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My Turn: A weight-loss strategy that works for me

Richard Gatto, 90, swears by a regimen of

Richard Gatto, 90, swears by a regimen of having a snack before dinner to keep his weight down. He's seen at his Smithtown home on March 5, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Gwen Young

Twenty or so years ago, I had my first, and to date, my only heart attack. It was a jarring experience that left me vowing to take all steps never to risk its repetition.

Those steps consisted of light exercise, good diet and careful monitoring of my weight. Yes, the doctor is in, but the primary responsibility was mine, and I had to accept that. As such, my doctor and I decided what was to be my weight, leaving the rest up to me. My plan was simple, cost-free and based upon the following logic: snacking.

I reasoned that snacking is the greatest cause of anyone's weight gain, and that was where the focus had to be for me. It's what we eat after or between meals that count most, and my plan was built around that premise.

Taking note of my snacking times, it was a no-brainer. Most always, it was after I finished my supper and sat down to watch TV, stuffing my face on my bowl of munchies. How could I miss? It was right in front of me.

Following that was my bed time, so where else were those calories going to go but straight to my gut? It is one brutal habit to break, but we must, for once we allow it to continue beyond that critical mass, the Goodyear blimp is our next stop. How do we control that?

Here is where my simple plan steps in. If eating after our main course is so damaging, then snacking before the meal should have the opposite effect. What if, in doing so, its minimal caloric content is just enough to keep my stomach busy? We know that the food gets down there lickety-split and stays there for about an hour. Timing, therefore, had to be critical and, if done right, should have the effect of curbing my craving for additional food.

To my satisfaction, it worked out beautifully and I found myself eating significantly less in my regular meal. For me, it has to be a simple snack, and not too appetizing -- perhaps a few chunks of raw cauliflower or broccoli. My favorite is a slab of Passover matzo. These snacks have few calories and plenty of bulk. Step one proved to be a smashing success and well within my control. Step two now was the problem: How was I to keep from snacking before bedtime?

Most of my nights were the same. I'd get home from work, have my supper, then park myself in front of the TV. You can predict what came next. There I am, looking for my snacks. A simple cup of coffee or tea replaced those snacks, and I began drinking them without cream or sugar.

At first, the change didn't please me, but after three or four times, I began to enjoy them. Fact is, now it is the only way I enjoy them. Milk or sugar destroys the flavor, and you'll be surprised to find how delightful they really are, straight up.

What's more, they become a satisfying substitute for all those calorie-loaded crunchies I had before. More so, if you have that cup of coffee or tea -- relaxed, after your meal rather than as part of it, you are less likely to want that piece of pie or cake you were accustomed to have as part of your regular meal.

If you still feel you must have something, try a small piece of matzo or a few saltines, sans salt, for a stomach quieter. It actually works; take it from a guy who has been practicing it for the past 20 years and still hasn't broken through his upper limit. Furthermore, I haven't found that it keeps me awake at night or running to the bathroom. There is absolutely no downside to it. At least, this has worked for me -- and I'm now 90 years old.

Now, what of the other side of that concept? Let's say you're too skinny and want to put on some weight. Easy switch: You do the very opposite. Never snack before the main meal, always after it. It's got to go into weight gain, there's no other place for it to go. Also, this time, you can put some peanut butter or ham on your matzo.

Richard P. Gatto,
Smithtown

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