A surefire way to curb overeating – and it’s free | NevadaAppeal.com

A surefire way to curb overeating – and it’s free

Hazel Bowen
For the Appeal

A very wise man – Benjamin Franklin, I believe – once said, “Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” I think there are a couple of other things that one could bet on with confidence.

First, people really want to believe that quick and easy fixes will work for just about anything; and second, there will always be someone who will make money on this particular attitude characteristic of human nature. Want to lose weight fast without dieting and exercise? Want to build muscle by taking a supplement? Want to defy the aging process by using this cosmetic? As another man said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

We Americans are a bundle of contradictions. We love to eat, but are consumed by guilt when we eat the things we love. We spend millions of dollars every year on weight-loss products, yet face an unprecedented epidemic of obesity. We believe in individualism, but very seldom seek out anything beyond a chain store. We think we are educated and informed, but are willing to believe in the most ridiculous quackery.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the things we spend our money on. Remember the passive-exercise machines? A person could simply lie there and have the machine move his limbs. Guaranteed increase in fitness! There are hundreds, if not thousands, of products that purportedly build muscle. Pricey, too. If you have a teenage son, you may be all too aware of this.

There are pills that purportedly will increase our metabolism, although the ones that actually work are illegal. These products range from the ridiculous (lidocaine to numb the lips and tongue, thereby decreasing the mouth’s feel and taste of food) to the dangerous (ephedra – banned in 2004 by the FDA).

My personal favorite, Orlistat, once requiring a doctor’s prescription, is now an over-the-counter drug, Alli. Alli blocks fat absorption by inhibiting the enzyme that digests fat. I like to call this the Antabuse of overeaters. The end result isn’t quite as nasty as when a person on Antabuse drinks alcohol, but could come close under certain conditions.

Say a person eats a bag of potato chips … or an order of French fries … or a bowl of ice cream. The result is a nice case of what the medicos call steatorrhea (fatty diarrhea). I guess this is a good thing. It keeps the person away from foods containing fat because he must stay very close to the bathroom.

And vitamin water? Please don’t get me started.

Funny thing is, if I asked every person reading this column what the sure-fire way is to lose fat and get fit, I’d be willing to bet 98 percent of you would say “Eat right and exercise.” But therein lies the rub. What is “eating right”?

Diet books urge us to combine foods to lose weight, eat according to our blood type, eat various proportions of our energy intake in carbs, protein and fat, low-carb, high-protein, low-fat and on and on ad nauseum. What kind of exercise? Cardio? Weights? Circuit training? As Charlie Brown would say, “Arggh!”

Not being a fitness expert, I’ll leave that to those in the know. I do have a very simple suggestion, however, for curbing excessive food consumption: Think! Think about what you are eating and why you are eating it. Think about every bite. Sit down at a table, preferably with another person, to eat. How many of you, in the last week, have eaten a) over the sink, b) in front of the computer, c) while watching television, a movie or a video, d) in the car, e) while reading? You get the picture. Eat mindfully.

Brian Wansink, professor of marketing at Cornell University and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, which focuses on the psychology behind what people eat and how often they eat it, has written a book called “Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More Than We Think” (New York: Bantam-Dell. 2006.) A few of the things he discusses are that most people don’t overeat because they’re hungry. Things that influence the amount we eat are “… family and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colors and candles, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers.” Television watching contributes not only to mindless overeating, but lack of exercise. The amount of time a person spends watching TV also correlates directly with body weight. It’s a book worth reading.

Practicing mindful eating can not only help people control the amount that they eat, but also can have a significant impact on social, environmental and even spiritual issues – but that’s for another column.

• Fresh Ideas: Starting conversations by sharing personal perspectives on timely and timeless issues. Hazel Bowen lives in Washoe Valley and taught nutrition at UNR from 1996 – 2007. She is presently teaching an online nutrition class through UNR Extended Studies Program.