Nibble your way to elderhood, and other myths

November 17, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Would you believe scientists are developing a pill that, when taken once a day, will reduce body fat by five pounds per week while building muscle tone?

While there is no such pill, the trouble is that just about everyone would like to believe the claim no matter how fantastical.

The countless diet strategies on the market today - fat-leeching skin patches, high-powered enemas, eating by blood type - attest to the lengths to which people will go to lose weight without the work.


"It seems so difficult to lose weight the right way, through a healthy diet and exercise, and all of these other methods seem so easy. They seem magical," says Tammy Thornton, registered dietitian at the Washington County Health Department. "I think a lot of people are driven by what that number says on the scale. They want to lose weight the easy way. And they want to do it fast."

Diets and programs that promise magical, no-stress weight loss are plastered on billboards, and touted in magazines, books, on the radio and on TV, Thornton says. She says promoters of such programs are often more concerned with making money than making claims that might be fraudulent and even harmful to consumers.

And people buy into these appealing-but-scientifically-unproven weight-loss promises, which rarely result in long-term weight loss, to the tune of more than $30 billion a year in the United States alone, according to information from the American Dietetic Association at on the Web.

The organization has taken the position that successful weight management to improve overall health for adults requires a lifelong commitment to healthy and enjoyable eating practices and daily physical activity.

"You've gotta move," Thornton says.

Regular exercise combined with a diet high in such fibrous foods as whole-grain cereals, breads and beans, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, fruit and lots of vegetables is the best way to boost energy and maintain a healthy body weight, she says.

Judy Gruen remembers when eating more carbohydrates and less protein was touted as the best way to lose weight. She was surprised when the bowls of pasta she consumed every day in the late 1980s added pounds instead of taking them away, she says. Like so many other people, Gruen bit into a fad diet that would later be debunked - turned inside out, in fact.

No- and low-carb diets are the latest craze in weight loss.

"There's just no end to our gullibility when it comes to promises about fixes for our weight-loss problems," says Gruen, 43, of Los Angeles. "That there's a market for some of these wacky weight-loss products speaks to the desperation of a lot of people."

A former health journalist, mother of four and confessed chocolate junkie - "I see chocolate and it's like a force field drawing me to it." - Gruen takes a humorous look at the serious issue of fad diets and attitudes toward weight loss in her book, "Till We Eat Again: Confessions of a Diet Dropout," published by Champion Press. Written in diary form, the book outlines Gruen's attempt to lose 15 pounds before a reunion.

She tries some weight-loss methods she never thought she would, including belly dancing, boot camp, boxing and Bikram yoga - in which nearly nude participants spend 1 1/2 hours practicing 26 yoga positions in an extremely hot room.

"I thought I was going to die," Gruen says.

She tries the Weight Watchers point system, but finds she's still hungry after eating her allotted number of food points. And more than a little stressed out during the group weigh-in sessions.

"I was so upset by today's weigh-in that it took all of my powers of self-control, pathetic as they are, not to stop at the supermarket and get a jumbo-sized Hershey's bar, which I believe even doctors recommend as an emergency substitute for Prozac," Gruen writes. "However, I did try a new kind of soy nutrition bar that boasted among its ingredients twenty-four essential vitamins and minerals and a dedication to saving the rainforest. I found it tasted really good with chocolate syrup."

Gruen has her colon power-washed during a high colonic, and weighs a half-pound more the next day.

"Words fail me," she writes simply.

She takes Latin dance classes, joins a health club and attempts to satisfy her powerful sweet tooth with low-fat treats. Gruen's family's responses to her dieting strategies infuse her tale with added humor. In the end, the author learns that even drinking water can be taken to extremes by overzealous dieters, she says.

But more importantly, she concludes that engaging regularly in physical activities she enjoys and eating healthier foods in moderation - less white sugar, more fresh vegetables - make her look and feel better.

Gruen dropped about 10 pounds, built muscle and hasn't been sick at all since she made a few simple lifestyle changes, she says.

"The fact of the matter is, I'm healthier," Gruen says. "Small changes can really, really make a difference."

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