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Eating to be thin

MagazineOctober 1992 (Vol. 3 Issue 7)Eating to be thin

I am so bad with food I can go for a long time eating really well, and then I just can't help myself and go on a binge

I am so bad with food I can go for a long time eating really well, and then I just can't help myself and go on a binge.

Sometimes, if I'm really dieting, I put weight on!

These comments above are typical of what I hear time and again in both my classes and my consultations. The problem of weight is a pervasive one in our society, especially for women. I have found that the majority of the people who binge do so because they're hungry. They may not be hungry for calories, but they're hungry for something. Very often, they're simply hungry for the nutrients that are missing from the foods they usually eat; however, they don't know that, and just pig out to assuage some vague feeling of lack.

For example, sugar, extracted from the sugarcane in the proportion of 17 feet to one cup, is a substance devoid of all nutrients, except purified simple carbohydrates. When this substance is ingested, the body knows something is missing; therefore, it creates an artificial hunger to prompt us to look for the missing nutrients. Result: a feeling of vast emptiness, a dissatisfaction, a longing for something more we don't know what so we go digging about and stuffing ourselves. Of course, what we really want when we try to balance out the sugar is the rest of the sugar cane the part without the carbohydrate.

Reasons for going on a binge (on the physiological level) are simply hunger, either for more food after dietary restrictions, or for more nutrients because of the consumption of concentrated foods. Solution: to avoid binges, consume mostly whole foods with their complete nutrient packages undisturbed: fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds enough of them to feel just satisfied, not stuffed. Avoid concentrated and extracted foods, single nutrients, and the regular intake of "high potency" anything unless medically advised to do so.

Numerous women have found that restricting their food intake does not guarantee weight loss. In some extreme cases, the opposite is true: they eat less and gain! This fact of life contradicts the mathematical theory of weight calories consumed minus calories expended, what my old friend Bill Dufty used to call "savings book nutrition".

There is another theory that helps to explain the "fewer calories equals weight gain" phenomenon: it's known as the set point theory. If calories go down, metabolism (rate of energy absorption) slows down, to ensure survival under inhospitable conditions. According to this theory, exercise is the only thing that increases metabolism. This excellent theory matches reality much more closely than does the "savings book" one. I would additionally note that women are particularly efficient in holding on to reserves in times of famine, simulated by dieting; after all, up until menopause, their bodies are always prepared to make a baby should the occasion arise, and they need the stored energy.

But how can more food create less weight? It's possible to understand this by expanding the "set point" theory and changing one word, to wit: if food quality goes up, metabolism goes up; if food quality goes down, metabolism goes down. We all know that eating more biscuits, ice cream, cakes, white flour, pasta and breads, and fatty and fried foods, will put weight on. On the other hand, eating more whole grains and breads (which contain fibre), fresh vegetables of all kinds, both cooked and raw, tubers and roots, legumes and beans, will more often than not help weight reduction. In fact, if food is satisfying and nourishing, it can help reduce the reserves kept in the form of weight. Then the set point can be lowered, as the body now feels that survival is not at stake.

What is the solution for the dieting doldrums? Very simple: forget dieting. Just eat good food, fresh, natural, whole and hearty, and chew it well. What is needed is a change in systems, a change in the quality of the food consumed. Then it is possible to ignore calories.

Annemarie Colbin, director of the Natural Gourmet Cookery School and author of Food and Healing, is one of America's experts on the effect of food on health.

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