It Ain’t Necessarily So…

Listen to the experts but use your common sense.

Posted Apr 06, 2018

This is the first of a blog series whose goal is to empower readers to be skeptical consumers of advice being offered by the experts – including me! In this overload technological world, it's easy to be overcome by the deluge of information that bombards us. Yes, listen to the experts, but use your common sense.

When to Eat

The day before Thanksgiving, I was reading a well-known national newspaper while exercising on my stationary bicycle when I came upon an article on how to avoid gaining weight during the holiday season. The author advised those who would be attending a holiday feast to eat a substantial breakfast as a way to not overeat later in the day. Unfortunately, the Thanksgiving feast is not at all dependent on hunger cues but more on social expectations. I'm not sure why suggesting that eating two large meals would be more slimming than eating one large one, but that’s what was recommended.

The article emphasized eating a substantial breakfast, eating less as the day progresses, and eating sparingly in the evening. In other words, “Eat like a king in the morning and a pauper at night.” So far as I can tell, there is no scientific evidence that supports this view.

Let’s consider the eating patterns in the United States versus those in Spain, which are as remarkably different as their rates of obesity.

Jody Horton/Southern Living
Source: Jody Horton/Southern Living

Americans eat throughout the day and have dinner early, perhaps at 6 or 7 p.m. In Spain, on the other hand, the traditional morning meal is rather sparse, lunch is often followed by a one- or two-hour nap, and dinner—the large, main meal—is eaten at night, often 10 p.m. or later. If the advice to not eat late in the evening were true, one would expect the citizens of Spain to be significantly more overweight and obese than those of the United States.

However, when one looks at the data, the reverse is true. Roughly 50 percent of the Spanish population is overweight, while over 70 percent of the American population is.  Approximately one in six Spaniards are obese (15%), while more than 35% of Americans are similarly afflicted. So, either the statistics are not true, or we've been sold a bill of goods by the breakfast food industry and well-intentioned professionals.

What to Eat

Eating high fat foods, such as cheese, will certainly cause weight gain. So, let's check out the French, for whom good cheese is a way of life. We find that the obesity rates in France, although rising, are still significantly below those of the United States.

Source: GreatLifeandMore

The difference is that the French eat sparingly, while we Americans eat a lot. So, if eating late at night and high-fat foods such as cheeses do not lead to weight gain, what could possibly be the reason that so many Americans are overweight? How about something as radical as the fact that Americans eat 3+ high calorie meals a day and are constantly snacking?

Does that make sense? Yes.

Could it be true? Possibly.

How can you find out? Try eating moderately two to three times a day and use common sense.

What do I mean by “use common sense”?

Several years ago, I helped direct a number of weight loss and eating disorders programs at Scripps Clinic. During that time, my colleagues and I saw thousands of women and men struggling to lose weight. Over the decades, the ethos shifted from eat no fats, to eat no carbohydrates, and is now in the midst of another swing to who knows where.

I remember a patient coming into my office and excitedly telling me that she had “found the answer.” She was avoiding all fats. She went to another room, was weighed by my nurse, and came back visibly upset. She had gained four pounds over a two-week period. "But I'm not eating any fat," she proclaimed.

So, I asked, "What did you eat for breakfast today?"

'"Six bagels with jam,” she proudly reported, "but no butter, no cream cheese, not any kind of fat!"

Source: Veggate

A plain, medium bagel is 3.5 inches in diameter contains approximately 300 calories.

One tablespoon of regular cream cheese has 50 calories, while a small pat of butter has only 40.

My hard-working patient was thus eating 1800 calories for breakfast.

But no fat!

Fast-forward 10 years and the ethos has changed. Now carbs are the enemy. Another patient, this time a man, was following a high-protein eating program of the Atkins variety.

He presented himself, proudly announcing that he was diligently avoiding all carbs: bread, pasta, potatoes, etc. He would allow himself a green salad at dinner. Once again, into the dressing room, onto the scale, and back to my office perturbed – up six pounds in a month.

I asked him to report his food intake for the previous day.

Breakfast: A four-egg omelet with bacon (no toast or potatoes).

Lunch: A double-bacon cheeseburger and a diet coke. But, he proudly told me, "I didn't eat the buns – just the stuff on the inside, and no fries.”

Dinner: A Caesar salad with blue cheese dressing (but no croutons), and a 12-ounce T-bone steak.

Dessert: A moderate helping of four different cheeses eaten with knife and fork (no crackers).

This thoroughly committed gentleman was eating 4,000+ calories a day derived totally from protein and fat. But no carbohydrates!

What do these stories mean?

It means that both of these smart and hard-working people had surrendered to the experts and were paying the price.

  1. Elephants eat nothing but salad (without dressing).

  2. Whales eat nothing but raw fish (without tartar sauce).

Bottom line: You can't eat unlimited amounts of any type of food and lose weight!

But didn't you already know that, anyway?