What is a healthy weight?

Figuring Out The Right Diet

Very few modern humans, particularly women, have escaped the notion, at one time or another, that they could “lose a few pounds.” Weight, eight loss, looking good, making the right food choices — these are all complex social, economic, political, nutritional and psycho-spiritual issues. Everybody “knows” that the average magazine cover model is too thin, and is probably malnourished with chronic health problems to boot. But many of us still compare ourselves to them and sigh, “Too fat…” The flip side of this argument, to be sure, is the fact that America boasts more obese individuals than anywhere else in the world, and consequently more cardiovascular problems, diabetes and other degenerative diseases. Most people in our society, as a rule, eat way too much yet are not getting the proper nutritional balance of whole, fresh foods to support their vital force. While organic farming and health food co-ops are slowly and steadily growing to meet the demand, just look around: SOMEBODY’s supporting all those donut and burger joints out there.

“Obesity” is defined as being 20% or more than one’s “ideal” body weight. A basic rule of thumb for determining ideal weight is, for Women: 100 pounds for the first 5 feet, plus 5 pounds for every extra inch tall and for men: 110 pounds for the first 5 feet, and 5 pounds for each extra inch. So a woman of 5’6″ weighing 130 pounds is definitely in the right ballpark for her ideal weight. If the same woman weighed 156 pounds, she would be well advised to loose some weight (unless she’s a competitive body builder and all muscle). To figure out your caloric needs (anybody out there still counting calories?) you need to first figure out your metabolic energy requirements. Get out the pocket calculator. The formulas are:

  • For Women: 655 plus (9.6 x weight in kilograms) plus (1.7 x height in centimeters) minus (4.7 x age).
  • For Men: 66 plus (13.7 x weight in kilograms) plus (5 x height in centimeters) minus (6.8 x age).

In both of these formulas add 10% of the total if you do minimal physical activity; 20% for moderate activity and 30% for high athletic activity. The magic number is the number of calories you need per day to maintain your current weight. If you consistently eat more than this magic number of calories, guess what? Right, you’ll gain weight. For those of us not quite 100% modern folks who still don’t think in metric, multiply your weight in pounds by .45 to get the kilogram value, and multiply your height in inches by 2.54 to get the centimeter value.

To lose weight, and the best way is slow and steady, you need to reduce the number of calories consumed below the “BEE,” or basic energy expenditure. To lose 1 pound per week, eat 500 calories less than your BEE each day. To lose 2 pounds per week, eat 1000 calories less daily. Unless you are dangerously overweight, please don’t try to lose weight faster than 5-10 pounds per month: crash diets never work in the long run. Why not? Because the most important thing the dieter needs to change is their RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD. Folks who need to lose weight must learn to eat to life, using healthy moderate- to-small-sized meals. The live to eat approach will lead to pre- mature death. An old Russian adage quips, “He who eats on a full stomach digs his grave with his teeth.” Food, while totally wonderful and necessary, is not all there is to life, and will never be a satisfying substitute for self-respect, the will to enjoy life, or loving relationships — especially with oneself.

A good way to start a diet or reducing program is to keep a diet diaryfor 7 days. Make note of everything — solid, liquid or gas (!) — that you put into your mouth. Also, naturally, write down when bowel movements occur. BMs are comprised mainly of our own intestinal cells, plus some bile and a little food your body couldn’t store or use. Ideally we would “poop” after every meal the food we ate 24 hours previous. Please make sure you do poop at least once every single day. When your diet diary is completed, find a library book or a pal who’s a nutritionist or naturopath to figure out the calories consumed each day. They should average the daily BEE.

When choosing how to cut down calories, remember that different types of food have different energy potentials. That is, protein and carbohydrates both have 4 calories per gram and fat has 9 calories per gram. Alcohol, not necessary in any diet but a real bummer if you want to reduce, has 7 calories per gram. The formula to calculate the caloric content of alcohol is: .8 times the “proof” times the number of ounces equals calories. Check it out. Two 4-ounce glasses of wine (12% alcohol, or 24 proof) would contain 154 calories.

Another way to figure the daily food plan is by serving, or “exchange.” The American Diabetic Association puts out an excellent booklet on food exchanges for less than $2. A “fruit exchange,” for example, is a whole apple, orange or pear, but only half a banana (which has twice the calories). A “protein exchange” is 3 ounces of fish, chicken (range fed) or tofu. Three ounces of protein can be gauged, roughly, as a thin slice the size of the palm of your hand. A “carbohydrate exchange” is, for example, a slice of bread. A cup ofcooked bean or lentils would count as 1 protein exhange AND 1 carbo exchange. A reasonable daily intake to maintain current weight might be:

3 low-fat dairy exchanges
4 fruit exchanges
3 vegetable exchanges (1 raw)
8 carbohydrate exchanges
5 low-fat protein exchanges
5 unsaturated fat exchanges free food as desired.

“Free food,” to be taken in sensible amounts, is clear broth, herbs, spices, green onions, garlic, raw mushrooms, mint, plain gelatin, lemon, vinegar, weak tea, decaff and non-caffeinated diet sodas (not recommended because of the phosphates). Gentle diuretic (Dandelion) or laxative (Senna) teas are recommended. All nuts are extremely high in mostly saturated fats and are best avoided altogether by dieters.

Since you’re going to be taking in fewer calories, it is especially important to take in high quality food. Not only will proper nutrition satisfy your body longer, at a cellular level, but your overall wellbeing will magnify and radiate as you invest in healthy eating from now on. Eat less fat, sugar and salt. Drink 8 big glasses of purified water each day. Exercise daily and hard three times a week. Give up alcohol. Don’t eat standing up. Chew, chew, chew. NEVER put more food in your mouth until the previous bite has been thoroughly masticated, and swallowed down with plenty of saliva. Digestion of carbohydrates (by amylase) begins in the mouth. For those of you really serious about permanently changing your weight and/or approach to food consumption, please consider investing in a few consultations with a licensed nutritionist or naturopathic physician.

All the calculations and technical information in the above essay were obtained from “Food, Nutrition & Diet Therapy” by Krause & Mahan, 7th Edition, W.B. Saunders Company, and “Exchange Lists for Meal Planning” put out in bookley form by the American Diabetes Association, Inc.
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