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Packing a Few Extra Pounds? Try Packing a Lunch: Your Health

womanfruit.jpgOn Jan. 1, 43-year-old Anna Barclay made the same New Year's resolution she's made every year for more than a decade: to lose weight. In spite of her good intentions, the 30 extra pounds she'd been packing around for most of her adult life didn't budge -- until this year.

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By Rallie McAllister, M.D.

On Jan. 1, 43-year-old Anna Barclay made the same New Year's resolution she's made every year for more than a decade: to lose weight. In spite of her good intentions, the 30 extra pounds she'd been packing around for most of her adult life didn't budge -- until this year.

Just six weeks into the new year, she had already lost a little more than 15 pounds. Anna didn't go on a fad diet, take weight loss medications, or have her stomach stapled; she simply made a minor change in her daily routine.
"I started packing my lunch," she explained. "I used to eat out almost every day, and I knew I'd never be able to lose weight if I didn't change my ways."

As a loan officer at an Atlanta bank, Anna's lunch breaks were once spent at local fast food restaurants. Her typical fare was a burger and fries or a couple of slices of pepperoni pizza, with a large soda to drink.

When she started counting calories, she was surprised to find that on most days, her fast food lunches provided around 1,000calories and at least 30 grams of fat. To make matters worse, the meals were loaded with cholesterol and sodium, and she was getting a daily dose of about 25 teaspoons of sugar from the lunchtime sodas alone.

Anna's former dining habits aren't all that unusual. A study conducted by scientists at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center revealed that each day in the United States, around a quarter of American adults partake of fast food.

The researchers found that among 9,000 study participants, those who consumed fast food drank about twice as many sugar-sweetened soft drinks as the individuals who avoided fast food. Not only did the fast food diners consume more calories, they also had substantially higher intakes of dietary fat and added sugar.

Fast food isn't solely to blame for America's rapidly expanding waistline, but there's no doubt that it is a major contributor. The results of a long-term study conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota identified a strong link between fast food consumption and obesity.

The researchers tracked the eating habits and weight status of more than 3,000 men and women for 15 years. By the end of the study, participants who visited fast food restaurants at least twice a week had gained an average of 10 pounds more than those who indulged in fast food less than once a week.

Anna didn't need scientific evidence to convince her that a steady diet of burgers, fries, and pizza was interfering with her weight loss efforts. She also suspected that the high-calorie, fat-laden meals were draining her of energy.

"I was always so sleepy after lunch, I could hardly keep my eyes open," she said. "I decided I needed to take control of what was going into my body."

Anna hadn't packed a lunch on a regular basis since high school, but she was ready to get back in the habit. These days, her favorite entree is a sandwich made with whole grain bread and lean deli meat, topped with lettuce, tomato, and spicy mustard.

Side items include a piece of fresh fruit, cut-up veggies with low-fat dressing, and a cup of yogurt. When she's in the mood for a salty snack, she packs a handful of pretzels or a few whole-wheat crackers.

Instead of soda, Anna now drinks a bottle of water with her lunch. All in all, her typical noon meal provides around 500 calories and less than five grams of fat.

While packing a nutritious lunch offers a number of health benefits, there's no doubt that it takes a little extra planning and effort. Anna spends about 10 minutes every morning preparing her meal and packing it in a small cooler before heading to work.

"I don't mind getting up a few minutes early, because I'm not as tired as I used to be," she said. "I know losing weight has improved my energy level, but I think the fact that I'm eating a healthier diet has a lot to do with it, too."

In addition to helping her achieve her weight loss goals, Anna's new lunch routine is benefiting her budget.

"I used to spend about $8 to $10 a day on fast food and soft drinks," she said. "Now that I've lost all this weight, I'm spending the money I've saved on new clothes in a smaller size."

Rallie McAllister, M.D., M.P.H., is a family physician in Kingsport, Tenn., and author of "Healthy Lunchbox: The Working Mom's Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim." Her Web site is http://www.rallieonhealth.com. .
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Categories: Health & Wellness, Newsletter, Women's Health,


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