I am not sure that I actually want to live to be 100 years old. But if I did, Dr. Blair Beebe is who I would go to for advice. In his health and fitness guide, The Hundred-Year Diet, Dr. Beebe uses science and cold, hard facts to break down exactly what you need to do to live a longer, healthier, disease-free life.
The Hundred-Year Diet is different than most health and fitness tomes in a variety of ways. It’s not as lengthy as others, with about half of its 176 pages dedicated to recipes contributed by Sue Beebe, culinary expert and Dr. Beebe’s wife. She also supplies an interesting chapter entitled, “Tips and Tricks” to simplify the preparation of the recipes and to avoid some of the more common cooking pitfalls, like scorched pans.
The Hundred-Year Diet does not have any pictures in it at all, unlike a lot of the health and fitness books on the market today. There are no expensive accoutrements to purchase with it, like a yoga mat or a DVD. It also doesn’t make any claims promising that if you adhere to Dr. Beebe’s guidelines, you will lose eight inches around your midsection in a month.
What this book does do, however, is provide the scientific research behind what most of us already know and have a hard time accepting: to lose weight and reduce the chance of cardiovascular disease and a variety of other maladies, you must reduce your caloric intake and exercise vigorously and regularly. Dr. Beebe also discusses obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure and clarifies which nutritional supplements are worth the investment and which ones aren’t.
This book is not for people trying to shortcut weight loss and Dr. Beebe mentions more than once that a healthy lifestyle takes hard work and commitment. But some of his guidelines are tough to take. For example, he recommends avoiding all alcohol, pastries, cakes, pies, ice cream, cheese, butter, cream, and red meat. In fact, only one of the recipes included in the book call for red meat. For the average person with a family at home, such restrictions might make the guidelines difficult to follow for an extended period of time, which may put long-term success at risk.
But for the reader who is truly interested in why you should exercise vigorously on a regular basis and how to prepare healthy meals that can help avoid premature death and disability, this book is invaluable. There is a handy table at the end of the book, “Food Values of Common Portions,” which illustrates the proper portion size for common foods that can be copied and posted on the refrigerator.
I had the chance to ask Dr. Beebe himself some questions about his motivation for writing this book and his opinion on other health and fitness-related topics:
What was your motivation for writing a health and fitness book based on science?
My patients regularly bring me articles and books from the popular press with recommendations unsupported by any evidence. For example, they might bring me two books with conflicting recommendations for weight reduction, one recommending low fat and the other low carbohydrates. A number of recent studies show that neither produces lasting weight control. The right answer: calorie restriction and exercise. Sadly, nothing else matters.
The history of medicine is filled with popular ideas that failed, our modern versions of purges, bleeding, and leeches. Publishers in the popular press are not in a position to evaluate the quality of recommendations that they sell, but they do know what sells: the more shocking the advice, the better the sales.
Patients think that scientists keep changing their minds, but real scientists do not publish unsupported recommendations; or, if they do, they get severely criticized by editorials and letters to the editor in the scientific literature, where an author must show evidence and be subject to criticism. Advice about health promotion and disease prevention in the scientific literature has changed only slightly in recent years
I refrain from advising patients to change their health habits based on speculation, because I know that historically, speculation often turns out to be wrong. I want my patients to have advice they can rely on for predictable effectiveness. I invite them to read scientific articles concerning their specific situation from sources like The New England Journal of Medicine, often written in language accessible to most patients. My book points out key articles.
How successful have your patients been in their weight loss efforts after adopting your guidelines?
The key phrase is “after adopting your guidelines.” Patients tend to take the published word seriously, not distinguishing the difference between guidelines based on evidence, and those based on speculation. The overwhelming flood of information favors the popular press. My book is an attempt to restore the balance, at least for my patients.
Patients who do pay attention to calorie reduction and an increase in exercise consistently enjoy good results, but they don’t find it easy. Taking responsibility for bad habits takes self-control.
How successful can a reader expect to be, if she were to follow your guidelines faithfully?
As I Indicate in the book, the Framingham Study, and others, show that people who have normal weight, normal blood pressure, optimal cholesterol and triglyceride levels, no smoking, and participation in vigorous exercise have a sharp reduction in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, emphysema, etc., and they also have a longer life span and fewer years disabled. It’s predictable. Overweight people who permanently cut their calories and increase exercise will be thinner and healthier. Patients who are unsuccessful usually have problems with portion size, snacking, a preference for high calorie foods, and other bad habits.
Have you seen a success story in your practice that highlights the fact that it’s never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle?
I’ve seen many, but a factor common to a large number of them is the influence of spouses and peers. If a person’s spouse or best friends are overweight, losing weight becomes especially difficult because of peer pressure. Likewise, if a student’s best friends get bad grades, bad study habits rub off. A recent Harvard study documented the devastating effect of peer pressure encouraging bad health habits.
On the other hand, peer pressure can encourage good health habits. I swim with Pacific Masters where there is powerful peer pressure to remain lean and fit. If a person needs to lose weight, there’s nothing like a buddy committed to the same goals.
For the prevention of cardiovascular disease, there are many studies that show reduced disability and greater longevity in patients who adopt better health habits, even after the onset of CV disease symptoms. It’s never too late.
What are some of the greatest changes you have seen in your patients after they have adopted Healthful Living?
The greatest near-term change is a boost in self-esteem. Buying new clothes a size smaller can put a spring in your step. My diabetic patients who lose weight can usually reduce their dose of medicine, and some with Type II, can actually go off insulin.
Long term, healthful living keeps patients out of the ICU, and later, out of nursing homes. I see many patients in the ICU and for many, healthful living would have prevented their illness. We can often prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes, emphysema, accidental death, and even many types of cancer with healthful habits. Americans spend more years disabled then in any other large industrialized nation. That doesn’t have to be.
A lot of people believe the health benefits are greater in organic food. Is organic food worth the increased price?
Maybe, especially for children. However, most of us are confused by the term “organic.” Unwashed food coated with pesticides is probably more dangerous than food grown with inorganic fertilizer. Because so many variables come into play, good scientific studies don’t exist to give you a reliable answer. I don’t mean that organic foods aren’t better, because they probably are, but the complexity of the subject doesn’t lend itself to clean scientific studies. Of course, we ought to avoid food contaminated with known toxins, but even the label “organic” doesn’t guarantee 100 percent safety. Sometimes, we just have to live with uncertainty.
What impact do you think weight loss reality shows have on the public? Do they encourage or hinder a healthy lifestyle?
I’ve never seen one. If they have commercials, I suspect the motive is attracting an audience more than encouraging better health habits, and that’s been a disaster in the popular press. On the other hand, I’ve seen some superb programs from the BBC. I suspect that television could be a powerful tool to promote good health habits, because TV commercials have probably been a major factor in encouraging bad health habits. Burger King, McDonalds offerings have undergone calorie creep, confusing customers about portion size.
Which commercial weight loss programs, if any, do you think promote the idea of Healthful Living?
Researchers have studied many commercial programs with generally dismal results. However, in one recent study in overweight diabetics living in East LA, liquid diet replacements showed some success. The authors of the study thought it was because these low-income people didn’t have access to healthful foods in stores in their neighborhood, but they could consistently substitute a canned drink for a meal. Mostly they were people who were grossly overweight.
I suspect that some commercial programs are helpful. Unfortunately, they have to fight to be heard in a crowded environment. I looked at the health-promotion section of a Barnes and Noble store recently. The selections occupied about thirty feet of shelves, floor to ceiling.
You might check out the websites of the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Type in “Diet for Americans.” Also look at the CDC website (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
Do you have any tips on Healthful Living for people who travel often and eat out more than they eat at home?
Most restaurants will have something healthful, but I find it frustrating too. Most items on the menu are high in calories, and even good restaurants have plenty of trans fat and saturated fat.
Suggestions:e Avoid anything deep fried
e Avoid all pastries, cakes, pies, ice cream, cheese, butter, cream, red meat (90% of the menu)
e Order salads with dressing on the side, and then use between little and none of it.
e Order fish broiled or steamed, and skip the sauce, or have it on the side as with the salads.
e Breast of chicken without sauce is good.
e Vegetarian meals are good, but watch out for hidden butter, cheese, and cream.
e Certain Asian, Mexican, and Mediterranean restaurants have more healthful choices.
e Watch out for portion creep.
e Substitute a run, swim, aerobics, etc. for lunch (or dinner).
e Brown-bag it. Choose non-fat dairy products, raw fruits and vegetables, granola (watch the portion size)
e Never, never spurge! It becomes the first day of your next weight-gain streak.
e Eliminate alcohol. It contains seven calories per gram. That glass of wine has more calories than you think.
e Order more soups. Stomach emptying time is longer and gives a greater sense of satiety, less hunger.
e Avoid sugar. It stimulates the appetite.
e Never snack.
e Watch portion creep. It’s the biggest diet killer.
e Watch portion creep!