Great American Eat Right Challenge: Have Some Fun!

Weight, weight, weight.  Sometimes, that seems to be what everyone is talking about these days when it comes to our health.


We are getting fatter.  We will be getting sicker.  Some of the gains we have made in lifespan are at risk if we don’t do something about our increasing waists, and do it soon.


But did you know that overweight and obesity are tied to an increased risk of several different types of cancers, such as breast cancer in post-menopausal women, as well as cancers of the colon, endometrium (uterus), esophagus, and kidney?


So what can you do about it?


On Thursday, August 16th the American Cancer Society is launching its Great American Eat Right Challenge, to help you learn more about what you should be doing to get your diet—and your weight—under control, and reduce your risk not only of heart disease, diabetes and hypertension, but your risk of cancer as well.


Most of us know that smoking is bad for us, and one of the main reasons for that is that tobacco products increase the risk of cancer as well as other life-threatening diseases.  But most of us aren’t aware that being overweight or obese also significantly increases the risk of cancer.


Since most Americans today do not smoke, that makes nutrition and physical activity one of the most important things people can do for themselves to decrease their risk of cancer.


The trick, according to American Cancer Society guidelines, is to follow a healthy diet that emphasizes plant foods.  That, in addition to maintaining a healthy body weight and exercising regularly are key elements in a healthy lifestyle that can help prevent cancer.


The basic rules, besides emphasizing plant sources of food in our diet, include:


      –Eating five or more servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits each day


      –Choosing whole grains (as spelled out on the package as the main ingredient: w-h-o-l-e

g-r-a-i-n-s) in preference to processed (refined) grains


      –Limiting consumption of processed and red meats


If you want more information, including a great instructive video by my colleague Colleen Doyle on how to shop in the supermarket, you can go to the Great American Eat Right Challenge Web site (


There is a lot of practical information on the website that you may find helpful and interesting, as you see whether you measure up to a healthy diet, or what you need to do to change your errant ways.  (You can also call the American Cancer Society at 800-ACS-2345 for the same information.  Our call center, staffed by knowledgeable cancer information specialists, is available 24 hours a day, every day.)


I can sympathize with every one of you out there, especially the older folks, who find it so difficult to get on track and lose some weight.  I, too, have had a life long battle with being overweight and obese. (By the way, losing about 10% of your body weight can have significant health benefits, so you don’t have to work your way into a string bean appearance in order to be healthier.)


After a significant health scare, I tried to go back to a healthier diet. 


About 18 months later, I have been able to lose a bit over 30 pounds.  It hasn’t been easy, and the reality is that it takes constant attention.  Sure, there are times when the limits come off, but for the most part when I am most successful when I follow some basic rules.


For example, I travel a lot.  Airplanes are a fact of my life, sometimes many flights each week.  And, then, there are the meals on the road which are difficult to control in terms of what they contain and when I get to eat them.


For me, I avoid those airplane snacks.  I carry calorie controlled meal replacement and snack bars so I can avoid the fried foods or fatty foods that are frequently served during meals at meetings, or what I may find at the airport (chicken Caesar  salad without the croutons or dressing is becoming a too-regular habit.  Occasionally, I throw in some sliced/diced fresh fruit in a cup).


I was once called “Mr. No Fun” by a server at a local waffle shop in North Georgia when I asked for an egg white vegetable omelet, no cheese, no grits, no toast, and yes, please, some sliced tomatoes on the side.


For me, that’s what it takes to get things right.  That and a lot of perseverance since the results are slow to come.


The Great American Eat-Right Challenge can arm you with information that you may find helpful in trying to make better choices.


For example, did you know that a 12 oz beer is the equivalent of a 1 ½ mile walk?  Or that 1 ounce of potato chips is also worth 1 ½ miles on your tired feet?  How about 2 slices of thin (yes, thin) crust pepperoni pizza is worth 5 miles?


I suspect most of us don’t even walk 2 or 3 miles during the course of a day, let alone all the miles it would take to walk off the junk food we eat during the week.


How about this one: 1 extra large cheeseburger with sauce, 1 extra large French Fries, and 1 extra large soda.  Take a guess at how many miles it will take to walk it off?  (See the answer below)


And then there are portion sizes to consider.  Do you know how much a normal portion, or a ½ cup or a whole cup of pasta for example look like on your plate?


My wife and I like to go to a neighborhood Italian restaurant that is part of a large national chain.  Great food, good atmosphere, relatively inexpensive, fun, and humongous portions.  We are actually able to eat several more meals during the week from the food we take home each time we visit this place. 


We have no idea how they remain profitable when they load so much on your plate, but if we ate everything they served we would have to run more than a marathon to work it off!!!!


I think by now you get the idea.


Some may say that eating right and being healthy means giving up everything you like.  I would say that is not the case. 


No one is perfect.  It’s the approach you take to your diet—and your life—that dictates who you are and how you feel.  It also dictates whether you will be able to live your life relatively free of disease, and have the mobility to enjoy that life.


By the way, I went back to the waffle place the next day, and the server remembered me.  “You’re that “no fun” guy,” she said.  (The label has stuck, except that it’s now “Dr. No Fun.”)


Well, I would dispute that I have no fun.  I just make different choices—most of the time.


The benefits are that my weight is down, my blood pressure is down, my cholesterol is down, my flexibility is up, and I am enjoying life just fine, thank you.  And, maybe because I have “no fun,” I may have fun longer than I would have had otherwise.


Take a look at the Great American Eat Right Challenge website, and figure out what you can do for yourself and your family to eat better, stay healthier, and reduce your risk of cancer and other diseases.


Make a plan, and do what works for you.


I promise that you too can have plenty of fun getting healthy, and staying healthy.





The answer to the question about the number of miles it would take to walk off the extra large burger, extra large French fries, and extra large soda?  15 miles!!!!

Filed Under: Diet | Exercise | Prevention


J. Leonard Lichtenfeld's Biography

Dr. Len

J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, MACP: Dr. Lichtenfeld currently serves as Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society in the Society's Office of the Chief Medical Officer located at the Society's Corporate Center in Atlanta. Dr. Lichtenfeld joined the Society in 2001 as a medical editor, and in 2002 assumed responsibility for managing the Society's then newly created Cancer Control Science Department which included the prevention and early detection of cancer, emerging cancer science and trends, health equity, quality of life for cancer patients, the science of cancer communications and the role of nutrition and physical activity in cancer prevention and cancer care.  In 2014, Dr. Lichtenfeld assumed his current role in the Office of the Chief Medical Officer where he provides extensive support to a number of Society colleagues and activities. As a result of his over four decades of experience in cancer care, Dr. Lichtenfeld is frequently quoted in the print and electronic media regarding the Society's positions on a number of important issues related to cancer. He has testified regularly in legislative and regulatory hearings, and participated on numerous panels regarding cancer care, research, advocacy and related topics. He has served on a number of advisory committees and boards for organizations that collaborate with the Society to reduce the burden of cancer nationally and worldwide. He is well known for his blog ( which first appeared in 2005 and which continues to address many topics related to cancer research and treatment. A board certified medical oncologist and internist who was a practicing physician for over 19 years, Dr. Lichtenfeld has long been engaged in health care policy on a local, state, and national level.  He is active in several state and national medical organizations and has a long-standing interest in professional legislative and regulatory issues related to health care including physician payment, medical care delivery systems, and health information technology. Dr. Lichtenfeld is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Hahnemann Medical College (now Drexel University College of Medicine) in Philadelphia.  His postgraduate training was at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the National Cancer Institute in Baltimore. He is a member of Alpha Omega Alpha, the national honor medical society.  Dr. Lichtenfeld has received several awards in recognition of his efforts on behalf of his colleagues and his professional activities.  He has been designated a Master of the American College of Physicians in acknowledgement of his contributions to internal medicine.  Dr. Lichtenfeld is married, and resides in Atlanta and Thomasville, Georgia.

5 thoughts on “Great American Eat Right Challenge: Have Some Fun!

  1. Kate, there has been research pro and con on the value of support groups. At this point, I would have to say that the focus is on improving survival, there is no consistent evidence that they achieve that goal. However, they clearly can provide support and help during a time of need and emotional distress. To get more information on support groups in your community, call our cancer information center at 800-ACS-2345.

  2. Vino, thanks for the kind words.

    Your comment has led me back to reread this blog, and many of the thoughts are still current and useful.

    I still struggle. I have been able to keep off most of the weight I lost, but now I am redoubling my efforts to do better. It certainly takes a lot of commitment and focus, but so far so good.

    In the meantime, I wish you well. At some point in the not too distant future, I hope to share my progress with my readers, including some new thoughts about what I am calling the “tyranny of the scale.”

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