New Year's Diet Commandments
by Dr. Ann L. Engelland
(January 3, 2008) January. Is it my imagination or are my
jeans a bit too tight? I’m sure I’m not alone
since I recently read that the average American adult supposedly
gains 10 pounds over the holiday season.
New Year’s resolutions may involve how we eat, snack
and exercise but also how we shop, cook and serve our families.
We are often bombarded with conflicting information on the
latest take on dieting, healthy eating, benefits of different
fats, carbs and proteins. It is confusing, to say the least.
What to do? Just in time, there comes a comprehensive “expert
committee” report entitled “Assessment of Child
and Adolescent Overweight and Obesity.” This report
was made public electronically and is published in the journal
Pediatrics, December 2007.
So you may be better informed to make your resolutions, let
me share the highlights of the report with you. The committee
was convened by the American Medical Association, the Department
of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention and is endorsed by a host of august professional
organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics
and the American Heart Association.
What makes this report different from earlier ones is that
it is “evidence-based.” This means that all of
the recommendations have evolved from published research and
studies and are therefore more powerful than mere suggestions
or informal ideas. Think of them as “commandments”
for a healthier life.
According to the report, evidence supports the following:
1. Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. This includes
“vitamin water,” sports drinks, sweetened teas,
as well as sodas.
2. Encourage consumption of 9 servings per day of fruits
and vegetables. Serving sizes may be found at www.mypyramid.gov.
They are not as intimidating as one might think; two cups
of lettuce greens meets almost half the daily vegetable requirement.
3. Limit television and screen time to a maximum of 2 hours
per day for children over 2 and remove TV’s and other
screens from children’s primary sleeping areas. Let’s
face it: these particular recommendations were based on a
2001 study before iPods, portable DVD’s, laptops and
other easily transportable “screens” became ubiquitous.
4. Eat breakfast daily. (See: “Breakfast
5. Limit eating out at restaurants, particularly fast food
restaurants. Watch portion control; ask for a doggie bag before
you start to eat that double serving.
6. Encourage family meals (shown to be associated with higher
quality food and lower obesity prevalence). Even breakfast
7. Limit portion size. Beware of tricky packaging. There
are 4 portions in a pint of most ice creams!
8. Eat a diet rich in calcium.
9. Eat a diet high in fiber.
10. Eat a diet with balanced macronutrients (fats, carbs
11. Promote moderate to vigorous physical exercise for at
least 60 minutes each day.
12. Limit consumption of energy-dense foods (high fat, high
This report comes with limitations. Remarkably, there is
very little that is new here. In many ways it seems so simple.
For children who are obese, overweight, or who live in homes
and cultures where these “commandments” are more
the exception than the rule, changing habits is anything but
simple. Practical guidelines for clinicians are given. Alas,
the “Fifteen Minute Obesity Prevention Protocol”
will be hard to do for many pediatricians whose time slots
are down to seven minutes per patient. It will be up to the
community of parents, coaches, teachers, friends, and kids
to be responsible for our own wellbeing.
So, I think I will go home and throw out the eggnog ice cream
I received in a gift package and stick to the flavors I really
love. (Commandments 8 and 12)
I will also hold to a quarter of a pint (7),
and jump on the treadmill (11),
snack on celery sticks (2 and 9),
have oatmeal for breakfast with my kids (1, 6, 9, and 10),
eat an orange instead of a coke for a snack (1 and 2),
and I will have fulfilled at least 10 of the above 12 commandments!
Happy, Healthy New Year!
Dr. Engelland has a practice in Mamaroneck devoted
to Adolescent Primary Care. She now accepts Aetna and
Hudson Health Plan. Dr. Engelland can be reached at