Poking One Of The Bears

Well, I said I was going to do it and I finally did it.  I composed a letter and sent it to a couple key people at Wegmans, a large supermarket chain headquartered in New York State.  Regardless of where you live, you’ve probably seen Wegmans’ name in print at some time in the past decade since they’ve consistently been in Fortune magazine’s top ten “Best Places to Work.”

Most of us (myself not included) do our shopping at a single store, and so each chain puts on sales and promotions each week to lure shoppers to their particular stores.  After waging this battle for years and not really coming out ahead, Wegmans decided they had to present something to the public that the other chains weren’t.  They developed a program they call “Consistent Low Pricing,” with which they try to convince the public that it doesn’t have to read weekly sales ads to see where the best overall deals are for the week.  Wegmans prints advertisements that show they have the lowest price of all local stores consistently, week after week, on many items people buy regularly, and therefore the best “bottom line” value for a weekly shopping trip is at their stores.

The problem is, and I made this point in the letter, that while it may be true that Wegmans may have the best total price for the items “test priced” from chain to chain, one does not get “something for nothing.”  The prices for most meat and seafood at Wegmans is astronomical (in my humble opinion).  I stated in my letter to their Senior Vice President for Consumer Affairs and their manager for nutrition programs that, with this marketing approach, Wegmans tends to steer shoppers toward keeping their weekly food expenditure low by buying inexpensive staple products that are typically, by nature, high in carbohydrates, and they therefore are contributing to the obesity epidemic our country is suffering. 

Wegmans has, over the years, significantly increased the number of store-branded items they stock their shelves with that cost a little less than the name brand versions.  One of their store lines is branded “Food You Feel Good About;” these items usually have some alleged “healthful” aspect to them, such as, “made with whole grains,” or, “low in fat.”  I mentioned to them in the letter that it is ironic that the motto doesn’t say, “Food That Is Good For You;” these are products with features that the public has unwittingly been led to believe is good for them, and they therefore “feel good” buying it for consumption.  I chuckle when I see a sack of Wegmans’ brand potatoes that have blazoned across the plastic bag the words, “Food You Feel Good About.”

I can’t fault the chain entirely; they still are the only store in my area that still carries Hood Calorie Countdown dairy beverage, and two flavors of Dannon Carb and Sugar Controlyogurt.  But I chided them that they carry only the chocolate and fat free white versions of the dairy beverage, probably in the erroneous assumption that fat, being a dietary enemy, should be eliminated.  If this is the case, why do they bother carrying the chocolate flavor, since it contains 2% fat?  I also mentioned that they recently decided that low carb adherents and diabetics do not need to choose from more than two flavors of yogurt (they used to carry four of the five available flavors), while everyone else gets to choose from the dozens and dozens of other types of yogurt cramming the dairy case.  (PS – They also moved the two remaining flavors to the very bottom of the yogurt case.  Easier to find?)

I considered reprinting the letter here in its entirety for your reading pleasure, but it’s six pages long (you all know how I tend to go on and on).  Other than the standard lessons in actual nutritional science, and advising that they all read Gary Taubes’ book as soon as possible, what I’ve told you in the above paragraphs pretty much sums it up.  This is what I advocated we all start doing in a post I wrote a while ago, and I think that I’m going to start writing my government representatives as well.  They may all toss my letters in the trash, but I’ll feel better that I at least tried to do SOMEthing to help.  Who knows?  Maybe one of them will make a change in their personal life as a result.  I know I did.

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“TV Allowance” – A Breakthrough In Reducing Childhood Obesity?

I suppose I should be proud to say this amazingly simple product, TV Allowance, was developed at a university in my locality.  Researchers came up with a large-calculator-sized device that lets families program “budgets” into their home televisions and computers, decreasing the available screen time from 10% to 50% over a period of several months.  They then studied 70 children of both genders between age 4 and 7 who had a higher-than-average BMI and watched TV or played computer games a minimum of 14 hours per week.  Along with the reduced screen time, the kids were also given inducements; monetary rewards and praise were doled out for doing something other than sitting idle in front of the boob tube.  Parents who reduced their family’s weekly video availability by 17.5 hours on average wound up with kids who ate less and lowered their BMIs.  The two-year study appears in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

“Results showed that watching television and playing computer games can lead to obesity by reducing the amount of time that children are physically active, or by increasing the amount of food they consume as they are engaged in these sedentary behaviors,” said one of the study’s authors.

The author, while admitting the overall changes were “modest,” believes the use of this device across the population may produce “important reductions in obesity and obesity-related health problems.”  Additionally, while it did reduce the time these kids were in front of a video screen, it did NOT increase their physical activity.  The study’s assumption is that the restriction minimizes cues to eat by limiting the number of child-targeted food ads to which this demographic is exposed.

So, is the underlying problem the amount of time these little couch potatoes sit doing nothing, or is it the continuous bombardment of sugar-peddling marketing schemes on their impressionable minds?  If they weren’t being active, as the study found, what were they doing?  Reading?  Meditating? 

So these kids “ate less” and had “modest” changes in BMI over a two year period.  Can someone do a study letting a similar group watch whatever they want but restrict their carb intake?

If Low Carb Makes So Much Sense, Why Do Other Diets Work?

As I’m in bed this morning waiting for the precise perfect moment to roll out, I happened to dwell on the several ads that I’ve been glancing at in magazines and the newspaper recently.  I say recently, but they’re always there, just more so in the beginning of the year, it seems.  You’ve seen the ads, I’m sure: Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, the hypnosis ads, the food plan ads, all the health clubs, and plenty of before-and-after photos and testimonials to go with them.  When you’re at the supermarket checkout line, count the number of magazines that have a sure-fire diet plan on the cover.  (Even Dr. Atkins’ diet was the darling of the Vogue readership for years before he published his New Diet Revolution in 1973.)

I’m to the point in Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories that I firmly believe that the only effective way to lose weight is to cut out carbohydrates and make dietary fat a good percentage of your daily diet.  Exercise is not necessary and can actually work against you if you’re trying to drop pounds.  I’m in the middle of an experiment right now, so I can’t really carp for the time being that I haven’t lost any weight doing just this for the last seven weeks.

But come on… other people lose weight doing other things.  Even I have.  One year, I lost over 20 pounds by simply eating a bag of raw vegetables for lunch every day.  Boring as all get-out, but I got into a routine, stopped thinking about it, and the pounds came off.  (Yes, after I stopped that routine, they went back on.)  My first wife and I paid a lot of money to a chain called “Weight Loss Clinic” where we had to go every day to be weighed by a nurse and report what we were eating on a very low calorie diet.  We both lost over 50 pounds each and we both regained most of the loss within six months.  Around that time, we started getting postcards from the business asking if it wasn’t time to come back in if we needed to.  Perpetual customers, what a concept, but hardly original:  the obsolescense factor is a well-known marketing tool.

So why do all these other approaches work at all?

Maybe the key word is “effective,” as I used earlier to describe low carb.  Do you know anyone who lost weight through exercise who gained it back when (if) they stopped their routine?  How about eating low calorie?  I know plenty of people who’ve tried this, and for them it’s a continuous battle with hunger; all they ever seem to talk about is food and how much they want it and how many things they are tempted with.  I personally don’t know anyone who’s lost weight by being hypnotized, but my wife tried it once to quit smoking many years ago and she sat through one session and came back with the report that it was a bunch of nonsense.  (To this day she will occasionally cluck like a chicken, but she doesn’t realize it and I don’t say anything.)

If you’re overweight and you want and need to lose a significant number of pounds, isn’t keeping those pounds off the real issue?  Look at how many studies of subjects on various diets end with those people losing either an insignificant amount of weight or not being able to stay on the eating plan long enough to make a difference.  How many subjects maintain a significant loss for a year or more, a factor considered essential in rating the effectiveness of an eating plan?

I’m not saying low carb is going to work for everyone.  Not because the science is at fault, but because we’re human beings.  There’s a psychological element to dieting to lose weight, and even if we’re losing, we’re leaving something behind that we enjoyed.  Maybe some kind of special food or drink, maybe the camaraderie of joining friends eating things that we now know are very bad with regard to overall health.  Working out takes time away from other things we’d perhaps rather be doing.  Some people get bored doing anything for too long, especially if it takes effort and discipline.  Even some of the women in the Atkins group in the recent Stanford University study of popular diets strayed toward the end, although this group did better than any of the other groups in both weight loss and “sticktuitiveness.”

John Galt knows, I don’t consider myself a poster boy for low carb.  I’m just as guilty of regaining a lot of the weight I lost in 2003.  Almost all of it was because I returned to eating high carb foods, and it started immediately after I started eating carbs.  It was not difficult to eat a low carb diet month after month, year after year.  I never had a problem turning down celebratory cake slices at birthday parties, or dessert when eating out.  I haven’t felt a desire to patronize the snack machine at work except for an occasional bag of peanuts. 

When I read that eating carbs begets an urge to eat more carbs, I believe it because I’ve been through it and I see it all around me every day.  There’s little satiety in carbohydrates.  Conventional nutritional wisdom tells people to fill up on fiber to make them “feel full” and therefore fend off their appetite.  I’m amazed when I think about how infrequently I feel any hunger at all, in fact, I probably eat when I do because it’s “time” to eat more than for any other reason.

I’m still looking forward to correcting the results of my backsliding, and maybe, just maybe, this time I’ve learned my lesson for good.  Anything’s possible.

Product Review – Tanita bathroom scale model BF-679W

If you read my other post about scales, you know the jury was still out on the ConAir “Weight Watchers” branded one I bought a few weeks ago to replace “Ol’ Red.” Sorry to say, the ConAir went back to the store on Sunday. Too many days went by that left me guessing about what I really weighed. The difference among a number of trials each morning could vary as much as 1.3 pounds.I was now intent on getting a Tanita, which was my first desire when I went shopping in January after reading the ‘reviews of the reviews’ on ConsumerSearch.com. Bed Bath & Beyond carried two of their many models: a glass plate number for $100 that had many more features than I needed, and the model that was regarded in the above mentioned review as the most reliable and the most consistent: BF-679W. It was a mere $50, much less than I’d paid for the ConAir, and I had a 20% coupon bringing it down to $40. Pretty darn reasonable.

The BF-679W isn’t a beauty prize winner. It’s pretty standard bathroom scale fare, and I’d say it looks and feels a lot like “Ol’ Red” with a silver paint job and a display makeover. Our bathroom has brushed nickel accents, so it fits in okay, unpretty as it is compared to most of its peers. It sports some diamond-shaped silver plates for the electric pulse necessary to measure body fat and water, and the only other adornments are three small buttons below the display for setup, and three toe-kick buttons on the lower end to start it up. A switch on the bottom of the unit lets you pick whether you want the readout in pounds, kilograms, or lb/stone. Four AA batteries are included. The scale has a maximum capacity of 300 pounds, and the display measures in 0.2 pound increments of weight and 0.5% increments of body fat.

The scale is easy to program, as was the ConAir. There’s memory for two persons, and it has a “guest” mode so visitors can check their weight along with the other optional measurements. For each regular user, you use the set-up buttons to indicate age, gender, and height. Once that data is in, each user simply taps with their toe their assigned button on the lower edge to start; their data is displayed followed by a zero weight reading and a beep to indicate ready to weigh. The user steps on the scale, minding that their feet touch the metal plates (long footed people can overhang the front if necessary). The scale shows a countdown readout from 5 to 1 while it makes the measurements and, voila, displays the weight, below which either the body fat percentage and body water percentage are shown, trading places for several seconds even after the user steps off. With the push of one of the buttons below the display, you can recall your previous weight and the associated difference. There is a center toe-kick button so that weight-only measurements can be taken that do not utilize the current pulse feature (important if you have a pacemaker or such, or are pregnant).

I did an accuracy check when I set it up, as I did with the ConAir. I put a towel on the scale and placed a 35 pound Olympic plate from my home gym on it. The ConAir weighed the plate and towel at 35.2 pounds. The Tanita weighed them at 36.0 pounds. While I normally would expect a 35 pound plate to weigh exactly 35 pounds, giving more credence to the ConAir for accuracy, I’d assume there must be some allowance for error in manufacturing such pieces of iron; 0.8 pounds is only 2.2% of the plate’s supposed weight. Also, I did not make repeated trials of weighing the plate on the ConAir because I did not know at that time the readouts were inconsistent; perhaps a subsequent trial or two would have seen the plate and towel weigh 36 pounds (the ConAir typically would weigh low on first trials). In any event, without the ability to test this clinically, I will assume the Tanita is correct (or more correct than the ConAir) by virtue of other reviews attesting to its accuracy.

So how has it performed in the last five days? I weighed myself each morning upon waking, sans clothing and post-evacuation. I went through the same series of three or four trials as with the ConAir, some with weight-only, some with body fat measured. The most fluctuation I could see was in the least significant digit, which can be taken as the scale simply trying to choose a number closest to the two-tenths to which its display accuracy is limited. The body fat and body hydration readings were either identical to or nearly identical to those readings I’d seen on the ConAir (32% body fat, 48-49% water).

I’m satisfied with the consistency of this model and would recommend it heartily. If your performance concerns are the same as mine and you don’t mind a pedestrian-looking appliance in your bathroom, this is an economical choice I believe you can count on.

Confessing To The Choir

LCC, you dog. I was beginning to think we’re twins separated at birth except I suspect there’s 14 years or so between us.I cheated last night. I’d finished my second martini, the wife had headed up to bed, and I was reading a magazine. Suddenly, I got the urge to nosh (Merriam-Webster defines this as “eating on the sly;” interesting, yes?)

Now, it’s not that I was hungry. My wife had created a fabulous shrimp and clam stew we’d finished not too much earlier (watch for the recipe here soon). But it’s been a month since I started re-induction. I’ve been on a plateau for two weeks. I miss my old low carb goodies.

So, I made a third martini and began rummaging through the cupboard. My intent was really to have only one thing, and nothing “bad.” I ate an Atkins Peanut Caramel candy bar.

Then I had a Breyer’s Carb Smart ice cream bar. That leftover Italian sausage link taunted me when I opened the fridge, so I polished that off (polish sausage?) with some Dijon mustard while finishing the magazine article I was reading. I wanted more sweet after that and scarfed an Atkins Caramel Nut Chew. Why I finished it all off with a slice of Swiss cheese, I’ll never know. I swallowed the last of my cocktail and went to bed.

You said, “You don’t lose weight by eating right for one day – and you don’t gain weight by eating wrong one day.” I got up this morning and checked my ketones; medium light color on the stick. Then I got on the scale. I ignored the first readings; I’ve found I have to step on and off several times before getting what I think is a true result (the new scale is going back to BB&B today, by the way!) When I stepped on the last couple times, I found I’d gained 1.3 pounds from yesterday.

I plugged the previous evening’s dinner and munchfest into my food diary this morning and figured I’d had over 40 net carbs and over 3000 calories yesterday. My dinner, which was a larger portion than it should have been, accounted for 21 net carbs all by itself. I now know I should not have eaten this during induction, but we didn’t have the time to calculate everything before she put it all together. I wrote up the recipe afterward as she dictated to me and then figured out what the net carbs were.

Beside gaining over a pound on this, the first day of induction month number 2, I crossed the graph line of my 2003 weight loss. I now weigh 2 pounds more than I was at this point when I did Atkins the first time, and I started out 8 pounds heavier back then.

Beat myself up? No. Give up? Never. OK, I had a moment of weakness; that’s yesterday’s news. Here’s what I personally think is important:

  • I could have eaten worse things than I did; I maintained SOME sort of control (I still have three cans of roasted almonds in my car!)
  • I’ve lost SOME weight in four weeks, despite wishing it were more.
  • I’ve lost SOME size; I no longer have to stretch my trousers’ amazing expand-o waistband to get it buttoned. My rings are loose again.
  • I still feel better than I did a month ago; no mid-afternoon yawns from a blood sugar dip, no cravings for starchy junk. I feel… tighter. Some of this is no doubt due to the small amount of exercising I’ve been doing.
  • I had my share of minor ups and downs in 2003, along with lengthy stalls; I came out of the gate roaring down the track back then, but it actually took me nine months to lose 30 pounds. For whatever reason I’m not tracking the same this time, I have to keep in mind that it’s not a race with a finish line. That’s the kind of thinking that usually foils other diets. A low carb, or more accurately, a controlled carbohydrate nutrition plan should be what becomes a new way of living as a result of understanding the science behind the approach.
  • My fear of carbs (bad carbs, let’s call them) has returned. I’d somehow lost that last year, and that was my real downfall.

When I quit smoking 24 years ago, I didn’t then have as much fear of disease and death as a result of using tobacco as I do today of ingesting bad carbs. I gave up smokes “cold turkey” back then, but it was probably the fourth or fifth time I’d seriously attempted it over a period of 20 years, and I even had a two year stretch where I quit and then resumed smoking for several more years.

“Taking the long view,” as was cited in the previous post on this subject, I’m obviously better off a quarter century later, and I made a lasting change that became a way of life for me. I see the same cycles in my life with regard to my weight loss attempts and what I’ve eaten to lose and then gain it all back. My long range goal is to look back on this 20 years from now and feel the same sense of accomplishment and health improvement from eating a controlled carb diet as I do when I consider having overcome my addiction to cigarettes.

Keep the faith, stay the course. Time can be your enemy or your friend depending on what you do with it.