Saturday, September 24, 2011

Do I commit fruit abuse? I claim complete innocence!

How much fruit can a man eat?

I had a chance to be on FoxBusiness on Friday to talk about obesity and healthcare.  While I was getting miked-up, one of the guys on the Fox crew pulled me aside to share that he was a Weight Watchers member.  As you know from previous posts, I always enjoy the chance to meet fellow-man travelers in the world of Weight Watchers.  We are a brave group of pioneers, and our numbers are rapidly increasing.  This particular guy shared with me that his one concern about the program was that fruit had zero PointsPlus values, and he was nervous about binging and perhaps had done a little of that.

I shared with him the advice I always give when asked about this.  I talked to him about the fact that it is pretty hard to go crazy on fruit.  If you look at it, while fruit does have natural sugars, it is also filled with fiber and water.  As a result, it's naturally filling.  It is also helpful our bodies have a way of reacting to fruit binges through vigorous feedback from our digestive system (enough said).  Finally, I told him that while fruit had a zero PointsPlus value, as do most vegetables, we encourage people not to go crazy on it and treat it as a mindless eating/binge food. The golden rule in weight management is to not suspend reality.  It is, in fact, hard to lose weight while eating 73 apples a day.

It takes a ton of oranges to make much less than a ton of OJ

Just as a fun math check, consider the commercial for Tropicana orange juice.  "16 oranges to make a bottle".  That's 16 oranges for a 59 ounce bottle.  That works about to 2.2 oranges for an 8 ounce glass.  Sit down and feast on 2.2 oranges along with the rest of your breakfast, and tell me if you still feel hungry.

I always come back to the reason why Weight Watchers made the decision to give fruit a zero PointsPlus value.  We are trying to encourage people to make the healthy food choice rather than the processed cookie choice.  The example I often give is this:  the 3 PM snack.

  • Old Points program:  it's 3 PM, I can choose an apple (2 POINTS) or a 100 calorie snack pack of Oreos (also 2 POINTS).  It would not surprise you to discover that many people would say "There is no way on Earth that I'm wasting 2 POINTS on a piece of fruit, give me the cookies or I will bite your arm off."  
  • PointsPlus program:  it's 3 PM, I can choose an apple (0 PointsPlus value) or a 100 calorie snack pack of Oreos (now 3 PointsPlus value).  All of the sudden that apple is looking pretty good.  It's also healthy and filling.  Good bargain, good satisfaction and good health.  That's a nice hat trick.  
Feeling very self-proud of myself for espousing the righteousness of our approach to fruit, I stepped back to ask myself the question:  am I a fruit binger?  

I've been on Weight Watchers since I joined the company 11 years ago (I have gray hair now).  Fruit has always been a big part of how I follow the program.  It was always a pretty good deal, and now it's a great deal.  As a result, I have grown to LOVE fruit.  It's almost an unnatural love.  I thrive on apples, and I can even tell the difference between varietals (I'm a particularly big fan of Fuji).  I love all manner of berries.  I like a good banana, as long as it's not brownish.  I have more recently discovered the mango, which pairs nicely with my old friend the pineapple.  If binging starts with love, I am an ideal candidate.  But am I a binger?

So here is my daily fruit round-up:
  • Breakfast:  This is my primary fruit eating meal.  I mix in a banana and a half a cup of blueberries or rasberries into plain oatmeal.  I also mix in about 1 1/2 cups of grapes in with zero fat Greek yogurt.  
  • Lunch:  I might or might not have an apple with my salad.
  • Snack:  I grab an apple, particularly if I didn't have one for lunch.  
  • Dessert:  my most healthy desert is mixing in frozen berries with zero fat Greek yogurt.  I haven't done this in a while, and writing this post is reminding me to consider getting back into that habit (i.e., instead of low fat ice cream).  
Therefore, a typical day for me is about 5 servings of fruit.  Just for fun, I was curious how many calories I was picking up.  Here is the tally:
  • Grapes:  1.5 cups = 90 calories (22 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 1 g protein, and 0 g fat).  Like most fruit, the grape is mostly water and pulp.  
  • Banana:  1 large = 121 calories (32 g carbs, 3.5 g fiber, 1.5 g protein, and 0 g fat).  Bananas are a bit of a watch out food for me because I know I can eat one in about three to four bites.  They go down a little too fast, so I usually only eat them sliced up in my oatmeal.  
  • Blueberries:  1/2 cup = 41 calories (10 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 1 g protein, and 0 g fat).  These guys are a pretty great deal.  Rasberries are an even better deal (32 calories for the same 1/2 cup).  
  • Apple:  1 medium = 95 calories (25 g carbs, 4.4 g fiber, 0.5 g protein, and 0 g fat).  One of the aspects of apples that I find most helpful is the fact that they take a while to eat.  I also find them pretty filling. 
  • My total for the day:  347 calories (89 g carbs, 12 g fiber, 4 g protein, and 0 g fat).  
If I were attempting to lose 1.5 pounds per week, my target calories per day would be slightly north of 1,600 assuming that I was doing zero exercise given my height, age and weight.  This would suggest that my 347 calories in fruit would be about 22% of my total caloric intake, which doesn't feel crazy to me.  In fact, the latest US Dietary Guidelines suggest filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables.  My 22% is right on target.  

Looking at all of the above math makes me feel even better about how well the program works for me.  All of that fruit is an awful lot of food, and it's a big reason why I don't spend my days starving to death.  For the volume of food it represents, the above fruit is a pretty great deal for me  (i.e., calories per bowl of food).  This is true even though I am a pretty big fruit eater.  I'm probably two standard deviations about the population average, but that's a stat I should probably check.  

Moral of the story for me?  It's nice to know that my not particularly planned fruit regimen is very much on target.  It is also a good lesson that zero PointsPlus value fruit does not mean throwing mindfulness out the window.  Tracking can be good even when adding up a bunch of zeros.  



Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mirror, mirror on the wall...

True confession time.  I have a love/hate relationship with my body.

I know that I work pretty hard to stay in shape and eat healthily, but the interesting question is "Why?".  Officially, I lift weights because it is a good healthy practice, and muscle burns more calories at rest.  In truth, weight lifting promotes muscle growth, which can look pretty excellent.  Officially, I perform vigorous cardiovascular exercise because strengthens the heart.  Unofficially, I do it because it helps balance out every (or most every) mindless eating indulgence and thereby keep me thin(ish).  So there you have it.  One of the reasons I try to live on the healthy path is so I can, as they say, look good naked.  If I can simultaneously be super healthy with improved prospects for a long life, it's a definite win-win.  Right?

Sometimes when I see my birthday-suit self in the mirror, I'm pretty OK with what I see. Mostly, that's the case when the light is dim, and I haven't eaten in hours.  I also think I look OK when I'm lying on my back -- gravity is amazing at creating a flat stomach.  However, I would say that most of the time when I look at my body, my reaction is either 1) "My body is weird" or 2) "Criminey, I suck".  I see all of my imperfections on display, and I can tell you where every single pocket of fat is not-so-effectively hiding.  In fact, most of the time when I look at a mirror, I'm pretty much only seeing the imperfections.  Throw some grey hair on top of my head, and the guy who's looking back at me from the mirror is some middle-aged guy.  And I don't think I like looking at him very much.

Fortunately, most of these mirror reactions are fairly split second, and they dissipate pretty rapidly.  Also fortunate is the fact that I intellectually recognize that I'm an idiot.  In a rational and self-reflective moment, I realize that I look comparatively just fine, and the degree of scrutiny that I put on myself is unmatched by any other human being in the known universe put on me.  All of the little imperfections that I see go unnoticed either because a) most people could really care less what I look like and b) I wear clothes.  Yet, like so many others, I choose to subject myself to the bright fluorescent naked torture light of doom.

What to do?  The best place to start is a useful scapegoat -- I blame part of my body image problems on people who illustrate comic books and cartoons.  Most human bodies do not look like the ones found on Aquaman, Batman, Superman or any of those other goons from the Hall of Justice.  Perfectly etched abdominals and excellent muscle separation combined with unnatural chest-to-waist ratios don't really exist without the benefit of an airbrush pen.  They certainly are not found on many mid-40's guys, no matter how well-intentioned they are.  Yet, I am convinced that they have somehow become the subconscious norm that have ultimately found their ways to the covers of upstanding periodicals such as Men's Health.  Just like our female friends, we guys are now subject to ridiculous body image comparisons.

The real one may have a gut, but I wouldn't want to try outrunning him...
In truth, most bodies are kind of funny looking.  We humans are a widely varied bunch, and we come in lots of shapes, sizes and body-types.  To put a finer point on it, I was recently thinking about the most manly of all primates, the gorilla.  I did a Google image search of gorilla photos vs. gorilla cartoons.  the results were pretty telling.  One is a so-called idealized image, fully equipped with finely tuned musculature, and the other is a real, living and breathing animal.  The real one, by the way, is in pretty good shape.  Of course gorillas don't sit around cross-legged and look sadly at their protruding bellies.  They are too much alpha members of the jungle for that kind of nonsense.  This is a human failing -- or at least one of mine.

So what to make of this?

  1. It seems that women no longer have the monopoly on applying a harsh self-critique in front of the mirror.  I suspect that many more men than just me indulge in exactly the same nasty exercise.  
  2. I would guess that my tendency to do this can be traced all the way back to my childhood underneath some nasty rock that should never have been kicked over.  Simply telling myself "just don't beat yourself up every time you look in the mirror" is probably not totally practical advice in that I will inevitably still keep doing it.  
  3. I should periodically remind myself that I am, in fact, an idiot, and that I look just fine.  There are terrible things happening all over our planet.  There must be something more constructive for me to worry about.  
  4. Probably none of the guys who wrote all of those old comic books even vaguely resembled the pictures that they drew -- that's why they drew them that way.  
  5. I should give myself a little bit of a break for being prone to superficial impulses.  
  6. While I should work to aspire to letting go of my body image mishigas, I should also recognize that being less obsessed with it is not a great reason to run out and eat a refrigerator full of Chubby Hubby ice cream.  
The part I struggle with more is this:  my desire to look good "bare" is one of the reasons I stay on plan.  Is indulging my vanity and self-image wants an evil that is useful for keeping me healthy?  When I write it out, the answer is clearly (or should be) "no".  The problem is that it's easy to be self-reflective and thoughtful in a blog.  It's hard to do in real life.    

Then again, maybe I'm over-thinking it all.  I do that.