Interviews / August 16, 2012

Harvey B. Simon

By Charles Platkin, PhD

A member of the faculties of both Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Simon is also committed to medical education. He was honored to receive the London Prize for Excellence in Teaching from Harvard and MIT in 1993. As a practicing physician for over 40 years, he has provided primary medical care to thousands of patients.

The author of many consumer health publications, Dr. Simon is dedicated to informing the general public about health and medicine. He has written scores of articles for newspapers and magazines ranging from The Boston Globe and The Washington Post to Scientific American and Newsweek. He has also authored six health books, including The Harvard Medical School Guide to Men’s Health, Staying Well, Conquering Heart Disease, and The No Sweat Exercise Plan. Simon has received many national awards for his consumer health writing.

Name: Harvey B. Simon, M.D.

Diet Detective: I realize this is a general question, but why does it seem overwhelming to keep a fit and healthy family?

Dr. Simon: Life is so busy that people often make the mistake of setting a global goal, i.e., fit and healthy, as one goal. I suggest breaking down tasks and setting a series of small goals. As each is achieved, move along, realizing that each one works toward the goal of becoming fit and healthy.

Diet Detective: If you had to make one very specific suggestion about how to increase an individual’s activity level, what would it be?

Dr. Simon: View physically active tasks as an opportunity, not a punishment. Build an active lifestyle as opposed to viewing it as apart from daily life.

Diet Detective: The theme of your latest book is No Stress. No Strain. No Sweat. Is it really possible to live a healthy lifestyle like that?

Dr. Simon: Yes, of course. There are always going to be some stresses in life, but you can live without making pursuit of health a stress.

Diet Detective: What do you think is the single most important thing that makes or breaks a diet for someone?

Dr. Simon: The dagger in the heart of good intentions is an all or nothing attitude. People feel as though they have to give their all or they are worthless. There are ups and downs and ins and outs. If you deviate, pick yourself up, reset, and do it all over again.

Diet Detective: If you could only do one strength training exercise what would it be?

Dr. Simon: I have a simple recommendation — walk stairs. This builds strength in your legs and is a great way to build cardio fitness.

Diet Detective: On those days when you’re not motivated to work out, but you should, what’s the one thought that gets you going?

Dr. Simon: Knowledge that I will feel better afterwards.

Diet Detective: If you could eat one forbidden or unhealthy food (candy, cakes, etc.) whenever you wanted without gaining weight, what would it be?

Dr. Simon: There is no such thing as a forbidden food — it’s the amounts. An excessive amount of unhealthy food on a regular basis is a bad idea. If you have an overall healthy pattern, you can build in foods that don’t contribute to health or weight control.

Diet Detective: If there were one healthy food item (something you love) that you had to eat every day, what would it be?

Dr. Simon: All-Bran cereal with extra fiber. A lack of dietary fiber is a big contributor to intestinal problems. Also, a high-fiber diet reduces cardiovascular disease and obesity — it’s also important for weight loss. It is extremely hard to get enough fiber with just a high-fiber cereal.

Diet Detective: What do you consider the world’s most perfect food?

Dr. Simon: There is no perfect food or perfect meal. What really matters is an overall pattern of nutrition.

Diet Detective: What physical activity do you do to keep yourself in shape?

Dr. Simon: I jog or run everyday and from time to time I also walk, stretch, exercise with weights, and do yoga. The amount of exercise needed for optimal health is very moderate — this is one of the themes of the No Sweat Exercise Plan. Thirty minutes of exercise is excellent for your health, while 60 minutes is a bit better, but not much.

Diet Detective: Dr. Simon: I find walking or jogging the best way to relax, free my mind, and come up with solutions to nagging problems.

Diet Detective: What’s your favorite healthy ingredient? What’s the one thing you’d suggest people keep in their kitchen if they want to cook healthy meals?

Dr. Simon: Lemon juice is great as a seasoning. You don’t need salt and you can take foods that are low in sodium and make them tasty and appealing.

Diet Detective: Do you have a favorite low calorie healthy recipe or cooking tip? If so would you share it?

Dr. Simon: Portion control. Pick healthful foods and keep portions appropriate.

Diet Detective: Do you have a Calorie Bargain?

Dr. Simon: Carrots!

Diet Detective: Define failure.

Dr. Simon: Giving up on yourself.

Diet Detective: What was your worst summer job?

Dr. Simon: An assistant to a bedspread buyer for a leading catalog retailer.






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