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Huntley man takes alternative to calorie counting

Nutrition experts agree there are other methods to lose weight

HUNTLEY – Don’t tell Ed Schmitt he’s on a diet.

It was a “lifestyle change” that helped him shed the excess pounds that he carried around for as long as he can remember.

Schmitt struggled for years being overweight – the bigger clothes, hiding in pictures, low self-esteem. His tipping point came when a doctor told him he needed a double knee replacement but wouldn’t perform the surgery until he lost weight.

He tried it all. A bookshelf in his home office used to house a book on every fad diet under the sun. He counted points. He counted calories. He eliminated carbs. But through it all, the number on the scale wouldn’t budge.

Schmitt finally found his weight loss niche and it was without counting calories – a method that has for so long defined weight loss.

He tipped the scales at nearly 300 pounds when two years ago he walked into Algonquin-based Healthy Habits Key to Wellness Fitness & Therapy Center. Today he’s 70 pounds lighter.

Schmitt, 67, of Huntley, calls himself a food addict, and by eating six small meals a day, he was able to lose weight without giving up his favorite foods.

“I never overdid it on broccoli, or cauliflower, or anything, “ Schmitt said with a laugh. “This is not a diet, this is a way to live and deal with food.”

Nutrition experts agree that obsessing over calories can leave dieters feeling empty.

A recent study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that dieting increased cortisol, the biochemical indicator of stress, and often accompanies weight gain. The Foundation, a private organization that promotes public health, also found that most diets fail to create prolonged weight loss.

“Calorie counting is still very popular; the problem with that is you cannot to do that for the rest of your life,” said Healthy Habits nutritionist Karin Boode, who helped Schmitt with his weight loss.

By eating smaller meals throughout the day like Schmitt did, the body should be hungry every two hours and that’s normal, Boode explained. If you’re not feeling hungry, it means your body is storing the fat and calories it took in, rather than using them up.

The key to that diet is portion control.

Preparing several small meals a day was quite a change of pace for Schmitt, a man cut from the generation of three square meals a day.

But he didn’t have to give up his favorite foods – a method crucial for a diet that works, Centegra dietitian Meg Burnham said.

“Ultimately they’re going to want to eat those favorite foods again sometime in their life,” Burnham said. “I’d rather try to figure how to eat them now, rather than later.”

Both Boode and Burnham said that for a diet to stick, it’s crucial to work with clients to eat their favorite foods without over-indulging. Burnham says she might suggest that clients change the quantity, the frequency of those foods, or suggest a substitute if one is available.

Though counting calories is giving way to other considerations – like smaller meals, or the promise of more fiber and natural ingredients – the high market low-fat, low-calorie foods still dominate. Products like Diet Coke, Special K and Lean Cuisine became weight-watching staples primarily by reducing calories from one’s favorite foods. But there’s one major problem: oftentimes stripping calories or fat also means stripping flavor.

“If you truly enjoy low-fat food, then a low-fat diet is wonderful for you,” Boode said. “I don’t know too many people who truly enjoy low-fat food.”

Furthermore, these products may replace calories or fat with more sugars or more sodium to make it more palatable.

“It depends on the product, but low-calorie does not necessary equal healthy,” she said.

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