Q: My family loves to go to the local all-you-can-eat buffet for dinner. But I am really trying to eat better and lose weight. Any tips on how to survive this massive temptation to overeat all the wrong stuff? - Mary S., Kokomo, Ind.
A: Congratulations for asking this question -- and for realizing that you don't have to get overwhelmed by mountains of fried chicken and chocolate layer cake to have a good time with your family or a good meal.
Many North Americans are going all-out at all-you-can-eat buffets, from endless pancake breakfasts in L.A. to a Boston eatery with a selection of 125 desserts. But take the advice of one Buffett (Warren), applied to another buffet: "You only have to do a very few things right in your life, so long as you don't do too many things wrong."
So here are a few right things to keep the buffet experience from going all wrong.
» Don't sit facing the buffet -- and sit as far away from it as you can. Studies show that twice as many overweight folks face the food as normal-weight patrons, and overweight buffet patrons sit 16 feet closer to the food than normal-weight diners. Really. Sit in a booth, not at a table. It's a form of portion control -- you'll be able to get fewer plates on the surface.
» Always eat a plate full of vegetables before you eat anything else. Go for a salad with all the radishes, peppers, broccoli, onions, sprouts, olives and chickpeas you want. For dressing, splash on balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil.
» Between courses, drink a full glass of water and wait five minutes before getting more food. Then have a second course with cooked veggies, no cheese or sauce. But don't skimp on flavor; add some condiments and spices, such as mustard or rosemary.
» Now, the main course. Look for anything that's grilled or oven-roasted, without breading or sauce. If you get chicken, remove the skin before eating. And for dessert: fresh fruit and black coffee.
Q: I'm 47 and just finished my first triathlon. I can't believe how good I feel. I'm never going back to my old habits. Why is this so life-changing? - Adolpho Z., Forest Hills, N.Y.
A: Wow! That's a real accomplishment, both physically and mentally. Exercise promotes oxygenation to the brain (for better thinking), good cardiovascular and immune-system health and muscle strength.
Why does getting regular exercise make everything work so well? One theory is that we evolved as endurance athletes, running for hours to catch our dinner. The early Homo sapiens who had the most stamina thrived and migrated across the globe. It was, quite literally, survival of the fittest. And the super-activity fueled our ability to think (our brain size is three times larger than expected) and organize complex social groups for more effective exploration and hunting.
Now, fast-forward to today -- many folks don't get even 15 minutes of continuous walking in a week! No wonder obesity, diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver and dementia are skyrocketing.
But at the same time, more people are looking for ways to break out of that trap. Hundreds of thousands of people in Canada and the U.S. participate in organized athletic events, from century rides to mini-tris and half-marathons, and hundreds of thousands more go for a walk, a jog or a swim as often as they can. A lot of people are finding that they're much happier when they're active, and they get more done.
One caution: When you exercise for more than two hours at a stretch, you overwhelm your cells' anti-aging mechanisms. Our humble advice for your long-term wellness: Train for long competitions in two-hour workout sessions, and only go longer on competition days.
So keep on enjoying how good you feel. And inspire others around you to be more active. Spread the word about the benefits of walking 10,000 steps a day!
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at firstname.lastname@example.org.