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Post-binge strategy

Be defensive the next time you face a feast. It's likely you'll face the challenge soon.

January 27, 2003|Martin Miller | Times Staff Writer

The human body was never meant to face a Super Bowl lineup. Not the massive players, but the massive menus. If you were a corporate VIP at Sunday's game in San Diego, you could have feasted on kielbasa and Italian sausage, savory pesto cheese torte and chocolate walnut squares from the pre- and postgame menus. If you were like most everyone else, watching the game at home or at a friend's party, you probably grazed upon a giant spread of high-fat, high-calorie food such as Buffalo wings, chili, nachos and beer.

If our binges were limited to Super Bowl Sunday and Thanksgiving, the two biggest days for gastronomical excess, they wouldn't be a big concern, say nutritionists and dietitians. For many of us, however, these feast fests -- in which more calories often are ingested in one sitting than is recommended for an entire day -- extend throughout the year in subtler forms. Holidays, birthdays, graduations, office gatherings and backyard barbecues now are occasions for overeating.

And a new study released last week helps demonstrate that the problem extends beyond special occasions to our everyday habits. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that portion sizes, whether at fast-food outlets, pricey restaurants or at home, have grown dramatically during the last 20 years. The average hamburger, for example, is 23% bigger, an order of fries is 16% larger and the size of soft drinks is 50% greater today compared with sizes 20 years ago, the researchers reported.

Needless to say, America as a whole has not embarked on a commensurate program of exercise to keep pace with its climbing caloric intake. Less than one-third of Americans engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five days a week, while 40% of adults do no leisure-time activities at all, according to government statistics.

Sometimes, in an attempt to compensate, overeaters eat less or exercise more in the days after a binge, but these tactics are not counterbalancing the damage, say food educators. The result is that Americans are gradually losing the battle for a static waistline and good health -- one pound at a time.

People will often gain a pound or two at a Super Bowl party or similar event. The problem, though, is that "we don't lose that pound, so a decade down the road you've got those extra 10 to 12 pounds," said Chris Rosenbloom, an associate professor of nutrition at Georgia State University. "It's weight creep, and it takes constant vigilance to fight it."

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A fatter America

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 61% of the country is either overweight or obese based upon a height and weight ratio called the body mass index. In 1999, about 31% of the population met the criteria for obesity. That figure was more than double what it was in 1971, when just 14.5% were considered obese. The stakes, of course, have more to do with just vanity. Being overweight or obese increases the risks for, among other things, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

It's unclear, though, exactly how much of the national weight problem can be blamed on the one-day binge. No studies have focused on that specific issue, but food educators suspect that it's one of the main culprits for America's growing flabbiness.

Most aren't aware how easy it is to exceed their daily recommended number of calories. Depending upon age, gender and activity level, a person should eat between 1,600 and 2,800 calories -- of which, at most, 30% should be from fat.

Ignore the Super Bowl smorgasbord and think about the chips, dips and beers you may put away watching the Laker or Angel game on television. Eating just six tortilla chips (a 1-ounce serving) of certain brands can ring up 140 calories and 7 fat grams. A couple of scoops (also a 1-ounce serving) into the guacamole dip would ring up 108 calories and 12 fat grams. Finally, wash it all down with a regular 12-ounce beer and you get 150 more calories.

Another common scenario is going out for a dinner and a movie. If you go Chinese, maybe you've heard about the evils of kung pao chicken, a serving of which can have as many as 1,500 calories and a whopping 76 fat grams, according to a study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based health advocacy group. Greek food can be just as treacherous. A serving of moussaka, Greek rice and baklava for dessert would cost you 1,620 calories and 76 fat grams, the center found.

You can easily run into as much trouble ordering Italian, Mexican or American fare. Meanwhile, at the movies, a large bag of buttered popcorn can have enough calories to match the meal you have just eaten. A typical bag can have 1,760 calories and 130 fat grams -- equivalent to the fats you'd get from eight Big Macs. Not that it would matter at this point, but a large non-diet soda would add 310 calories.

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