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Weight Loss: Is it more than just counting calories?

Marilyn Soltis

   During the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States. In 2009, only Colorado and the District of Columbia had an obesity prevalence of less than 20 percent.
   The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines obesity as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater. BMI is calculated from a person’s weight and height and provides a reasonable indicator of weight categories and body fat that can lead to health problems including cardiovascualar disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.  
    “Calories in, calories out” has been the mainstay of losing weight. But many disagree. What kind of calories? What balance of fat, carbohydrates and protein? Do hormones, digestive issues, supplements— among other issues— play a critical role? Weight loss theories abound from the extreme to the scientifically proven. But what really works? The answer may be different for every person. 

    The Journal of the American College of Cardiology on March 15, 2011, reported on a new study of about half a million people which found that eating a Mediterranean diet is a good way to battle high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides, and abdominal fat, all contributing to metabolic syndrome. The diet consists of olives and olive oils, whole grain cereals, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, legumes and tree nuts and low consumption of red meat.
    Some people may respond much better to a low carbohydrate rather than a low fat diet. A study let by Raymond Plodkowski, MD, chief of endocrinology, nutrition and metabolism at the University of 
Nevada School of Medicine showed that obese women with insulin resistance lost more weight with the low carb versus low fat diet with the same number of calories. People with insulin resistance metabolize carbs abnormally.
In Gary Taube’s new book Why We Get Fat—and What to Do About It, he says that counting calories in and calories out precisely is impossible. An extra 20 calories a day means an extra 20 pounds every decade and exercise won’t keep you thin because it increases hunger. He says a low carb diet is the key and he is an advocate for the Atkins diet.
    Eric Westman, MD, co-author of The New Atkins for a New You says to start with a few guidelines: Don’t try to limit fat; eliminate pasta, bread, rice and starchy vegetables; eliminate fruit and hidden sugars; and eat as much as you like of protein and fat.
    Even the French are weighing in with the new Dukan Diet, another quasi-Atkins diet that touts high protein and low fat. In Dr. Dukan’s diet, the first phase consists of eating only proteins in lean meats, seafood, eggs and fat-free dairy products; the second phase is adding vegetables; after you stabilize, bread, cheese, fruit and pasta can be added; and then, eat whatever you want.

    The FDA has approved the use of gastric banding surgery in those who are mildly obese. Previously, the surgery was only available to those with a BMI of 35 or more. Now a BMI of 30 and above qualifies for the treatment. About 27 million Americans have a BMI between 30 and 35 and at least one obesity-related health condition such as high blood pressure or diabetes. The journal Clinical Obesity reported studies that suggested that older children who underwent bariatric surgery had significant weight loss and less comorbidity.
    Bariatric surgery remains controversial.
    Mark Hyman M.D., editor in chief of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, and author of several best-selling books, says in The Ultra Mind Solution, “Food cravings go away almost instantly when the body is back in balance. It is your hormones and nutritional deficiencies that drive your hunger.” He says there are three big epidemics of hormonal problems in America today—too much insulin from sugar, too much cortisol and adrenalin from stress and not enough thyroid hormone. 

    In The 4-Hour Body by Timothy Ferris, ice-water submersion, cold showers and ice packs were found to increase fat loss, improve immunity and treat depression—quickly. Ferris touts The Slow-Carb Diet with five simple rules. Avoid “white carbohydrates; eat the same foods over and over again; don’t drink calories; don’t eat fruit; take one day off a week and go nuts.

Detox First
    The latest Suzanne Somers book, Sexy Forever: How to Fight Fat after Forty, posits another popular theory in weight loss circles: detox first, lose weight after. Somers says, “Losing weight without getting rid of the toxins ensures that you will gain back all the fat and more. Just getting rid of the fat doesn’t get rid of the toxins, which are reabsorbed into your body. This creates a vicious cycle. Losing weight without learning to eliminate chemicals is like a merry-go-round and it’s why dieting doesn’t work. Plus the toxic load makes it more and more difficult for people from age forty on to lose weight.”

Food Additives
    Emanuel Barling Jr., Esq. and Ashley F. Brooks, R.N., authors of It’s not Your Fault: Weight Gain, Obesity and Food Addiction, write about the causes of food cravings, overeating, addiction, food allergies, delayed food intolerance and the dangerous addictive chemicals used by food manufacturers that cause the compulsive/obsessive eating that leads to obesity. The authors maintain that “a plethora of chemical additives, such as colorings and flavorings, are put into food to enhance its taste and appearance. Thousands of them. Dangerous torpedoes that can wreak havoc throughout your body. They contain addictive ingredients and bombard you from all directions. These chemical food additives send a signal to your body through the appetite center located in your brain to keep to keep right on eating whether you are hungry or not. You need to look at the foods you eat—study their labels and research the addictive food additives.”

    According to an article on WebMd, studies show that taking anti-depressants cause weight gain in up to 25% of people who take them. These include SSRI drugs like Prozac, Lexapro, Paxil and Zoloft. Also included are the antidepressant medications Elavil, Tofranil, Parnate and Nardil.

Eat Fast or Dine Leisurely
    The Journal of Nutrition recently published a study by Dutch scientists at Maastricht University in the Netherlands that says it doesn’t matter if you eat slowly or gobble down your food quickly. Both groups in the study were likely to consume the same amount of snacks afterward.

    The International Journal of Obesity reported on a study from the University of Helsinki that showed middle-aged women suffering from sleep disorders gained more weight than women who did not have sleep disorders. Sleep disorders may affect chemicals in the body that regulate appetite.

    Adolescent girls are at increased risk of developing various eating disorders and distorted body image the more time they spend on Facebook, according to a new study conducted by Professor Yael Latzer, Professor Ruth Katz and Zohar Spivak of the Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences at the University of Haifa.

Published: April 10, 2011
Issue: 2011 Spring Issue