I never set out to write a book about how to lose weight. However, while researching The Hundred Year Diet. America's Voracious Appetite For Losing Weight, I learned a great deal about what works, what doesn't and why, which is what today's blog is all about.
To begin: Current evidence suggests that the vast majority of us weigh too much as a result of an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise. That bit of prescriptive information was published for the first time in 1727 London, when it was based entirely on observation. It was restated many times in America when calorie counting became the thing to do around the turn of the last century, and "eat less and exercise more" is the prescription most credentialed nutritionists would give today. It appears to be immutable.
Except, it's not always that simple. A small segment of the population may have significant genetic or metabolic reasons for being overweight or obese. Although they still have to consume more calories to gain weight and less to lose it, they may utilize energy more efficiently, making weight loss more challenging. In other words, two people in good health of the same age, height, sex, bone structure and activity level may theoretically consume the identical amount of calories for a lifetime and yet not weigh the same.
Because we keep getting heavier and there's a lot of money to be made from a "cure," obesity research has become a significantly funded in pharmaceutical companies large and small, generating a lot of data and interesting theories, but no concrete solutions. Finding a pill that will control appetite is complex beyond any current scientific level of understanding. The key is successfully creating a drug that will regulate the specific brain hormones that cause us to lust after the foods we crave. To work well, it has to suppress appetite without tinkering with all of the pleasurable things in life like, for example, the pursuit of happiness. Not to mention the most basic human emotions of fulfillment, satisfaction, sexual desire and love. This is a level of sophistication about brain chemistry not yet available. There are two prescription obesity drugs currently on the market, but they are not very effective - few additional pounds are lost, there are risks, and you still have to eat better and exercise. The many over-the-counter remedies are not FDA approved and are thus far riskier, and have caused very serious complications and even death. If any safe magic pill were on the market, the country would be filled with thin people.
The same could be said for many fad diets - almost every one of them is just a starvation diet with a cool name, and starving yourself is as bad an idea as taking some pill that speeds up metabolism. During the Second World War, (and prior to the Helsinki Declaration) Ancel Keyes studied the effects of semi-starvation on healthy male conscientious objector volunteers in an attempt to understand the physiological and psychological implications of being undernourished, and the best way to rehabilitate famine victims after the war.
The men were allowed 1,600 calories a day, or about half of what they required to maintain their very active lifestyle. They lost weight, but they also suffered from depression, and manifested neurotic and psychotic behavior. After a period of controlled re-feeding, they were allowed to eat whatever they desired and ended up an average of five percent heavier than when they began.
Starvation diets are dangerous and ineffective, and even some of Keyes' extremely dedicated and closely watched volunteers cheated. Most fad diets allow fewer calories than The Minnesota Experiment.
In addition, immediately abandon any diet that recommends consuming a lot of vitamins. Clearly, that is just another way of saying that you are not feeding yourself well.
Food for thought: Sixty-six percent of Americans eat fast food one to five times a week and 66 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. Coincidence? Perhaps. But eating out, especially at most chain restaurants, usually means consuming a huge amount of calories. Some - say Panera Bread and Chipoltle - have better options, but cooking even a few meals a week at home can make a big difference. And taking control of what you eat can be a wonderful feeling.
By all means have a glass of wine with that home cooked meal, but try to keep the alcohol to 12.5 percent or less, because the more alcohol the more calories. The percentage is usually listed on the label on the back of the bottle, but occasionally you'll find it on the front. It may be in small print, but it's there.