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Why We Get Fat: It’s Official

Don’t “Ho-ho-ho” me, Santa baby, with a “Because we eat too much.” While it’s true that overeating even a healthy diet will set you in the direction of being mistaken for the Michelin woman, it’s what you’re chowing down that really counts.

Researchers have apparently answered this key question: Why does everybody seem to regain weight they’ve managed to lose? Why is our reward for assiduous deprivation–the unadulterated joy of seeing a few pounds gone–brutally snatched from us as the scale drifts back up?

Working with a total of 772 European families that included 938 adults and 827 children, researchers in Denmark took the overweight adults and placed them on a supervised, calorie-restricted diet for eight weeks until they all lost an average of 24 pounds.

Then the families were divided into five groups, each of which was placed on a different unrestricted-calorie diet, with the goal of finding out which diet type kept the weight off best.

1. A low-protein diet with a high glycemic index (GI).
2. A low-protein, low-GI diet.
3. A high-protein, low-GI diet.
4. A high-protein, high-GI diet.
5. A control group that ate a generally healthy diet with no attention paid to GI.

Any guesses who kept the weight off?

Number three worked best. The high-protein, low-glycemic meal plan produced, among both parents and children, the lowest re-gain of weight (average was just one pound).

To make this work, you need to understand the glycemic index
The glycemic index, which applies to carbohydrate-containing foods, is a measure of the ability of the carbohydrates to increase blood sugar levels. Foods with a low GI (vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, for example) cause blood sugar to rise more slowly after they’re eaten and absorbed.

High-GI foods, on the other hand, trigger undesirable changes in metabolism, most annoyingly fat storage and accumulation. But it’s not all about the Little Debbies and other sugary baked goods. White bread, white rice, and refined breakfast cereals are also high-GI foods.

For best results, think in terms of the glycemic Index each and every time you’re choosing carbs. Some are just fine. Virtually all fruits and veggies, except potatoes. Grains are good, but only whole grains–nothing refined or processed. White rice is a “no,” but brown rice is thumbs-up. Anything with sugar or that arch-villain high fructose corn syrup will send your sugar soaring and your fat straight to storage.

Turn to the Glycemic Index Foundation for more information, but honestly the sensible among you will quickly see that avoiding processed foods and focusing your carb selections on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is the way to go. That and including plenty of protein-rich fish, lean meats, beans, and low-fat dairy products.

Our nutritionist Marla Feingold is a real master of the low-GI diet in a program called First Line Therapy. She is my resource when treating patients who are overweight, have high cholesterol or high blood pressure (or family histories with risk issues), or any chronic symptoms that appear to be related to food and metabolism.

I’m sorry to put all this on you at the holidays, but adding five pounds or more during these winter months isn’t difficult. Nutritionists estimate it’s not only possible but easy to take in 3,000 to 5,000 calories at a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. Double that if you’re visiting two families for two dinners.

Just before Christmas, I’ll give you 15 tips on staying fit and trim over the holidays. Until then…

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