I would guess that the typical American isn’t getting enough fruit in his or her diet, and this is a big contributor to the obesity epidemic in our country.
Current dietary guidelines recommend that at adult get about two cups of fruit per day (on a 2000 Calorie diet). Most fruits also have a low glycemic index, which makes them a good healthy food choice for diabetics, even though fruits do contain sugar. This is because they also tend to be high in fiber, which helps slow absorption of sugar and moderates how fast blood sugar rises. (Also, fiber is good for you and the fruits are loaded with vitamins.)
So what exactly does two cups of fruit mean? A typical medium-sized apple or orange is about one cup of fruit. Are you eating an entire apple and orange every day? I do on some days, and it feels like a lot.
One of the most important qualities of fruits is that they have a very low calorie density. What this means is that for the amount of calories (or sugar) that is in a piece of fruit, it tends to take up a large amount of space in your stomach. Since fruit is also high in fiber, it tends to stay in your stomach for a long time, because your stomach has to grind it up before it can pass on to your intestines. This means that fruit can be used as an important substitute for unhealthy foods. You eat the fruit, and it makes you feel full. That keeps you from eating too much of something regrettable.
Recommended approach: Substitute some of your usual food with fruit
Here’s how this might work. Suppose I normally eat two slices of pizza at dinner and follow it up with two scoops of ice cream. What I could do is instead eat one apple before dinner, and then limit myself to one slice of pizza and one scoop of ice cream (if I still have room for it). By making a substitution like this, I can reduce my calorie intake by almost half, and still feel full after dinner.
I would say that any trick which can help you cut your calorie intake by half, but not result in you feeling hungry, could be the difference between losing weight and gaining weight very quickly.
To maintain my weight at my typical level of exercise, I need to have about one quarter of my food to be fruit. If I’m trying to lose a few pounds, I need to increase my fruit intake to about half of my diet. If I get lazy and stop eating fruit for a few days, I start to gain weight.
One important suggestion is that eating slower can really help increase the impact of this technique. If you eat the fruit and then follow it with the “healthy” portion of your meal, you should consider waiting a little while before you think about dessert. A delay of maybe only 20 minutes can allow your brain to catch up to your stomach, so you realize how full you are, and you can eat less dessert or skip it altogether.
The “Crazy” approach: Add a weight cap
People have been asking me how I’m still skinny at the age of 43, even though many of the elders in my family are struggling with their weight. (In other words, me being skinny is not genetic.) Because I’ve seen loved ones struck down by diseases that are compounded by poor diet, high blood sugar and obesity, I am kind of crazy serious when it comes to not gaining weight.
I have a hard upper limit on my weight. I don’t recommend this approach to everyone, because it requires kung fu discipline (which basically means you consistently do something difficult despite suffering, because it’s important).
I weigh myself several times each day. If my weight is over 148 pounds (chosen because it’s a safe BMI for Asians to avoid diabetes), then I stop eating. After that point, I am only allowed water or fruit. If I am craving protein, I may allow myself an ounce or so of pecans or other nuts. The fruit contains very few calories. The water contains no calories, and if I eat nuts, it’s not very much of them. The fruit makes me feel full, and the nuts add a level of satisfaction. I suffer a little bit, but barring a major metabolic problem like liver or thyroid disease, it’s more or less impossible for me to gain weight with this approach.
Given that I’m eating fruit for the remainder of the day, and only consuming fluids, the extra weight that is keeping me over 148 pounds is always gone the next morning, digested away and excreted as urine. (I normally start the day at about 146 pounds.)
Obviously, I don’t do this on special occasions, like holidays or vacations. If I’m out on a dinner date, I can’t run home and weigh myself before dinner, so I just eat like a normal person. However, on your typical week, I am restricting myself on about six of the seven days of the week. Do I feel deprived sometimes? Yes, I do. But I also don’t worry about diabetes, which to me is worth it.