February 28, 2020

Dr. Harry Oken

Many people make a New Year’s resolution to improve their health, yet most Americans continue to be “overfat.” 

What happens when you’re “overfat?”

Being “overfat, especially having visceral fat (deep yellow fat within our abdomen), sets us up for an increased risk of a whole host of problems as shown below by this diagram. Source

Over fat diet triangleHow can we tell if we are overfat?

If two times your waist measurement is greater than your height, you are overfat.

Being healthy is all about lifestyle, and focusing on The Big Four.  The Big Four, listed below, strengthen your immune system. And if your immune system is healthy, you are tipping the scale, so to speak, towards aging gracefully rather than decaying as you age.  You will be more resistant to cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, and inflammatory illness.

  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Healthy sleep
  • Controlling emotional stress

More than 80% of getting healthy is what you eat.  The core therapy for cholesterol management and many other issues such as blood sugar, blood pressure, gout, sleep apnea and pain associated with osteoarthritis, is attaining a weight that is healthy for you.  Often, a small reduction in weight (just 10-15 pounds) will translate into a remarkable improvement in health. A reduction in weight of only 1 pound unloads 4 pounds/square inch on your weight-bearing joints, including the lower back.

Attaining and maintaining a healthy weight is a constant process of making adjustments.  It is a challenging process. Perhaps the most significant obstacle is that your brain’s pleasure center is continuously demanding you to seek and eat calorie-dense foods. This mechanism evolved for prehistoric humans to avoid famine.  Today, food is abundant, and food technology has created unhealthy but alluring foods full of white flour, sugar, salt and bad fat – everything the pleasure center craves. And the more we eat these easily stored dense caloric foods, the more we strengthen the pleasure center’s hold on us. However, we can reset the pleasure center. It takes hard work and discipline, but in days to weeks, we can tame the beast. Lifestyle changes can modify the neurological networks and inhibit our cravings for unhealthy foods.  

Here are a few tips for healthy eating:

  • Eat a predominantly plant-based diet.  Try to get at least five servings of vegetables and appropriate serving sizes of fruit.  
  • Avoid excessive amounts of dried fruit (although nutritious, we tend to eat more than we should). A small box of raisins is the equivalent of a whole bunch of grapes! I could eat four prunes, but I would never have four plums.
  • Avoid concentrated carbohydrates such as candy, cookies, cake, pudding, ice cream, juices, etc.  
  • Avoid soda which is liquid candy.
  • Eat good fat; it is filling and will not elevate your insulin levels.  Examples of good fats include avocados, nuts, nut butter, olives, and healthy oils such as olive and coconut.
  • Ingest the correct amount of protein for your ideal body lean weight — 0.5 grams of protein per pound per day of your ideal body lean weight.
  • Keep a food diary, or use a cell phone app such as “Lose It! – Calorie Counter ” or “Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal” to track your daily intake.  We all eat more than we think.

Exercise and restorative sleep also help to maintain and restore your immune system and control stress.  During the day, try to minimize your sitting. Get up every hour and walk around, or do some stretching, lunges or squats.  Work standing up if you can. Try to walk 10,000 steps every day. In addition to cardiovascular exercise 2-3 times per week, consider adding stretching and weight training 2 times per week.

Work towards a goal of your abdominal girth measured at your navel to be less than half of your height!

In addition, changes in lifestyle have led to 70 to 90% of us having too much fat; we are “overfat.”  Even if we may have a normal body mass index or our hip to waist ratio is within “normal limits” or the scale tells us we are at our high school weight, we may still be overfat. The journal article discusses a large segment of the developed world:

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