Books, Web Sites Groaning Under Weight Of Diet Advice

Easy-to-use government Web site helps people sort through advice offered by 20,000 diet books, supplemented by local support groups

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Joan Savage

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Teresa McQuerrey/Roundup

The Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS) program’s ‘bible’ is “The Choice is Mine.” The book explains the program, gives exchange lists and food diary pages. The program offers charms as rewards for each successful step members make on their path to a lower weight.

An entire bookstore could be devoted to all the books on dieting. But if you don’t have time to launch a library research project or prowl the bookstores — you can also find a host of sources on the Internet.

Two valuable sources on the health effects of a good diet are two government-supported sites — MyPyramid.gov and MayoClinic.com, according to Terrie Sue Townsend, director of dietary services at Payson Regional Medical Center. PRMC’s Web site also has good, basic resources on healthy eating.

The material on such sites is largely free, and easy to understand.

Web sites offer tools

The U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains the mypyramid.gov site, which focuses on healthy eating and physical activity. Another key element of the site is the philosophy, “One size doesn’t fit all.”

To prove its point, the site has tools to help people create individual eating plans. On the site’s “My Pyramid Plan” page, users enter their age, gender and activity level — plus height and weight if they choose. The site then produces a basic eating plan, which includes the number of calories to consume to maintain a healthy weight. The plan breaks the recommendations into the numbers of servings to eat from each food group.

Food groups include grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, meat and beans, plus a small amount of oil and sugar.

For instance, each day a 1600-calorie food plan would include:

• Five ounces of grains, with at least three of the five being whole grains;

• Two cups of vegetables; one-and-a-half cups of fruits;

• Three cups of milk or milk products;

• five ounces of meat or beans;

• five teaspoons of oils;

• No more than 130 calories in extra fats and sugars.

Mayo Clinic has a food pyramid of its own. The Mayo diet experts recommend:

• At least three servings of fruit and four servings of vegetables;

• Four to eight servings of carbohydrates;

• Three to seven servings of protein/dairy foods;

• Three to five servings of fats;

• Up to 75 calories a day of sweets.

Generally, a single serving weighs an ounce. However, when it comes to oils, a single teaspoon or tablespoon may constitute a serving, depending on which plan or food pyramid you are using.

Eating only the recommended servings on any balanced food pyramid would generally also require supplemental vitamins to ensure complete nutrition.

Consuming everything on your plan would provide you with all the nutrition you need. Vitamins are designed to supplement your diet when it is lacking important nutrition or when you have a health condition that might require additional nutrients to help your body combat the condition.

For people without a computer or Internet access, just find yourself a good cookbook. Check the index and see if it has a chapter on nutrition or meal planning. It doesn’t even have to be a recently published book — older cookbooks often have this kind of information.

The basics of good nutrition have not changed, even if the variety of foods available has. Those food choices also contain nutritional information, which people can use to make sure their personal nutrition plan is healthy and well balanced.

The PRMC Web site makes the following basic recommendations for healthier food choices:

• Eat a variety of foods;

• Cut down on fat, saturated fat and cholesterol;

• Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains;

• Limit foods with a lot of sugar or sodium;

• If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation.

The PRMC Web site is at www.paysonhospital.com.

The information about a healthy diet is found on its Health Resource page under Online Tools — “The New You: Diet, Weight and Stress Management.”

Back to the bookstore

Now, let’s get back to that bookstore filled with diet books.

For starters, take a look at amazon.com. Putting the words “diet books” in the site’s search engine, you get nearly 20,000 results. You can narrow your search to such things as: for women, best sellers, new for 2009, for women over 40, for men, by doctors, published in 2008, for children. Not everything listed in the next step of the search is a diet book, but there are still a staggering number of them available.

So what to choose — something written out for you step-by-step; something that is just a general guideline?

Visit amazon.com and see the sample pages of different diet books. If one or two sound like possibilities, go over to the local library and see if either or both books are part of the inventory; if they are not, the library can probably borrow the book from another source on your behalf. The authors of the books that interest you may even have Web sites to visit to learn more about their plans.

In other words, look before you leap.

Meanwhile, follow the basics offered at mypyramid.gov, mayoclinic.com or the New You pages at paysonhospital.com.

The personal touch

Of course, printed sheets of great advice may not be enough, considering that maintaining a healthy diet and losing weight are such a challenge.

Maybe you need that personal touch.

If so, look into the diet groups that meet locally, including:

• Weight Watchers has a group that meets Wednesday at 5 p.m. at the Masonic Lodge on Rancho Road;

• Take Off Pounds Sensibly has several groups meeting in the area — TOPS AZ #412 meets from 7:45 a.m. to 9 a.m. every Tuesday at the Pine LDS church, contact: Shirley Conklin, (928) 476-3024; TOPS AZ #373 meets from 7:20 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. every Thursday at Crossroads Foursquare Gospel Church, 114 E. Cedar Lane, contact: Sue Garn, (928) 472-7563; and TOPS AZ #527 meets from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. every Wednesday at Mogollon Health Auxiliary Activity Center, 308 E. Aero Dr., contact: Lee Norman, (928) 978-2388;

• Overeaters Anonymous has two different groups, one meeting in Payson, the other in Pine. The Payson group meets at 4 p.m. Mondays in the recreation room at the Rim Country Retirement Community, 809 W. Longhorn Road, contact: Elaine, (928) 468-1272, or Mary Jo, (928) 978-4663. The Pine group meets at 3:30 p.m. Thursdays, call Denice, (928) 978-3706.

TOPS, according to its literature, is the original weight loss group — starting in 1948. It uses an exchange system, providing a list of “allowed” foods and how much to eat.

The 1,200-calorie program allows five meats (two lean and three very lean), five starches, four fruits, two fats, two milk servings, two vegetables, plus “free foods” — which are condiment-type items.

Weight Watchers assigns points to food, and you can eat anything you want up to your personal number of allowed points, which are based on age, weight and height.

A weight loss success story

Joan Savage is a member of TOPS, and has enjoyed great success with the program. So far, the 74-year-old Payson woman has lost 90 pounds. She has been with TOPS since 2006. Key elements to the program are keeping an exchange record and food diary.

“It has been a wonderful experience for me,” Savage said. Some of her favorite parts of the program are the contests and the rewards of charms. She has claimed more than 40 charms during her time with the program.

“The greatest benefits of the program are the accountability it provides and how cost effective it is,” she said.

She said one of the lessons she has learned is to be thankful for what we have, and know there are some things about our bodies that cannot be changed.

Much of the popular diet literature — found in magazine and newspaper articles and in diet books as well — features claims that after a certain age it is more difficult for women to lose weight. That may be the case, but Savage is a stunning exception. Her advice to others who want to lose weight, “There is no time like the present, so don’t put it off.”

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