Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Cambridge Fives? No, the Cambridge Thirty!

There is a common phrase, at least in America, that when one goes away to college, one picks up 'the freshman five' -- or, in some unfortunate circumstances, the freshman 15.

The five (or 15) are the extra pounds one picks up from eating an unbalanced diet, often due to being away from home for the first time. Lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyle contribute to the 5/15 pounds, too.

So now I'd like to coin a new weight-related university phrase.

No, not the Cambridge Fives -- that's already coined. (Cambridge Fives is a game based on Eton Fives, about which, more here.)

The new phrase is 'the Cambridge 30.'

But unlike 'the freshman 5', it does not designate weight gain, but the weight loss one encounters in moving from a (fairly) sedentary life with an American-style diet to a European-style diet and (more) active life.

In Cambridge, we cycled or walked everywhere. I did not eat between meals. We ate more sensible portions and more (and fresher) fruits and veg. We didn't have as much sugar or processed food. And we dined out only occasionally.

I returned to America in mid-June and got on a scale for the first time in nine months. I didn't really feel much different, and I expected I had probably held steady. Imagine my surprise to find that I had lost thirty pounds! I am now the lightest I have been in perhaps 15 years.

The best part is that we didn't feel as if we were depriving ourselves in Cambridge at all. We ate three good meals a day. We drank soda -- sugar free (like ginger beer), but we only drink sugar-free soda in the U.S., too (like Diet Coke). Sometimes I ate crisps at lunchtime. I would often go to my college on Friday for a fish and chip lunch, with a slab of fish as big as your forearm. I drank beer. We had desserts: we ate some chocolate almost every night, and when we didn't, we almost always had something else instead -- yogurt with fruit or something. Two or three times a week I would have a Mars or Snickers bar with lunch. You can see why I didn't necessarily think I had lost weight!

But I had also noticed that none of my trousers really fit me very well anymore, they seemed to have extra material or something, they didn't hang right. So I suspected something was up.

Anyway, this is just one more bit of evidence that environment is a crucial factor in personal health, and further support for my hypothesis that diet fads (especially) and trendy exercises are really beside the point: the key is moderate diet and moderate exercise, and building these into one's everyday life.

I had been intending to post this a long time ago, but hadn't gotten around to it. But I saw a review of an interesting looking book in yesterday's Chicago Tribune newspaper, and it triggered me to follow through. The book is Marion Nestle's What to Eat: An Aisle-by-Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices and Good Eating, and it looks quite helpful. The best advice she gives is probably the simplest, and comes at the end of the article (This is an adapted quotation from the article itself):

Nestle's core advice for good health boils down to three phrases and 10 words:
Eat less.
Move more.
Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.

If you want to make it more complicated, says Nestle, add five more words:
Go easy on junk food.

Good, sensible advice. And I hope to get back to it quite soon, as I've already re-gained five of the thirty I lost!

Here is a website authored by Dr. Nestle about the book, if you would like more information. Also check out her larger website, Foodpolitics.com, where she introduces herself and her work.


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