Illustration by Denis Shifrin
“Shut your mouth and move” are five words of advice given by my husband to his overweight patients, many who are suffering from diabetes, and still others who insist that they are “eating nothing” and still cannot lose weight. “So eat half of nothing,” he advises.
Most things in life are hard to acquire and easier to lose, except where one acquires unwanted kilos and must lose them. So how can we eat our cake and have it too? How can we enjoy the pleasures of eating generous helpings of delicious high-caloric food while maintaining a svelte figure?
Some people are fortunate to be able to do both. Others eat a lot but do a lot of exercise and counter the potential weight gain. And there are many, too many, who eat, don’t exercise and gain unwanted kilos.
Many of us can enjoy high caloric food and still have a good figure, if we omit the word “generous”. We can, if we put a limit on our daily caloric intake and write down what we eat at every meal, every day, on a weekly chart. We can, if we record the caloric value of what we put in our mouths. We can, with a user-friendly pamphlet put out by the dieticians of the Clalit Health Fund as part of a nutrition and diet program.
This pamphlet outlines a variety of daily caloric meals, recipes, and most important, a caloric chart of most of the foods we eat. So if, for example, your breakfast consists of a slice of whole wheat bread (75 calories) with a slice of 22% Gilboa cheese (100 calories) with a generous portion of fresh vegetables on top, (40 calories), 100 mg cup of 5% yogurt (100 calories) with an apple cut up inside (60 calories), and a cup of coffee with a little whole milk (12 calories), you know you’ve eaten 387 calories for breakfast. If you’ve decided to consume 1800 a day, you plan your meals accordingly. So you can have your chocolate, your cake, your snacks and your favorite foods. You decide…and…you record. Just don’t go over your daily caloric limit. Of course modifications and adjustments are required for specific medical conditions.
The process of reaching and maintaining one’s desired weight is made easier with regular visits to a dietician and participating in sets of ten weekly meetings where one is weighed. These meetings are also social and educational. The dietician offers suggestions, information and ideas, and distributes menus and discount coupons for healthy food items. Participants share experiences, difficulties, low moments and successes. The group reviews the pamphlet in detail and the members encourage and compliment each other. There is a lot of camaraderie, openness and humor.
One such group meets in Raanana under the direction of nutritionist and dietician Elia Berkman. A sports enthusiast, Elia’s model figure is one to which most of us will aspire, but will probably not attain without a strict sports regimen and a fortunate genetic disposition. But that is not the point. A chart informs each participant of his BMI (Body Mass Index) and realistic weight goals are set. Success depends on one’s determination to achieve his/her goal. It basically means the willingness to replace one source of pleasure for another.
Several years ago, I read an article in an international news magazine about a terrorist attack in which an Israeli couple was killed. The incident was tragic enough without the insensitive reporter describing the female victim as a “middle-aged overweight woman”. I thought to myself then, how will I be described by others? Is my self-image the way others see me?
I was reminded of that article six months ago when I happened to meet an acquaintance who told me that she was nonplussed when a friend of hers, while verbally identifying another person, said she had a “full figure” like my acquaintance, who, until that moment, had a body self-image of average and acceptable weight. The implication was not pleasant for her and she stored this incident in a cubbyhole of her brain for future reference, as an incentive to lose a few kilos (and a lesson on a socially incorrect and unkind way to describe people). It was not, however, enough for her to go on a diet. It took a gift of a beautiful outfit, into which she just managed to fit, and climbing blood sugar results to open her eyes to the truth. She needed to lose weight and start exercising.
Elia Berkman is also a certified group leader who conducts support groups for those with weight problems. My acquaintance joined her Clalit Health Fund support group, walked ½ hour a day on a treadmill, and over a 5-month period lost 12 kilos. She says she is in “remission” and knows that she can gain it all back if she returns to her bad habits of overeating and not exercising. She credits the program of eating properly and choosing and enjoying healthy foods for helping her benefit from a lighter, more flexible body.
She met Elia once a month, but her support group met every week and the members were given the telephone numbers of all participants. A member would call any absentee who forgot to notify Elia. Before holidays, Elia handed out flyers outlining eating tips. She distributed temporary, substitute diets for those who were tiring of the standard 1200 calorie fare: a protein diet, a sandwich diet and a calcium-rich diet. She distributed wonderful recipes and encouraged others to bring in theirs. She would choose a member’s weekly food and sport journal to review with the class. Her words were always encouraging. Instead of dreading these meetings, which began with being weighed, my friend looked forward to them as a confirmation that she was in control of her appetite and not the other way around. She came to believe that her body deserved quality food.
Five months is a long time to stick to a regimen, but my friend made a switch in her way of thinking. Instead of thinking about herself as a fat person who had to lose weight, she thought of herself as a model who had to maintain a lean body. “Models don’t eat; they taste,” she said, “and that’s what I do at weddings, hotel weekends, and the myriad affairs and ‘frestivals’ that comprise one’s life.” An added bonus, she added, was that her change of eating and cooking habits influenced her family; her children became more conscious of what they put in their mouths and her husband lost unwanted kilos.
Elia’s Five Eating Commandments accompanied her throughout the five months of her weight loss:
1) ONLY eat (without doing anything else)
2) ONLY when you are seated
3) ONLY when you are hungry
4) ONLY from a plate
5) ONLY at a table
Otherwise, it’s shut your mouth and move and eat half of nothing.
Similar programs of dieting and losing weight exist in all the health funds – Clalit, Maccabi, Meuchedet and Leumi. So contact your local branch for information or search the relative web page.