Sunday, May 17, 2009

Book Review: The Way to Eat, David L. Katz

I’ve read many books on diet and nutrition and this one really speaks to me. The author is an MD and a Professor at the Yale University School of Medicine. His premise is that proper eating is the best preventive medicine.

The first section is titled “Knowledge”. He discusses how our bodies are designed for a completely different way of life: that of hunter/gatherers who alternately starve and binge. So we are not weak for following what our bodies tell us to do, instead we are simply doing what comes naturally. It makes me feel better about my inability to eat less and to cut back on the sugar.

He stresses over and over that we’re just human. As long as we generally eat healthy, we should enjoy the occasional treat. If you had a PMS binge, accept it and move on.

I like the scientific, yet practical approach. For example, it makes no impression on me to say “eat vitamin-rich foods” but when he explains that eating foods rich in vitamins and minerals increases levels of brain chemicals that increase good mood (such as serotonin) I get it.

He then goes on to give us practical advice for eating healthy in the modern world:

  • One myth he takes on is the necessity of breakfast. He says, yes, you want to break your overnight fast and eat in the morning, but if you’re not hungry at 7AM, fine, wait until you are hungry at 9, 10, or 11 and call that at breakfast. I do know that if I eat when I get up, I’m hungry at 10 and, if I don’t eat when I get up, I’m hungry at 10. So why consume the extra calories?

  • “…the overall pattern of the diet matters, not a particular food, or meal, or even day. If you usually eat at home, and if your nutrition is generally good, you may choose to eat out occasionally just for the pleasure of it, and not to worry about nutrition. This is reasonable. If, however, you eat out a lot, you will need to admit that what you eat when you eat out has a significant impact on the overall quality of your diet.” This seems like a reasonable approach and one I can understand and implement.

  • He is a proponent of eating lightly and frequently, which is what I prefer. The reasoning: food has the greatest effects on pleasure responses when you have not eaten for a while. If you starve yourself and then binge, the intense relief of bingeing will be positive reinforcement to do it again.

  • Our bodies are programmed to be afraid of hunger. This meant survival in past years, but isn’t applicable for most of us now. To combat this, snack frequently but well. One way to keep from getting too hungry and to make sure you snack healthily is to take a snack bag with you to work. This way, you have planned how you will deal with the hunger.

  • “We tend to eat more when we have access to a wider variety of flavors due to the taste thresholds in the satiety center of our brain.” So he recommends eating a smaller variety of foods at a meal or during a day. Buffets are evil!

  • The more we eat fat, sugar, and salt, the more we crave them. Manufacturers exploit this by adding a variety of flavors to processed foods: sweet items have added salt, salty items contain sugar, and most have added fat. We can learn to prefer the less processed foods. It takes two weeks to get your palate adjusted to the new taste and then you will prefer it. I can vouch for this approach: after you’re used to skim milk, whole or even 2% milk tastes like cream. When I have cut out red meat for a month, readjusting to it was tough…for both my palate and my digestive system.

  • Ease into fruits and beans a little at a time. I definitely need to do this because I have digestive problems when I drastically change my diet.

  • Read labels of the processed foods you choose to eat and make sure they are less than 30% fat, so that your overall diet has the correct amount of fats.

  • Keep low-fat sorbet or frozen yogurt in the freezer and you won’t miss ice cream (after those first two weeks of getting used to it).

  • Pat yourself on your back when you make a good food choice. Recognize that it’s an improvement, and stop to think about it.

  • Lean protein helps control hunger.

  • If you have a craving, don’t try to avoid it. Go ahead and eat a small portion. If you try to ignore the craving, you will give in eventually, often after eating other things to try to achieve satiety.

  • Even though we apple shapes have fat that is more dangerous to our hearts, it’s easier fat to get off than for pear shapes.

I really enjoyed this way of looking at what I eat and it has already helped me. Now if I could just find something that speaks to me about exercise!

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