In her best seller Fight Fat After Forty, Pamela Peeke, M.D., contends that 21st-century living seems programmed to make us fat. We squeeze every minute out of each day to reach our goals and commitments and constantly worry about falling short. That kind of behavior and anxiety can (and does) produce stress, which is "toxic" to our bodies, says Dr. Peeke.
How Stress Becomes Tummy Fat
When stress hits, different brain chemicals are released to help our bodies handle the physical response. One of those chemicals, cortisol, or stress hormone, is a powerful appetite "trigger." And what do we crave when we feel stressed? Candy, ice cream, cookies, potato chips, etc. These foods provide the carbohydrates and fat to replenish the calories used when we respond to stress. But when the same thing happens day after day, it becomes toxic and we gain weight.
Dr. Peeke has found that the extra calories consumed by the cortisol appetite trigger are converted to fat deposits that gravitate to one area of the body — the waistline. Fat deposits around the abdomen are associated with illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and cancer. That expanding waistline isn't just a vanity issue; it's a threat to your life!
To avoid gaining toxic pounds, Dr. Peeke advises that we keep cortisol below the appetite-stimulating threshold in our bodies. Ten simple strategies for meal planning and timing can put the breaks on toxic weight gain. Here what Dr. Peeke recommends:
Make sure to eat a healthy breakfast no later than 9 a.m., even if it means placing a bowl of oatmeal on your dressing table to eat while you put on your makeup. Some options: nonfat milk/yogurt smoothie with fruit; toasted English muffin with fruit spread; whole-grain cereal or oatmeal with raisins and skim milk, egg-white omelet and whole-wheat toast.
Eat a small midmorning snack approximately three hours after breakfast. It will tide you over until lunch. Suggestions: a piece of fruit, a small fat-free yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, or one or two pieces of low-fat string cheese.
Try to eat lunch no later than 1:30 p.m. Lunch should include a healthy balance of high-quality, low-stress protein, fat and carbohydrates (see pp. 172-174 of Fight Fat After Forty for details).
Three hours after lunch is usually the beginning of the "CortiZone," when stress hormones plummet along with energy and mental concentration. It's also the most popular time for stress-induced eating, when you gobble a candy bar for a quick energy boost. Instead, eat something that provides high-quality, low-stress energy. Combinations of protein and carbohydrates are ideal, such as low-fat or fat-free yogurt or cottage cheese, along with a piece of fruit.
Dinner should be started anywhere from 6 to 7:30 p.m. It should include soup or salad, vegetables and a source of protein, such as poultry, lean red meat, fish, legumes or veggie burger. Mixed fruit could be served as a dessert item.
Try to have dinner completed by 8 p.m. at least four to five days a week. Dr. Peeke's favorite saying is that if "you eat after eight, you gain a lot of weight!" If you must eat dinner after eight, eat lighter and eat before you go to dinner. (Remember, the CortiZone and your vulnerability to eat mindlessly extends through midnight.)
Women over the age of 40 do not require dense complex carbohydrates (pasta, bread, potatoes or rice) after 5 p.m. These foods are rich fuel sources and should be consumed in moderation, primarily during the day. At dinnertime these starches should be considered as occasional treats (once or twice a week, in small portions). The goal is to strip your dinner of the dense calories from complex carbohydrates. These foods, which were once considered a staple, should now be an infrequent dinner treat.
Dispose of all fat-free desserts and snack items in your kitchen. They are riddled with low-quality, high-stress refined, processed sugars.
Typical restaurant portions are man-sized. At lunchtime, remember to eat only half of any restaurant portion of starch, and try to eliminate it at dinner. At lunch, one piece of bread is appropriate. Remember: The later you eat complex carbohydrates, the more weight you gain.
Water should be consumed throughout the day. Often when we think we're hungry, we're actually thirsty. Eight 8-ounce glasses should be drunk during the course of the day.
For information about Dr. Peeke, visit drpeeke.com.
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