The Fat of the Land

The National Institutes of Health estimate that over 97 million Americans (more than half of us) are overweight or obese. Sedentary lifestyles and the increase in fast-food/high fat diets are both key factors. Unfortunately, negative perceptions of “personal attractiveness” are not the only consequences of obesity. In many significantly overweight individuals, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, and adult-onset diabetes can be direct consequences of unhealthily elevated body weight. So, what is one of the most common ways people try to combat obesity? They DIET.

DIET BOOKS fill whole corners of popular bookstores these days. DIET BOOK AUTHORS become rich and famous, frequent daytime Talk Shows, and even boast celebrity clients in many cases. Some DIETS really do espouse sound nutritional principles. . .however, many do not . . .and are skewed heavily and dangerously toward a very unbalanced intake of food groups and calories. The greatest weakness of DIETS is the whole premise on which they are undertaken. A DIET, per se, is a finite period of eating in a certain very restricted (and often unnatural) manner. People begin DIETS with a very clear intent that there will be a beginning and an endpoint to this peculiar-eating behavior. As a consequence, people often do lose weight on diets, but this weight is quickly regained after the DIET is stopped. Unfortunately, metabolic changes that occur in many diets can actually enhance a person’s weight gain after the period of DIETING is over. Just ask a lifetime DIETER how much cumulative weight he or she has gained and lost during adult years. The answer is often “100s of pounds” if not more.

Effective, long-term weight management involves both fundamental changes in eating patterns/habits and a fundamental commitment to regular exercise/energy expenditure. Generally, eating patterns that include a low- fat, high fiber diet and regular exercise promote the most efficient weight maintenance programs OVER A LIFETIME. Additionally, long-term psychological and behavioral skills that enhance life in ways that are not dependent on eating need to be developed as part of a healthy lifestyle. To put it simply, we need to find ways to enjoy ourselves alone and in groups without using eating/food as a catalyst for pleasure. Unfortunately, there are people who go through life without learning such skills. If you are interested in developing long-term changes in your eating patterns and exercise regimens, there are well-qualified nutrition counselors in Nashville who work with individuals. I’m sure other parts of the country have such counselors as well.

So, if the intent of your current DIET is to lose 10-20 pounds before your Spring or Summer trip to the beach, you may accomplish that goal.(And possibly, you won’t appear quite as scary to other tourists and/or small marine animals when you don your bathing suit). However, if you are truly interested in attaining and maintaining a healthy body weight, you will need permanent changes in eating patterns, exercise patterns and other behaviors. With a DIET, you will not achieve these goals.

Stephen L. Hines, M.D.
March 2000