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Diet Detective column: Get the skinny on BMI charts and limiting portions

Saturday, July 19, 2014 - 1:19 pm

The Diet Detective answers nutrition and diet questions.

Q: Help! I can't control myself when I start eating! How can I limit my portions?

A: You’re not alone. Thousands, if not millions of people struggle with portion control many times throughout the day. I know that doesn’t make you feel better. But because it is such a common problem, there are some strategies you can use to help control your portions.

Focus on eating more slowly to give yourself time to tune into your body’s hunger and satiety. It takes 20 minutes to half an hour for your brain to receive the message that your stomach is full, so take your time. What’s the rush?

When you are no longer feeling hungry but still want to eat, think about why. Are you bored?

Find something else to keep you busy. Are you upset? Call a friend and vent. Are you stressed or anxious? Turn on some music or go for a brisk walk to relax and de-stress. Don’t try to fix your problems with food.

Keep your portions smaller by following these basic tips:

• Use a smaller plate. As simple as this sounds, it works. Studies have shown that people eat more when there’s more on their plate, regardless of how hungry they feel. So put less on your plate, but trick your eyes into thinking you’re eating more by using a smaller plate.

• Never eat directly from a container, bag or box. It’s hard to keep track of how much you're eating when you’re just reaching in and stuffing food into your mouth. Instead, serve yourself one portion on a plate or in a bowl, put away the rest, and only then sit down to eat.

• Measure! Keep that measuring cup or spoon handy, and measure a portion of your cereal into a bowl, your rice onto a plate, your tuna salad, your potato chips, your strawberries everything.

Q: Now that I've made the commitment to getting healthy, I feel so isolated. What can I do to combat the loneliness?

A: You aren't alone! Many people struggle with the very same feelings you fight each day. Studies show that people with a solid support system backing them up are more successful at achieving their weight-loss goals. Here’s how you can get the support you need from those around you:

Find a support group. Whether it’s at your workplace, the library or your gym, there may be a weight-loss support group already established that you can join. Check community newsletters, search online, ask your health care professionals (including trainers, doctors, physical therapists, etc.) for recommendations, or start a group of your own.

Use social media. Don’t forget your online community! There are many social media outlets, including Facebook and Twitter, that you can use. Enter “Facebook” or “Twitter” and “weight loss support groups” into your favorite search engine and see what comes up.

Turn to family and friends. Your immediate circle of relatives and friends has tremendous power when it comes to your success. If you feel that you aren’t getting the support you need, try to broach the subject with them.

Explain how critical their support is to you and that you’re trying to lose weight and become healthier and more fit so that you can spend many more years with them. To help them help you, share the following list of dos and don'ts with them:

Do:

• Keep a positive attitude and encourage me.

• Ask how you can help.

• Learn to ignore and forgive lapses (they will happen).

• Exercise with me.

Don't:

• Be judgmental (all foods have their place in a healthy lifestyle some desserts and treats can and should be included in moderation).

• Allow me to isolate myself by having to prepare separate meals and snacks a healthier diet can benefit the whole family.

• Hide food from me.

• Threaten, lecture, reprimand or criticize the best way to encourage behavior change is with a "soft touch," not coercion.

• Expect 100 percent perfection. Everyone is human!

Q: According to my BMI score, I'm obese, but I don't feel obese! Could it be wrong?

A: The BMI, or body mass index, measures your body fat by comparing your height and weight with those of average adults. It can be extremely helpful in providing you with an estimated healthy weight range.

BMI correctly predicts whether someone is overweight or obese approximately 80 percent of the time, which is pretty good. But is it the perfect way to predict whether you're at increased health risk from being overweight or obese? Not exactly.

The problem is that BMI doesn't distinguish between muscle mass and body fat. In other words, two people can have the same BMI but very different percentages of fat. For example, a body builder with lots of muscle and low body fat may have the same BMI as a person who has more fat and less muscle. Highly trained athletes typically have low body fat but more lean body mass and, therefore, can't be measured by standards based on the average community.

Despite this drawback, however, BMI is inexpensive and simple to use while other, more exact, body-fat measurements are costly and inconvenient. It's not particularly effective for athletes or the elderly, but as long as you're aware of that, it can be a valuable tool.

To easily calculate your BMI, go to http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/BMI/bmicalc.htm.

Here are the current BMI categories: Underweight below 18.5, normal 18.5–24.9, overweight 25.0–29.9 and obese 30.0 and above.

Another good and very simple way of assessing health risk is measuring your waist circumference. According to the National Institutes of Health, “risk goes up with a waist size that is greater than 35 inches for women or greater than 40 inches for men. To correctly measure your waist, stand and place a tape measure around your middle, just above your hipbones. Measure your waist just after you breathe out.”

Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of DietDetective.com.