Posts Tagged ‘Diet fads and gimmicks’

Don’t fall for the diet Ponzi scheme

January 6, 2009


I seldom use this blog to rant, but now is an exception. If cursing offends you, stop reading now.

I have before me the January 12 “special double issue” of People magazine, and it reminds me of the Madoff Ponzi racket that is shocking the world. What really pisses me off is all the over-hyped bullshit this rag (and many others) is using to sell magazines and dumb products to a gullible and even desperate population.  Don’t buy into this ripoff scheme.

Featuring people who have lost hundreds of pounds by going on severe deprivation programs is not even close to honest reporting.  The case-examples in the magazine went from the worst possible eating behaviors to the most extreme “dieting” behaviors, and that does not work for the overwhelming majority of ordinary people. It is no coincidence this kind of trash appears every January, when people are still hung over and reeling with guilt and shame for their lack of discipline in December.  Now, we are told, it is time to reverse course and shape up, at least until March. By then, the guilt will have been atoned for by a few weeks of exercise and food deprivation, and life will return to normal, so that by next December/January the overindulging/repenting cycle can begin anew.

Is there an alternative?  Yes, Yes, and Yes again!  Read the posts on this  blog, for example (starting here), and go to my website and read excerpts from (and reviews of) Weight Management for Your Life.  If you are serious about taking control of your own life, email me ( and I will mail you a free copy of the book (just mention this blog and give me a mailing address).  But hurry, I will only do this for the first 5 people I hear from.  Taking this action is one small way I am dealing with my anger.


Rethinking Thin

June 12, 2008

Gina Kolata, author of the book Rethinking Thin, has a point of view: it is almost impossible to lose significant amounts of weight and keep it off. I respect her work, but take issue with her pessimistic tone. Here is a review of her book I placed on

Most books on diet and weight control, and there are hundreds, fall into one of two categories: research-based but narrowly focused and selective in order to promote a specific point of view; or completely opinion-based and hyping some fad or promoting a product (which may be the book itself). Rethinking Thin falls into the first category.

Author Gina Kolata, a New York Times science reporter, contends that being “overweight” has been oversold as a health problem. She correctly criticizes the hugely profitable “diet industry” for capitalizing on people’s belief that they can and should try to change what they weigh. Her major argument is that people have little control over their weight and that, like height, it is mostly biologically determined through a poorly understood interaction of heredity and environment.

I agree with Kolata that being overweight is not necessarily a medical problem and also agree with her criticism of dieting, but I disagree with her emphasis on how little effect our behavioral choices have on the outcome. For example, she writes, “It must be that free will, when it comes to eating, is an illusion.” She throws out the baby “willpower” with the bathwater of self-blame and shame. The problem, as I see it, is not with willpower but with the misuse of it in trying to comply with worthless diet plans and attempting to achieve unrealistic goals.

For some people there is a major genetic and/or biochemical component to their difficulty in maintaining the weight they desire. Ongoing research concerning the roles of leptin, ghrelin, insulin, and many other hormones in regulating body weight and hunger demonstrates that some obese individuals (perhaps as many as 5% or more) may have genetic mutations affecting their ability to control their appetite. Related lines of research indicate there are biological forces that make it difficult for most people to lose weight once it has been gained. Such evidence suggests that once fat tissue accumulates, a system of overlapping neurological and hormonal mechanisms works to prevent it from diminishing. Even so, most of us do have a significant degree of control over our eating and activity level, and this means we have some control over what we weigh.

Here are some relevant lines of research that Kolata essentially ignores:

  • The important role of “non-exercise activity thermogenesis” (NEAT) in determining what we weigh;
  • The thousands of success stories of people who have lost significant weight (and kept it off) through conscious control of eating and activity (this may be a small percentage of the overweight population, but a significant group);
  • The proven role of social networks and support systems in affecting our weight and lifestyle choices;
  • Exciting research (using sophisticated neuro-imaging) which shows how and where the “conscious” brain exerts influence on our eating and impulse control (including the role of “won’t power”);
  • Extensive research on consumer behavior when it comes to food choice, portion control, and automatic or impulsive eating behavior;
  • Research on stages of self-change and willpower fatigue (and ways to increase self-control and overcome learned helplessness).

Kolata concludes her book with this statement, which is a bit pessimistic in tone, but also offers realistic hope for people who are interested in taking action toward improving their health: “The lesson is, once again, that no matter what the diet and no matter how hard they try, most people will not be able to lose a lot of weight and keep it off. They can lose a lot of weight and keep it off briefly, they can lose some weight and keep it off for a longer time, they can learn to control their eating, and they can learn the joy of regular exercise. Those who do best tend to be those who learn to gauge portions and calories and to keep their houses as free as possible of food they cannot resist. The effort, the lifelong effort, can be rewarding – people say they feel much better for it. But true thinness is likely to elude them.”

Please let me know what you think; are you an optimist or pessimist where weight management is concerned?

Weight loss supplements and diet drugs

May 22, 2008

Should you take willow bark, or drink green tea, to help you lose weight? Here is an article summarizing the latest scientific thinking about food supplements and chemicals marketed as weight loss aids. You have to register (and may have to be a healthcare professional) at before viewing the article titled “The Skinny on Weight Loss Supplements: Fact or Fantasy?” at

This website has connections with the pharmaceutical industry, so may have a bias in favor of the benefits of drugs (which I do not share). The bottom line is that FDA approved Orlistat has minimal value as “an adjunct to a diet low in saturated fat.” All the other supplements mentioned (Bitter Orange, Chitosan, Chromium, Conjugated Linoleic Acid, Fiber, Green Tea, Guar Gum, Guarana, Hoodia, Hydroxycitric Acid, L-Carnitine, Natural Licorice, Usnic Acid, White Kidney Bean Extract, Willow Bark, Yohimbine) have minimal or no efficacy, and many can cause serious side effects. Of the group, White Kidney Bean Extract (a dietary “carb blocker” which delays or attenuates the absorption of starch and carbohydrates) had a small weight-loss effect in one study.

The article concludes: “Before recommending such products, clinicians should inform patients of potential risks as well as questionable benefits. Lifestyle modifications, such as caloric restriction and exercise, should always be the first-line treatment for obesity. However, clinicians should recognize the popularity of products currently on the market and the likelihood that their patients may be using them.”

My take: Always beware of quick and easy solutions to losing or maintaining weight. As yet, there are no really good weight-loss drugs or supplements, and all of them come with significant downsides (cost, side effects, unknown long-term effects, interaction with other drugs and supplements you may be taking). See my website for excerpts from my book and also click on Frequently Asked Questions to see more of my approach to weight management.