mechanisms of obesity and diabetes, but also focus on public
Meanwhile, kids need to lose weight, too. Schockingly, rates
of obesity among this nation's children have tripled since
the 1970s. The CDC estimates that nearly one in six American
children and adolescents-about nine million in total-are
either overweight or obese.
" This is truly a time bomb for further fueling the epidemic
of type 2 diabetes. And we must remember that people with
diabetes are at risk for serious long-term complications,
including heart disease, blindness, kidney disease and
amputations," Dr. Kahn warns.
The consensus among the experts has rarely been so clear-cut
and noncontroversial: The time to start a weight loss and
exercise program is today. The future of your health, your
good looks and, yes, the nation's health depends on your