Don't go overboard

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

September 2010

A serious criticism of fad diets is that they demand a marked departure from our usual behavior. Eventually we'll return to our favorite foods, which is what led to the extra pounds in the first place. The same is true of most exercise routines that depend on a single apparatus, especially when it involves a bodily movement that we are not used to. It's likely that more than one reader owns a high-priced clothes hanger, otherwise known as a rowing machine, gathering dust or other stuff in some remote corner of the house.

The lure of the Atkins low-carbohydrate diet is rapid weight loss within the first few days. Most of us carry around about 1 ½ pounds of glycogen, the so-called animal starch that consists of chains of glucose molecules. Without carbohydrates we burn that pound and a half of glycogen for energy. That causes a loss of about 2 ½ pounds of water, a quick but pointless loss of about 4 pounds. The fatigue, irritability, bad breath and constipation of the low-carb dieter contribute to the high drop-out rate, and so does having to give up favorite foods.

The heart patient who must endure a low-sodium diet has a similar experience, that of having to adjust to a bland diet without tasty but salty snacks and condiments.

Most fitness centers would be overwhelmed if all of their members showed up 4 times a week. For years I have watched newbies being shown how to balance on a large ball while doing push-ups, or climbing stairs backwards. Seldom do I see them doing these things without supervision. They inevitably join the rest of us on more comfortable equipment such as the stationary bike or the elliptical machine. Some simply quit.

Gradual changes done with determination lead to more consistent success. It's easier to eliminate refined carbohydrates (pastry, pasta and rice) in favor of salads and vegetables. Lower salt intake gradually, starting with removing the salt shaker during mealtime then eliminate salty snacks and most fast food. Start a new exercise routine by walking 15 minutes a day most days of the week and gradually work up to an hour. In the beginning use the weight machines and dumbbell routines that are easy for you. Seek out an instructor when you become bored.

Changes that you can live with are the changes that will last a lifetime — a long one!

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.