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Americans are getting fatter.

Some have called our creeping obesity a virtual epidemic. They wouldn’t be far off. The figures are staggering: a 60 percent increase in the prevalence of obesity in the 1990’s alone says the October 4, 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. According to 1999 data, the average U.S. man now weighs 187 pounds and the average U.S. woman weighs 151. The “obesity boom” has also helped fuel an increase in type 2 diabetes. According to researchers at the CDC (Center for Disease Control), this increase in diabetes was no accident— type 2 diabetes is strongly associated with obesity. The CDC researchers feel that this association demonstrates that “obesity is not just a cosmetic disorder but a major risk factor for chronic diseases.” The World Health Organization would seem to agree: by their figures, over 300,000 Americans die prematurely from obesity related complications.

Healthy eating is one of the cornerstones of any wellness program.

For years, those of us who have been concerned with the creeping epidemic of obesity have been told the answer is to simply “eat fewer calories.” Kind of the culinary equivalent of “just saying no.”

Problem is, this strategy doesn’t work very well. Many of us overeat because we are eating the wrong foods. Our bodies are over-fat but undernourished. We suffer with cravings, mood swings and energy fluctuations. This in turn creates more stress in our lives, which takes us further and further from the path of wellness and balance.

There is a better solution to the problem than just cutting calories. It’s a solution that’s based on one of the central tenets in my book, “Shape Up—The eight week program to transform your body, your health and your life.” Simply stated it goes like this: Give the body what it needs and virtually every condition will improve. This includes—but is not limited to—the condition of overweight. The body has a remarkable, almost mystical ability to heal itself, if you give it the raw materials it needs to nourish itself: Real foods, pure water.

Simple, really.

Follow these six steps to eating your way to wellness and you may find that cravings, overeating and mood swings become a thing of the past. Your health will improve, your weight will settle to a place at which you can be comfortable and fit, and balance will be restored.

You will indeed be eating your way to wellness.

  1. Don’t skip meals. Every time you skip meals your body interprets this as an emergency of sorts, and it releases increased amounts of stress hormones. These stress hormones are your body’s way of passing along the information to all the systems that there’s trouble ahead. Your primitive digestion system interprets this to mean that you should store fat for the emergency your body thinks is coming. Important brain chemicals needed to feel good are depleted. You are set up for imbalance.
  2. Eat a protein at every meal. A protein serving is about the size of a deck of cards. Choose from fish, lean meats, turkey, chicken and eggs. Organic foods are likely to have less levels of toxins, hormones, antibiotics, chemicals and pesticides; organic eggs from free-range chickens have more of the heart healthy omega-3 fats.
  3. At every meal, eat a little bit of healthy fat. This can include nuts, extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, or even a little fresh creamy butter. The difference between “good” and “bad” fats is not the difference between saturated and unsaturated, it’s the difference between “damaged” and “undamaged.” Naturally occurring fats from real foods, which haven’t been subjected to high heat, chemical processing, refining and hydrogenation are rarely the problem.
  4. At every meal add some fibrous vegetables. This includes broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, kale, celery, carrots, mushrooms, onions, asparagus and peppers but there are dozens of others. If you’re an egg eater, try a vegetable omelette for breakfast, or some freshly made vegetable juice. Although tomatoes are technically a fruit, you can use them as part of your vegetable allowance since they fit nicely into most breakfast menus.
  5. Add a “real” carbohydrate. These include sweet potatoes, oatmeal, beans, legumes and real, honest whole-grain breads.
  6. Eat some berries every day. Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries—all are loaded with fiber, have low sugar, and are a virtual cornucopia of healthy stuff like antioxidants and phytochemicals.

When you plan your eating according to these guidelines, you will find that calorie counting is not as important, since your appetite will begin to self-regulate. You will be choosing from foods that nourish the body and soul and sustain and replenish the systems in your body that lead to good health. Weight will settle to a comfortable place and energy will increase. As you begin to eliminate foods that are over-processed and refined and replace them with the real foods your body needs, your sense of balance and harmony with the things around you will be restored.

These foods may take a bit longer to prepare, but the benefits to your health and wellness are incalculable. Real foods, pure water. Take with a daily dose of sunshine, exercise and loving relationships.

It’s a virtual prescription for health and well-being.

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, (aka "The Rogue Nutritionist") is a nationally known expert on weight loss, nutrition and health. He is a board-certified nutritionist with a master’s degree in psychology and the author of nine books on health, healing, food and longevity including two best-sellers, “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth” and “Living Low Carb”. A frequent guest on television and radio, he has appeared on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, and CBS as an expert on nutrition, weight loss, and longevity. He is a past member of the Editorial Advisory Board for Men’s Health magazine, is the Nutrition Editor for Pilates Style, and is a regular contributor to AOL, Vanity Fair Online, Clean Eating Magazine, Better Nutrition, and Total Health Magazine Online.