While it’s fairly easy to single out government, big business, culture and fad diets in the war against obesity, it’s a lot tougher to suggest solutions that work. To complicate matters, most researchers don’t agree on numerous weight-related issues: Why are Americans getting fatter? Why are children also becoming too heavy? What’s the fastest way to lose weight? What’s the right balance of grains, meat, fat and produce? Will losing weight too fast damage my health?
Unlike other areas of research, science surrounding eating is about as muddled as you can imagine. Some research questions the healthfulness of soy even though billions of healthy, long-lived humans eat copious quantities of the legume. Those few negative research reports confuse Americans, even though most studies show the food product lowers cholesterol and reduces risk of heart disease.
Even more confusing is the research on fad diets. There is no question, for example, that the Atkins Diet will help you lose some weight. Because Atkins requires you to cut out carbohydrates, those on the diet reduce their total calorie count, which will cut pounds. Also, the high-protein diet kicks in something known as ketosis, which means body fat is burned to make up for the shortage of carbohydrates. Atkins as a diet plan is very difficult to attack because it does help you lose weight initially.
Unfortunately, there may be long-term side effects with Atkins, which requires dieters to greatly reduce consumption of grains, fruit and vegetables. Eating steak nonstop may not trouble some people, who seem better genetically adjusted to deal with large quantities of protein. The rest of us, though, risk gout, high cholesterol, intestinal cancer, liver and kidney damage and a return to obesity. You can read more about the problems of the Atkins Diet on my site, or go to this page posted by the Partnership for Essential Nutrition.
The reason I make such a big deal about obesity on DadTalk is because I suspect the American diet has a huge qualitative impact on parenting.
First, parents want to live long enough to see their children grow up. And that’s part of my motivation for losing weight. I know what it’s like to grow up without a dad since mine died when I was 9. Research consistently shows that low calorie consumption and a lean body can increase lifespan.
Second, being fit helps parents care for their children. We all know how much energy it takes to keep up with them. And being fit sends a message to youngsters that they should be slim, too.
Third, few parents want to see their children grow up with weight-related health problems. I’m still freaked out that blood pressure medicine was doctors’ and parents’ treatment of choice for 8-year-old Adiva Berkovitz rather than an aggressive weight-loss plan.
But then it seems our nation is headed in the direction of a medical cure to obesity rather than a dietary one. After all, the pharmaceutical company first to come up with a safe, effective weight-loss plan in a pill will make billions. Read this from The Washington Post:
Eyeing a potential gold mine in the global obesity epidemic, the pharmaceutical industry has launched a massive drive to develop new diet pills and an intense campaign to persuade the government to make it easier to get weight-loss drugs onto the market. … Dozens of companies are testing scores of experimental compounds designed to curb appetite, block weight gain and burn fat.
While there is a place for medical cures in the obesity epidemic, it is ridiculous to think that pills are the best way for millions of Americans to lose weight. And in fact, since safe, effective drugs don’t work yet, the message has essentially become, “wait a few more years and medical science will cure your weight problem.”
On the other hand, here are the dangers behind such medical treatments:
The campaign for new weight-loss drugs is shadowed by a checkered history of bogus cure-alls and addictive amphetamines that were more salves for the vain than cures for the ill. More recent efforts to develop safe and effective drugs were marred by the discovery that the popular “fen-phen” drug combination caused life-threatening heart-valve problems. The FDA pulled it from the market in 1997.
Since then, only two drugs have been approved in the United States for weight loss: Xenical and Meridia. Both can help people lose weight, but both have major shortcomings. That leaves the two-thirds of Americans who are overweight, including the one-third who are obese, with scant options beyond often ineffective or marginally effective diet and exercise programs and expensive, possibly risky stomach surgery.
It is disingenuous to think there are few options other than drugs. There are plenty of thin people in this world and their diets work just fine. Still, let’s look at those options:
• Doctors and dieticians can offer some help. They of course understand the medical principles behind weight loss and gain. They also can make sure you meet your nutritional needs. Unfortunately, such care and treatment can be expensive, especially for the uninsured.
• And of course there are numerous websites and books you can turn to, many of them free or relatively inexpensive. The South Beach Diet, The Rosedale Diet, and The Mediterranean Diet are examples of the 106,144 entries that I found by searching for “diet” on Amazon.
How do you know which are the good ones? It’s darn near impossible to tell, when you consider so many of these books get good online reviews.
And it’s difficult for a lone blogger to evaluate them all and proclaim, “This is the penultimate diet book.” On the other hand, I have read The Okinawa Diet Plan, which worked well for me.
The book studies Okinawans, who stay slender and often live past 100 as long as they stick to their native diet. The book is written by well-educated doctors and researchers who looked at what has worked in one society for centuries.
After grasping the principals of the diet, I then proceeded to ignore all the recipes and incorporate just the concepts to my everyday eating habits. So far I’ve gone from about 198 pounds to about 158 pounds in 5 months.
173 pounds in 11 weeks. That’s a modest 2.3 pounds every seven days, which is under the 3-pounds a week maximum weight loss recommended by doctors.
The diet – lifestyle actually – was easy for me to adopt, because it fits with my world view of healthful eating. While I love steak, bacon and cookies as much as the next person, I couldn’t stand having a gut. Plus, I felt lethargic and was visiting the doctor with increasing frequency after my cholesterol hit 295, which has since fallen to 197.
(I hope to have new test results in a few weeks.) Cholesterol levels that high are a virtual death sentence, so I was pretty motivated to alter my diet.
Let me say upfront that I’m not a doctor. I’m not even a nutrition expert. But the two nutrition experts my health insurance allowed me to visit were trying to get me to eat things that were either bad for cholesterol or increased my weight. Fortunately, I’m quite good at research, even though a lot of the best material is locked behind ridiculously high subscription fees charged by research journals.
It would be improper for me to guide anyone on how to lose weight. On the other hand, over the next few months I can relay to you what principles I follow, and then relate to you how I adapt them to my daily diet. If you decide to follow them, I still urge you talk to your doctor and buy the book, The Okinawa Diet Plan.
The first post should appear soon, and you will be able to view all the items under the category Personal Diet Plan.