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Fill Your Plate to Lose Weight
by: Sari N. Harrar
Saundra Snow knew she had put on some weight. But in the fall of 2005, the 33-year-old was most concerned about her lack of energy. Snow was so tired after work that she couldn't get off the couch to walk her dogs, Daisy and Nacho. She had chronic headaches and occasional dizziness, couldn't remember when she'd last had a period and was depressed. Her husband was starting to worry. "You're breathing too hard," he told her one day as they walked up the three flights to the St. Meinrad, Ind., catalog company where they work.
Snow, a graphic designer, made an appointment to see her doctor, who ordered a battery of tests. "The doctor came in and said, point-blank, 'Here's the deal: You're prediabetic. You have to change your ways.' I sat there with this towel wrapped around me and said, 'Oh, crap!' "
But she answered the wake-up call. Though she claims to suffer from "the opposite of anorexia—I look in the mirror and say, 'Oh, not so bad!,' " Snow acknowledged that her double-X clothes were too snug. When she got a mail offer for a new book, The Sugar Solution (published by Rodale, Prevention's parent company), she ordered it. It was a diet, exercise and stress-reduction plan that promised weight loss, newfound energy, even protection from diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer. The secret? Controlling blood sugar.
"My fasting blood sugar was 120 and it should be under 100," says Snow. "It sounded like this program was on the money for me."
Following the book's advice, she said good-bye to cookies and candy. "I love them, but we've ended our relationship," she jokes. She switched to whole grains and filled up on vegetables, protein and fruit. She began walking daily on her treadmill ("after I cleaned the dust off"), starting at 2.5 MPH for 15 minutes, and adding time and speed every week.
Within two weeks, she felt her energy surging back. After a month, she was shedding two pounds a week. By the end of the year, she was walking 45 minutes every day, had lost 52 pounds, and had shaved 10 inches off her waist. Even better, her blood sugar is now normal (90); her cholesterol went from a high of 220 mg/dl down to 180; and her triglycerides—another blood fat closely linked to diet—dropped from 300 mg/dl to 140 mg/dl (optimal is less than 150). And her mood has improved. "The worst thing about the plan was that I was buying new clothes every month," says Snow. "It's a good problem to have."
Why It Works
To understand how you can lose weight like Saundra Snow did—and reap all the health benefits—you need to know a little about your metabolism. Everything you eat that contains carbs, from Caesar salad to a slice of cherry cheesecake, is ultimately converted into glucose—blood sugar—which is what your body's cells use for energy. Any excess is stored as fat. In the lean times (when you're on a diet and exercising, for example), your body will burn fat for energy to keep you going. That's how you lose weight.
Glucose gets into cells with the help of insulin, a hormone produced by your pancreas. This system works pretty efficiently when you're eating a variety of foods: whole grains, protein and fat, which are digested and metabolized slowly for energy over the long haul, as well as simple carbohydrates, which are digested and absorbed quickly.
But if your diet favors these fast-burning carbs, your insulin-production system has to work overtime—the pancreas must produce more insulin to open up cells and usher in all the sugar. So far, so good—but as your body realizes it's flush with fuel, two dire things happen. It stops burning fat stores for energy and it begins storing more of the food you eat as fat. So you gain weight.
Your insulin levels plummet once all the glucose is either feeding your cells or packed onto your belly and hips. But with blood sugar bottomed out too, you're left tired, moody and hungry for more sugary foods to boost your energy levels.
If your diet continually requires lots of insulin, the hormone can eventually become less efficient, a condition called insulin resistance. So your pancreas produces still more. But when extra insulin circulates, it can damage your heart and create problems. People with prediabetic conditions or diabetes are up to four times as likely as healthy people to get heart disease and are at increased risk of cancers of the breast, uterus, colon and pancreas.
The Sugar Solution is designed to keep your glucose control system steady, whether you have diabetes, are prediabetic, or are an otherwise healthy but overweight carb addict. It can even melt stubborn belly fat—the dangerous fat that increases your risk of diabetes and heart disease. In a Danish study, 25 people who raised their daily protein levels to the amount recommended in The Sugar Solution (up to 25 percent of daily calories) lost 10 percent more belly fat than dieters who ate more carbs. Aerobic exercise most days of the week—along with strength-training—also attacks abdominal fat and is an important part of this program.
The eating plan, developed by nutrition expert Ann Fittante, RD, at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Seattle, is based on the glycemic index (GI), a system that ranks foods by how much and how quickly they raise blood sugar. Eating low-GI foods frequently during the day (three meals and three snacks) has been shown to keep blood sugar levels on an even keel for hours. There's growing evidence that a low-GI eating plan can help you lose weight, keep it off, switch off cravings, and make you feel energetic, even when you're eating fewer calories.
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