Around New Year's Day, I did an article on diet books. I thought digging through all those motivational materials would give me a fresh resolve to eat right. But I was more confused than ever by all the conflicting advice.
For instance, Bill Phillips in "Fit For Life" says that exercising first thing in the morning on an empty stomach burns fat 300 percent better than any other time of day. So those of us who have kids and jobs to contend with in the morning could conclude that spending our lunch hour on the treadmill or taking an after-dinner walk is a waste of time.
But Julie Metos, a registered dietitian at Primary Children's Medical Center, says research has shown that when you exercise makes no difference. "It really turns out to be a calories in/calories out equation over time," Metos said. "The only idea that ties into this remotely is that after you exercise, your metabolism is cranked a tiny bit higher for the next three to six hours, so this might be the time to eat."
So, I'll just exercise any time that I can fit it in , and hope she's right.
Metos also feels like the high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet has gotten a bum rap lately.
Protein has become the hero of the latest diet books. Many point out that people only got fatter during the fat-phobic, high-carb philosophy of the '80s and '90s. But it wasn't the advice that was bad, it was the way people interpreted it, says Metos, pointing out that reliable research and institutions like the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society still recommend a lower-fat, high-fiber lifestyle.
Unfortunately, back in the '80s and early '90s, the low-fat part was promoted more than the high-fiber part. Instead of eating nutritious whole-grain bread or fruits and veggies, people downed reduced-fat goodies because they were "lite."
"People like to think all the gummie bears they want are fine because they are low in fat," Metos said. "I don't think people are gaining more weight because they switched to a low-fat, high carbohydrate plan as shown in the Food Guide Pyramid. I think the evidence shows that our portions have gotten larger, we drink a ton more soft drinks and related fruit juices and we are more sedentary every year."
Constant snacking is another problem Metos has noticed. "In our society we eat all day. We don't have distinguished eating times or meals — it is just one big eating opportunity for grazing all the time. This may not be how we were meant to use our metabolism and certainly leads to more calories."
If you're eating all day long, you'll probably consume a lot more calories than you can burn off, even if it's all "low-fat."
So why the conflicting information in the diet books?
"I think in order to sell a diet book, you have to promote something a bit controversial and contrary to major institutions," Metos said. "People are always looking for the new latest, greatest diet. The principles of more physical activity, eating at regular times and enjoying healthy food really are rather dull, same-old, same-old. It is just a bit more interesting to say your book has found a new way to do things than to say the truth."
But can you get results just from plain old exercising and eating right?
Yes, says Metos. "The truth is that the journey toward a long-term healthy lifestyle can be very rewarding experience. It just takes a lot of perseverance and a change in daily priorities. That makes it tricky for all of us in our naturally sedentary and food-driven world."
BEGINNING NEXT WEEK and throughout the Olympics, the Deseret News will print a morning street edition in addition to our weekday evening edition. Because of advertising requirements, the Food Section will move from Tuesdays to Wednesdays. Following the Winter Games, the section will return to Tuesday publication.