Most of us will be making changes in our food and fitness routines for 2010. And one of the biggest motivating forces for said changes is finally being thin. We associate tons of positive things with thinness. Namely, health, happiness, attractiveness and success.
But before you start working toward your goals, here’s the reality behind some of the most common weight loss-related resolutions.
1. The resolution: I’ll give diet pills a try to help accelerate weight loss. Alli has been FDA-approved and is available over the counter. It works by preventing the body from absorbing fat.
The reality: According to Linda Bacon, Ph.D, in Health At Every Size (a book I highly recommend!): “The problem is you also miss out on absorbing many fat-soluble nutrients essential for good health. You are also unlikely to lose much weight. Plus, soon after taking Alli, your weight may ratchet back to where it started, if not higher.”
There’s also some unpleasant side effects you may not expect. Bacon writes, “Alli-oops, as some people say. And ‘anal-leakage and ‘dumping syndrome’ are the official medical terms. The drug company that makes Alli even issued an advisory: ‘You may feel an urgent need to go to the bathroom…It’s probably a smart idea to wear dark pants, and bring a change of clothes with you to work.'” (Interestingly, I don’t remember that mentioned in their commercials).
2. The resolution: Natural supplements seem like a healthy way (they’re natural after all) to lose weight, so they’re on my list of things to try.
The reality: There’s no watchdog over supplements (even the “natural” ones), which means companies can essentially put whatever they want in their products without telling you. Reading the label helps little, because it’s not an accurate list of ingredients. You have no clue what you’re taking. No governmental agency or any agency for that matter checks the bottles for safety or efficacy. Taking these supplements can be very dangerous. Here are some startling facts:
“Many of these ‘herbal’ weight-loss remedies — 69 at last count — are tainted with prescription drugs or mixtures of drugs, including laxatives, diuretics, and anti-seizure medications. And thatlist of 69 products will probably grow in the coming weeks, says FDA spokesperson Rita Chappelle.
Some supplements contain rimonabant, a prescription drug rejected by the FDA for use in the United States due to safety concerns. And others contain sibutramine, a prescription weight-loss drug sold as Meridia in the United Sates. However, the supplements often contain more than one drug, and in doses three to four times what you would get with a doctor’s prescription. The supplements’ labels don’t mention the medications, much less the amount of the drug found in the pills.”
Another slew of supplements to avoid is Hydroxycut because of its link to serious liver damage. The FDA has warned about other body-building products. In general, it’s best to avoid all dietary supplements (and be careful about all supplements!), because there’s no guarantee of safety. Ephedra was linked to over 100 deaths before a federal judge upheld a ban by the FDA. Consumer Reports created a list of the dirty dozen of dietary supplements, which included the following:
- Aristolochia: A herb conclusively linked to kidney failure and cancer.
- Yohimbe: A sexual stimulant linked to heart and respiratory problems.
- Bitter orange: Its ingredients have effects similar to the banned weight-loss supplement ephedra.
- Chaparral, comfrey, germander, and kava: All known or likely causes of liver failure.
Here, they offer tips for minimizing risk.
3. The resolution: I can get on ________ diet to successfully shed pounds.
The reality: Diets don’t work. And they usually backfire. Here’s why: Studies consistently show that if dieters do lose weight, they just gain it back. The same is seen with popular diets like the Zone and Atkins. Bacon lists several other studies where participants who were on these diets and exercised still regained the weight after six months.
This isn’t a dieter’s fault. It doesn’t mean you don’t have “willpower” or you’re doing something wrong. Blame it on biology. Yo-yo dieting results in less leptin, Bacon writes. “Less leptin means your body isn’t working as effectively as it should to tame your appetite and stoke your metabolic machinery.” Plus, the body pumps more of an enzyme called “lipoprotein lipase,” which ups fat storage.
4. The resolution: If I just work out hard enough and eat a sensible diet, I’ll finally be thin.
The reality: Genetics play a pivotal role in one’s weight, and studies of adopted children and twins show this to be true. In one twin study, researchers found that genetics accounted for 70 percent of weight variation, Bacon writes. In another study, adopted children resembled their biological parents in weight and body mass index (BMI), with no relation to their adoptive parents. Which means that oftentimes you can’t manipulate your genes into skinny submission (remember this isn’t a limitation of your body). Writes Bacon:
“Even if everyone in America exercised regularly, meditated daily, and ate nothing but brown rice, broccoli, and tofu, many people would still be fat, and most of our bodies would be heavier than the ones glorified in our culture. “
5. The resolution: Losing weight will make me healthier.
The reality: Weight loss in and of itself doesn’t equal health. But you wouldn’t know that from weekly media reports about the terrible consequences of being overweight and obese. Contrary to most media reports, research has shown that “fat people live longer than thin people,” writes Sandy Szwarc of Junkfood Science in her post on the obesity paradox (her blog has a wealth of information and busts many all-too common myths about obesity, nutrition, etc.). She writes:
“At this week’s meeting of the American Heart Association, yet another study was reported which found that fatter cardiac patients were more likely to survive hospitalization and invasive treatments than thinner ones, even when adjusting for age and other contributing factors. In this analysis of 130,139 heart disease patients, 5.4% of “normal” weight patients died, as compared to 2.4% of “obese” and 3.1% of “overweight.” Yes, those whose were “obese” were more than two times more likely to survive!
This is really only a “paradox” because it goes against what everyone believes to be true…largely because we don’t hear anything else.
While many may be incredulous, the largest body of evidence has found that fatness is not a risk factor for heart disease or premature death, even controlling for the effects of smoking. Ancel Keys and colleagues confirmed this nearly half a century ago upon examining 16 prospective studies in seven countries, as well as actual angiographic and autopsy examinations of 23,000 sets of coronary arteries which found no relationship between body fatness and the degree or progression of atherosclerotic build-up. And the most careful studies ever since have continued to support these findings.
Dr. Paul Ernsberger, of Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, led a review of nearly 400 studies that was published in the Journal of Obesity and Weight Regulation in 1987 which corroborated these results. “The idea that fat strains the heart has no scientific basis,” he said. “As far as I can tell, the idea comes from diet books, not scientific books. Unfortunately, some doctors read diet books.”
6. The resolution: Low-calorie diets (i.e., being thinner) will help me look better overall.
The reality: Again, any diet slows down your metabolism, increases enzymes that store fat, decreases muscle and is largely ineffective long-term, anyway. Because low-calorie diets are typically devoid of the necessary nutrients your body needs, you might also lose your hair, have brittle nails and rough, dull skin.
The Bottom Line
If you might never fit society’s thin ideal, does that mean you should just abandon exercise and eating healthy altogether? Who cares, right? There’s nothing that’ll make you thin. Not a chance! Leading an active, balanced, nourishing lifestyle has lots of advantages, from soothing stress relief and healthy bones to general emotional well-being and greater strength. You sleep better. You feel better. You think better.
Just remember that the key isn’t in losing weight, conforming to some unrealistic standard, restricting your food intake, depriving yourself and/or engaging in excessive exercising.
The key is in leading a healthy lifestyle. So this New Year’s, look at resolutions in a different light: Avoid thinking “thin,” and, instead, think “health.”
A fantastic page on spotting dietary scams and the worst scams from 1990 to 2008.