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Baby Boomers Need Help Beating the Bulge

Experts offer advice on losing weight

SUNDAY, Aug. 4, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- "Super size it!"

"Buy two cookies, get one free!"

"Some dessert with your coffee?"

Everywhere you turn, it seems someone is inviting you, even begging you, to eat. To feast, actually. Why have two cookies when you can buy three for the same price? Why have small portions when you can polish off a hungry man meal?

Couple all these mass-market nudges to nibble with our tendency to exercise far less than we should, and our struggle with the scale isn't surprising. No wonder 61 percent of American adults are now classified as overweight or obese.

And if you're on the plus side of 40 -- a boomer juggling job, family and other demands -- you're probably having a tougher time than younger folks, whose metabolism has not started to dwindle down. Weight problems do increase with age, peaking between the years 45 and 64, before declining a bit later, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Not surprisingly, the food industry gets defensive when blamed for the nation's widening waistline.

Speaking at the Institute of Food Technologists' recent annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif., Sheila Cohn, a dietitian for the National Restaurant Association, said restaurants are just giving American diners the choices they crave -- especially since we now spend 46.1 percent of every food dollar on restaurant fare.

In a National Restaurant Association survey, 43 percent of respondents said they order a large portion just so they can take some home and "re-savor" the restaurant experience. As Cohn pointed out, you do have choices -- you can order half portions, appetizers as dinner, or ask for that doggie bag.

However, other dietitians say plenty of us are ordering the larger sizes, forgetting about the pooch and cleaning our plates -- and that can mean plenty of excess calories.

"The average number of calories for a restaurant meal -- without bread, beverage or dessert -- is 1,000 to 2,000 calories," says Evelyn Tribole, a dietitian who is the author of numerous books, including "More Healthy Homestyle Cooking," due out in paperback in November.

So, is there any hope of filtering out the eat-eat-eat messages, reducing caloric intake and seeing a big difference on the scale? Yes, say dietitians like Tribole, who counsels weight-loss clients, and researchers who have studied successful losers. Here are their best tips:

  • Eat in more often. "Make eating at home a priority," suggests Pamela Anderson, a dietitian on staff at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center. It doesn't mean standing over a hot stove for hours. Aim for convenient and healthy foods. Buy large bags of carrots and other vegetables that are washed and peeled and only need steaming, Anderson suggests. Get ready-to-eat packaged salads that don't even need washing. Plan meals ahead of time so you won't be tempted to reach for a bag of chips and make that dinner.
  • Relearn proper portion sizes. "Americans are used to super-sizing everything," says Anderson. A three-ounce serving of meat, for instance, should be about the size of one deck of playing cards; a one-ounce serving of cheese is roughly the size of your thumb, according to the American Dietetic Association's Complete Food and Nutrition Guide.
  • Cut down just a little. Eat 500 fewer calories a day, Anderson tells clients, and that will mean a pound lost a week, since 3,500 calories burned equals a pound.
  • If you need it, get professional help. Ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian, suggests Anderson. See the American Dietetic Association's Web site, which has a "Find a Dietitian" feature by zip code, city and specialty area. When you meet with a dietitian, discuss any psychological issues you might have with food, such as eating when you feel stressed.
  • Look at how you eat and where. "Boomers and others are known for their multi-tasking," Tribole says. "They eat at the computer while they check e-mail. They eat and watch TV." Chances are good you'll overeat when you do two things at once, she says. Eat first. Then check the e-mail later.
  • Don't wait too long to eat. Do you run every conceivable errand after work, and then arrive home or at a restaurant so famished you'd eat the tablecloth? Tribole hears this story time and again. "At that point, it's primal hunger and who cares?" she says. If the breadbasket is on the table, you're going to go for it. Maybe all of it. Stop before the last errand is done, before the hunger becomes overwhelming and self-defeating, she suggests.
  • Focus on fiber. "I really cannot stress high-fiber foods enough," says Alicia Moag-Stahlberg, a nutrition consultant and adjunct clinical instructor at Northwestern University Medical School's Department of Preventive Medicine. "Starting breakfast with oatmeal and apples or blueberries helps to keep you full until lunch." She discourages boomers from "grazing" -- eating several mini-meals during the day -- because it's too easy to overeat.
  • Learn from the losers. In 1993, researchers from the University of Colorado and the University of Pittsburgh set up a database of successful dieters -- the National Weight Control Registry -- and have been adding to it ever since. Today, there are 2,000 entrants. Each has lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year. Their common strategies: they took in -- on average -- 1,400 calories a day, 24 percent of it from fat, and burned off 400 calories a day exercising, usually walking

What To Do

For more information on successful weight loss strategies, see the National Weight Control Registry. For referral to a dietitian, check the American Dietetic Association.

SOURCES: Pamela Anderson, R.D., dietitian, Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, Calif.; Evelyn Tribole, R.D., dietitian, Irvine, Calif.; Alicia Moag-Stahlberg, R.D., nutrition consultant, Northwestern University Medical School, Evanston, Ill.; presentation, June 18, 2002, presentation, Institute of Food Technologists' annual meeting, Anaheim, Calif.; National Weight Control Registry
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