Friday, January 02, 2009

Wanna lose weight fast? Fat chance.

Folks, this is a (long) "Reader's Digest version" as well as a (mild) update of a series of SHAMblog columns on dieting/weight loss that first appeared last January. I'm not proposing this as a "Best of...." It's just that the timing was rightgiven that it's "New Year's resolutions season"and we've also added a lot of new readers since a year ago.

Anyway, I figured it might serve as a nice little refresher course for those of you who are looking in the mirror right about now and not all that fond of what's looking back.

Besides, if Oprah and Larry King can recycle old shows during the holidays, why can't I?

Final note of preamble: This might be worth forwarding to friends who don't like what they see in their mirrors, either. (I'd wait, first, for them to bring up the subject. Especially if you're a guy and she isn't.) There's a lot of good info here, and a lot of solid leads to additional info, if I do say so myself.

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It's that time of year again. Just as sunrise follows sunset, and Charlie Sheen follows—well, let's leave it there—holiday season is followed by…weight loss season.
"The search for an optimal diet plan is almost a national pastime," Dr. George Blackburn, associate director of the Harvard Medical School's Division of Nutrition, once observed. I'd argue only that Blackburn understated his case: I'd omit the almost and change pastime to obsession.

Of 217 million Americans over age 18, roughly 71 million attempted weight-loss regimens of one kind or another in 2006. (For women as a class, that figure runs as high as 95 percent, if a survey by magazine colossus Conde Nast can be believed.) In a 2005 poll of those who've signed up for organized programs (Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, etc.), 37 percent said they'd tried two or more such plans; 22 percent had tried at least three. In today's busy world, you can even "go to" Weight Watchers meetings online (and is there not something slightly ludicrous about being able to attend such events without getting up off your fat ass?) In 2006, a record 140,000 Americans became sufficiently fatalistic about other paths to fitness that they underwent weight-loss, or "bariatric," surgery (even though the Mayo Clinic and most other responsible institutions reserve such surgery for the morbidly obese and/or those afflicted with serious weight-related health problems). That's a $3.5 billion niche.

Feeding this insatiable appetite for weight loss requires a steady stream of (supposedly) fresh material. A NEW YOU NOW! is the blaring message of the January issue, every January issue, of just about every major consumer magazine, as publications tap the spirit of their readers' New Year's resolutions. In women's magazines the theme remains on the cover in token form every month, then reappears in a big-splash way around March or April, in time for the annual bathing-suit purchase. But this is no longer an exclusively female province. The mid-90s ascendancy of such magazines as Men's Health has prompted other, more traditional men's magazines to run increasing amounts of diet- and fitness-related content. Accordingly, the diet and fitness industries raked in an estimated $58 billion in 2007. Even that lofty number understates the dimensions of the enterprise, omitting the low-level entrepreneurship of self-styled fitness trainers, nutrition and diet counselors, and practitioners of other latter-day "specialties" that require no little or no credentialing.

Amid all this, the impossible becomes possible, the outrageous becomes the norm. Or as Blackburn put it, "Dieters are easily seduced by meaningless anecdotal accounts of quick weight loss and totally unrealistic promises of easy success." Hope springs eternal.

That ever-hopeful consumer base has been conditioned to expect instant results from painless programs; to accept some modest level of short-term success in exchange for colossal long-term failure, including likely health risks. The diet industry plays off this culturally embedded naivete. It's a vicious cycle, with no end in sight. The bottom line is an ever-widening gulf between promises and results. The magnitude of the waste—the portion of that $58 billion that goes for nothing—can't be measured with surgical accuracy, but almost surely is beyond comprehension.

Consumer demand for the next weight-loss breakthrough is such that "revolutionary products" that lack any scientific foundation (and may well be unsafe) typically generate millions in ill-gotten revenues before the government steps in. But mostly the government opts out. It can even be argued that Washington underwrites the fraud being perpetrated on an unsuspecting public: Established federal practices give makers of drugs and so-called "nutraceuticals"* a significant role in the regulatory process. And in one of the most outrageous abuses of power, for more than a decade the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has been implicitly (sometimes explicitly) vouching for "natural" and "alternative" regimens that (falsely) claim to promote weight loss and offer myr
iad other health benefits. In the end, the diet world remains as wide-open a realm as exists anywhere in American consumer society.

Click here for more on government oversight of the diet industry.
The grim irony is that as the movement swells, so too does the collective American waistline. Two-thirds of us weigh more than we probably should. An astonishing 32 percent of us meet the formal criteria for obesity.*

*********************************

Genuine weight control requires dedication over time
. It requires self-sacrifice and patience.
Click here to read about the key ingredient, arguably, in successful weight loss.
In most cases, it requires meaningful changes in lifestyle. That's a level of personal investment that American dieters either can't or won't abide.
We want the pill or plan that screams EAT ALL YOUR FAVORITE FOODS AND LOSE 39 POUNDS BY NEXT TUESDAY!

As a result, some of today's best-known diets reached cultural eminence, transforming American eating habits en route, without being meaningfully validated for efficacy or even safety. (The cover story in the January 2004 Nutrition Action Newsletter featured a sidebar under the sly heading, "The Atkins Low-Evidence Revolution.") Nutritionally speaking,
Atkins' "low-carb" mantra was the progenitor of the biggest blockbuster of the new millennium to date, the South Beach Diet. Nonetheless, the very few scientifically rigorous studies of the diet cast doubt on its usefulness for genuine weight maintenance. Dr. James Hill of the Center for Human Nutrition, whom we met last year at around this time, says his studies of the people in his national weight-control registry show that Atkins dieters fare no better than others when it comes to long-term success—and may expose themselves to significant health risks in the bargain.

Or let's look at another popular (albeit unlikely) diet guru from recent years. In 2003's Ultimate Weight Solution: The 7 Keys to Weight Loss Freedom, Dr. Phil McGraw
began by separating overweight readers into "pears" and "apples"—in itself, an unoriginal step. But McGraw went on to use his book as a sales pitch for a branded "Weight Management Supplement & Complete Multivitamin" system that, he claimed, was specifically targeted to each body type. The system included a dizzying array of supplements, anchored by the now-infamous Shape Up! line of health bars and shakes; these featured McGraw's ruddy face on the packaging, and were made by CSA Nutraceuticals, coincidentally owned by McGraw's former Texas business partner. McGraw insisted that the CSA regimen, which set hopeful consumers back about $120 a month, had "solid clinical evidence behind it." Among those who disagreed was Yale's Kelly Brownell, one of America's most visible and respected experts on diet and nutrition; "a recipe for making money" was how Brownell described the McGraw plan to the New York Times. Another top clinical researcher in nutrition, Jules Hirsch, dismissed the whole thing as "gibberish." Under threat of federal indictment, CSA in 2004 promised to stop distributing the products, and the whole mess was resolved not in a lab—where it should've been assayed in the first place—but in a Los Angeles courtroom, where McGraw eventually agreed to fork over $10.5 million to consumers who felt defrauded. Even so, the paperback version of Ultimate Weight Solution remains a solid performer on Amazon. (How many times must I say it? We don't want to hear what we don't want to hear.)

All popular diets play fast and loose with the few established facts we do have about weight management, promising benefits rooted in the flimsiest of data and/or extrapolated from studies with doubtful real-world relevance. Of the rush to anoint the natural protein leptin as the next weight-loss godsend, health blogger Phil Kaplan writes, "When scientists found that injecting leptin into an obese, genetically altered mouse with a [flaw in a specific gene] caused it to lose ½ of its bodyweight in 4½ weeks, needless to say they were thrilled. If you are a genetically altered mouse with [that genetic flaw], then yes, leptin injections may help…"
Click here to read a "case study" in baseless diet marketing: cellulite.
Also by their nature, diet books and mainstream plans reduce complex formulas and inscrutable biophysical processes to jacket copy. Taking the time to explain the real mechanisms of action—to the extent such mechanisms are even known—would require far too much qualification and thus soften the "punch" of the promise. For a good illustration, one need look no farther than the current holy grail of pop-culture weight loss, the glycemic index (GI). The GI is the core concept of the mega-best-selling South Beach Diet by Dr. Arthur Agatston, as well as any number of other faddish diet programs. Basically, the GI organizes foods into "slow carbs" and "fast carbs," the theory being that you want to build your menu primarily around foods that provoke a slow rise in blood sugar (low-GI) rather than a rapid one (high-GI).

But there's a problem right off: The GI isn't a constant. The same prepared foods and even raw food components test out with different GIs according to how they were grown, stored, cooked, etc. White rice can be low-GI or high-GI, depending on whether it's Uncle Ben's converted (low) or instant (high). Ditto pastas: No universal GI consistency exists, even among specific types of linguine. Is the average dieter sophisticated and committed enough to sift through all this? More to the point, should he/she be expected to have to sift through it all, after paying $50 or more for a book and its associated menu planners, or hundreds of dollars for membership in an online diet plan?


Internal consistency isn't something that diet authors lose sleep over, either.

Item
: Though Sugar Busters rails against saturated fats, the book's list of "acceptable" foods variously includes butter, cream, cheese, eggs, milk, lamb and pork.

Item
: In the appendix of his Ultimate Weight Solution, Phil McGraw asserts that a health bar should contain no more than 140 calories. The bars he himself endorsed under the Shape Up! brand contained 210. (As I note in SHAM, writer Gregg Easterbook has convincingly pointed out that regardless of what you called it, McGraw's peanut-butter nutrition bar was, in fact, a candy bar.)

Item: Other diet books include recommendations for foods that either don't exist or would be awfully hard to find/quantify in the real world...such as the "lean bacon" that The Carbohydrate Addict's Diet urges its followers to buy.
Even the major health magazines, which generally cover their terrain with greater integrity and attention to detail, devote way too much copy to pandering to their audiences instead of dutifully informing them. This is true throughout mainstream publishing. "Every women's magazine runs cover lines telling readers they can lose weight by just walking," says a former editorial colleague of mine. "Granted, every bit of exercise is a plus. But walking takes so little effort that it's not going to change your body's metabolism in any significant way. But editors know from surveys that that's what readers want to hear. So every month, at least one of the magazines runs a major feature that combines 'walking' and 'weight loss' in some direct—and thoroughly misleading—way." When the choice is between telling the truth—the whole truth—and losing readers, magazines go the pragmatic route.

One encounters this same "tell 'em what they wanna hear" mindset at all levels of the weight-loss movement, from its big-picture issues right down to the tight-focus claims of individual players.

Big-picture: The industry persists in hyping the notion of targeted weight loss—"lose those ugly saddlebags by July!"—even though selective slenderizing of body parts has never been clinically demonstrated. Says Quackwatch's Dr. Stephen Barrett, "There is nothing you can ingest, no pill or potion, that will spot-reduce a specific part of the body."

Tight focus: The South Beach Diet promises that you won't ever be hungry despite menus averaging between 1200 and 1500 calories a day (erring towards the lesser number). Did Agatston ask any men?** This would also be a good time to reiterate what's really going on with diet books as a class: If readers lose weight at all, it's because they're eating a lot less food.

What's more, I can't stress often enough that, while there's scant evidence that these products promote weight loss, they are not benign in their overall health impact. This became clear in the late 1990s when Redux and Fen-Phen, then widely used appetite suppressants chemically related to
"speed," were banned after causing dozens of deaths due to soaring blood pressure and heart-valve abnormalities.***

Today, we have other "weight-loss aids" with precarious backgrounds:

Conjugated linoleic acid, an element of Dr. Phil's (since repudiated) line of nutraceuticals, does little for dieters but has been linked to liver damage and compromised insulin resistance.

Leptin
, the aforementioned protein that's now being positioned as a silver bullet for obesity, may also upset the body’s fragile insulin/sugar balance.

Dried fucus vesiculosus extract
, a seaweed derivative found in today's hottest anti-cellulite pills, won't help your cellulite, but contains up to twice the U.S. RDA of iodine per pill, posing a danger to people with compromised thyroid function. It also may affect the length, timing and overall predictability of women's menstrual cycles.

The plethora of herbal teas
that vow to catalyze quick weight loss contain potent laxatives and diuretics that often cause cramping, nausea, diarrhea, light-headedness, and uncomfortable sensations in the arms and legs; and, they play havoc with homeostasis (the body's attempt to maintain a steady state of biological function). As with other products that cause a dramatic water loss, the culprit is acute depletion of potassium reserves and other electrolytes. This can lead
has ledto heart-rhythm disturbances even in young, otherwise healthy people.

The crippling flaws in mainstream diet books are endemic to the process that brings them to market. For one thing, there's a strong impetus in publishing circles to have these books authored by celebrity doctors. This may seem sensible enough in theory, but in practice, the celebrity doctor seldom arrives at his insights after long-term affiliation with a large research hospital specializing in the medical aspects of nutrition. In fact, celebrity docs seldom are actively involved in clinical research. Often they're just selling a plan that they thought up based on anecdotal observations of their own patients—if that. Today's doctors-cum-authors may have little more to offer than a theory of how a certain weight-loss regimen might work, which they brainstormed with some hotshot literary agent, who then changed things around a bit strictly for marketing purposes. You'd be shocked at how many "breakthrough!" diets were conceived not in a lab, but by some agent and editor at a pricey New York bistro like Elaine's.

Nonetheless, American dieters operate under the assumption that the kookier the regimen, the more "visionary" it must be. Any plan that sounds too commonsensical lacks the pizzazz to gain popular traction and thus become, from a marketing standpoint, the Newest New Thing. As Harvard's Blackburn suggests, this has the effect of imbuing even the most outlandish weight-loss scams with a certain topsy-turvy credibility. Or as
Quackwatch's
Dr. Stephen Barrett puts it, "It's hard to get anybody's attention peddling an old standby like Vitamin C. But if you tell people they can lose weight by consuming ground-up Brazilian tree bark…?"
Click here to read the epilogue to original series on diet/weight loss.
* Interestingly, both the obesity statistics and the sums spent on weight loss have gone up since the figures quoted last year at this time.
** And what about dieters who are simultaneously exercising? A 1200-calorie menu is totally insufficient to supply the needs of a body (male or female) that's also engaged in vigorous physical activity.
*** and still without yielding the weight-loss results one might expect! One major review of data involving Redux users showed an average weight loss of just 3 percent. On a 200-pound man, that would be a rather underwhelming loss of just six pounds.

41 comments:

RevRon's Rants said...

Ironically, the New Age / Law Of Attraction / Secret crowd have an effective weight-loss program, and aren't even promoting it. All the unhappily pudgy among us have to do is to restrict our food intake to only those comestibles we obtain directly through visualization. Focus upon the food you want, realize that it's already yours, and be grateful that you have it. Then eat anything and everything that comes your way. I can virtually guarantee that the pounds will melt away rapidly.

Now, if I could just figure a way to make some $$ selling it!

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, you jest--I think--but I am honestly surprised that we haven't yet seen a whole series of Secret spinoffs, a la the [...] for Dummies books (or the way John Gray expanded his Mars/Venus brand). You could have The Secret at Work, The Secret in the Bedroom, The Secret to Keeping Secrets, and on to infinity.

RevRon's Rants said...

The truth is often said in jest, Steve. If someone ate only the foods *directly* obtained through visualization a la The Secret, I guarantee they would lose weight. Of course, the process' efficacy would provide a bit of a nasty paradox for the Secret believers. How would one market something that actually works because it is based upon an alleged "law" that doesn't work? Damn near Zen, in a hustledork kind of way.

VW= perproid

Anonymous said...

Have you ever read "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes? It goes through hundreds of pages of medical studies and literature.

The other thing is the link between The Secret and weight-loss programs: both blame YOU if you don't succeed while following them.

Steve Salerno said...

perproid. That would be...Barry Bonds, wouldn't it? Or would it have to be roidperp?

RevRon's Rants said...

Any suspected miscreaant who is also a PITA (and I'm not talking about Lebanese bread). IE: David Schirmer

Steve Salerno said...

Anon: The book sounds familiar from some time ago...yes?

Of course The Secret would blame people who fail on diets--just as the book/concept blames Katrina victims for failing to ward off the hurricane, and just as one of the core contributors, Joe Vitale, last year blamed San Diego fire victims for being insufficiently positive to keep the wildfires at bay. If the theory is that "you attract what you think about," then clearly, by that "logic," whatever you are is what you cosmically earned for yourself.

roger o'keefe said...

This is a terrific post, Steve, but the businessman in me wonders how a self-supporting writer, by your description, can afford to give away this much information for free? That's the part of blogging I don't get, even as much as I personally enjoy it and sometimes benefit from it. How do the economics justify?

Steve Salerno said...

Who said the economics justify?

arnie said...

uh, but what about shangri-la diet? if you don't mind the stupid new-agey name, this thing does seem to work.

Rational Thinking said...

Unsurprisingly enough, the LoA approach is available for pre-order. 'Think and Get Slim - Abraham on Natural Weight Loss'. If only it were that easy :-)

Best for the New Year

Chad Hogg said...

Ooh, a quote from Gregg Easterbrook. I've enjoyed his Tuesday Morning Quarterback articles so much that I would like to read some of his more serious work.

I have no actual expertise in the field, but I have always thought that dieting was the wrong approach anyway. High-calorie, high-fat foods taste good to us because our distant ancestors needed them just to keep up there strength while doing 14 hours of hard physical labor everyday. A desk jockey like myself is not going to find the time for that amount of extreme exercise, but any serious attempt to lose weight without burning calories seems doomed to failure.

Now, the fact that we as a society have replaced real, useful hard labor with paying to go to a special place and subject our bodies to fake, useless (other than its fitness benefits) exercise is a topic for another post.

I should also note that I am a complete hypocrite regarding these views. Thankfully, I've been blessed with a fairly high metabolism so far.

Steve Salerno said...

RT: But why do you have to order it? If it's in your mind, and you're actively attracted to the approach...don't you already have it? Or won't it just...come to you?

Wendy Lee said...

Steve, I just found your blog after the (wonderful!) WSJ piece last week.
I'm a 50-year-old woman, never smoked, I eat well, I work out hard, I'm not overweight, both parents are healthy. It annoys me that I'm lumped in with all the unhealthy people out there -- smokers, obese, sedentary -- in terms of disease risk, cause of death, recommended screening, etc. (not to mention health insurance premiums!). Do you know of any source that stratifies risks by fitness and overall health level?

Steve Salerno said...

Wendy, glad you joined us. As you know, any insurance outlet that, like AARP, claims to "specialize in the over-50 demographic" is usually priced at the worst possible rates, because the assumption of poor health (or imminently poor health) is built into the underwriting. "We don't turn anyone down!" translates to "We price everyone's policy as if you're all sky-diving alcoholics with pancreatic cancer!"

But--given the number of people "our age" who take their health more seriously these days--I'm surprised that you're having trouble finding insurance rated for (relatively) low-risk insureds. Let me look into this. And don't hesitate to remind me if I let it slip through the cracks!

Elizabeth said...

"Dried fucus vesiculosus extract"

I almost choked when I read those words -- it sounds not only disgusting, but a little indecent. Definitely not an extract I want to ingest!

swike said...

I believe the only sure fire way to lose weight and get into shape is ones true desire and willingness to do so. I agree that there are no magic pills or plans that work. However, based on experience I attest to some things that actually do assist with weight loss. The article talks about teas and herbal blends that are scams but several studies have been done, as well as through my own personal experience, that some things, for example green tea, boosts metabolism. Not to say if you drink tea all day you will be skinny (though if thats all you consumed you might...). It takes dedication to burn calories yourself, but I feel this can be enhanced with proper nutrition and supplementation. Bottom line, make sure the research you do on any nutrient isn't sponsored by someone trying to make a buck on it.

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz: It's pronounced fyoo-kus. ;)

RevRon's Rants said...

"Bottom line, make sure the research you do on any nutrient isn't sponsored by someone trying to make a buck on it."

'Zackly, Swike! This applies to any form of medicine, whether that canonized by the AMA & FDA or the different "alternative" approaches available (especially those that promise miracles). Unfortunately, you'll have better luck finding a cheap Chinese buffet that doesn't use MSG.

Elizabeth said...

Just to note, that Elizabeth who posted above is not me, the old Eliz. FYI.

sassy sasha said...

everybody i know (female) is on a diet, it's INSANE! these are girls who don't weigh as much as my black lab to begin with. our culutre is crazy when it comes to weight, where girls are concerned especially. and they wonder why so many women are on prozac by the time they're 20!

Anonymous said...

I always thought when it came to weight loss that's where all this New Agey ideas go down the tubes! Remember, "think and be thin" or "visualize the pounds melting away"? Those diet ideas use to crack me up and still do.

Cosmic Connie said...

Great post and great comments about a perennially popular subject. Rational Thinking's comment in particular prompted me to come out from under my rock and get back into SHAMblogging:

"Unsurprisingly enough, the LoA approach is available for pre-order. 'Think and Get Slim - Abraham on Natural Weight Loss'. If only it were that easy :-)"

Abraham, as many may know, is/are the imaginary friend(s) of Esther Hicks and her hubby, former Amway salesman/carnival worker/professional dilettante Jerry Hicks. 'Twas Jerry who initially encouraged Esther to get into the imaginary-friends industry, apparently after seeing how successful Jane Roberts had been with "Seth."

Esther and Abraham were the main "stars" in the original version of The Secret, which many Secret fans say is superior to the revised version in which Abraham-Hicks were cut out. This was one of those "Secret greed" situations; apparently Rhonda didn't want to share any more of the profits.

"Abraham" is not merely one imaginary friend, but an entire group of "disembodied entities." (And by the way, Esther doesn't channel; she "receives information" from them.)

My guess is that a weight-loss plan "received" from the voices in Esther's head is just as good as anything Dr. Phil or the rest of that lot have to offer. And maybe even better; after all, the Abe Gang don't seem to weigh much at all. They may be lightweights, but they are helping Esther and Jerry rake in some serious dough.

And Steve, re your comment about why we haven't seen "Secret" spin-offs, a la "Dummies" or "Mars & Venus"... I imagine it's because Rhonda Byrne is too embroiled in lawsuits right now to expand the brand. The much-promised "Secret" sequel, produced by Rhonda and gang, has yet to see the light of day, although of course the hustledorks have been out in force for nearly three years now with their own "Beyond-The-Secret/Secret-behind-The-Secret/Missing Secret/Transcend The Secret crap.

Elizabeth said...

Related comic relief (as if what's been said already here was not funny enough :) -- from this week's New Yorker:

Looking Your Best
by Amy Ozols
January 5, 2009

People say that obesity is an epidemic in America, but I’m determined not to become part of the problem. That’s why I’ve spent years perfecting the secret to a trim and attractive physique. My foolproof system involves just nine easy steps.

Step 1: Avoid what psychologists refer to as “emotional eating.” This is hard, because many people have a tendency to experience emotions. To solve this problem, consume increasing dosages of psychotropic medications until you cease to feel emotions of any kind.

Step 2: Visualize yourself as a thin person. This is very important, because the body often takes its signals from the brain. Each time you take a bite of food, imagine that you are a thin person taking a bite of food, chewing the food, then spitting the food into a napkin, then tucking the napkin into your backpack or purse. After you’re done visualizing these things, start doing them.

Step 3: Get rid of your “fat clothes.” Keeping your closet stocked with unflattering garments will only distract you from your quest for a slender body. To complete this step, shred or burn everything in your closet, including any hangers or shelving that a fat person may have touched. Refrain from donating anything to charity, as this could cause underprivileged people to become obese, which would be unsavory and possibly even illegal.

Step 4: Refrain from consuming food.


Full text:
http://tinyurl.com/9pjrgx

Elizabeth said...

'Twas Jerry who initially encouraged Esther to get into the imaginary-friends industry

Smart man, Connie, we gotta give'em that. After all, this is one sector of our economy that will not need a bailout.

P.S. "Transcend The Secret"? Wow. It must be top secret Secret, like the nteenth level of enlightenment in Scientology, where you pay 75,000 bucks for one page of the anointed wisdom from The Leader.

Elizabeth said...

The system included a dizzying array of supplements, anchored by the now-infamous Shape Up! line of health bars and shakes; these featured McGraw's ruddy face on the packaging

Steve, I think this was brilliant -- putting Dr. Phil's pic in your face should be an effective method of discouraging you not only from eating, but also from other life-related activities. Just look at the pic accompanying your post: does it look appetizing? Does it make you want to reach for that snack bar (cigarette, remote control, lover, laptop, drink, what-have-you)? Of course not. One quick glance and you feel like crawling under your desk and not coming out for a week, much less indulging in assorted vices. So I dunno, but methinks Dr. Phil diet would work for me.

Bhuvan Chand said...

great article................keep writing.

Dimension Skipper said...

My ISP's home page of course has ads strategically placed, sometimes for relatively innocuous stuff like insurance or whatnot, but often enough for dating services and things a little more hazy in their claims. Tonight I logged on and saw this ad for the first time, "I Lost 43 Pounds in Two Weeks!" I immediately had to do that screen capture of the image and upload it for posting here.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) I didn't click on it so I can't honestly say what it was hawking. I assumed it was some sort of diet and I think that's probably a safe assumption, but I don't know. Regardless, I can't imagine that losing 43 pounds in two weeks, if anything close to true, could be at all healthy to do.

I also can't really imagine how it could even be done beyond to simply stop eating and exercise one's butt off (literally, but again that can't be healthy, can it?).

Could anyone possibly believe such a claim? I don't.

(The home page ads change just from log on to log on, but if I see it again I may very well click it just to try to find out what it's really about.)

Dimension Skipper said...

I just thought to simply Google the phrase "I Lost 43 Pounds in Two Weeks!" and found this "fake blog" page name-dropping Oprah and Dr. Oz. It's pushing something called "acai" which allegedly suppresses the appetite. Courtney mentions the "Oprah seal of approval."

The before and after images are the same as in the ad I found, so it's obviously connected to it whether or not the ad would have taken me to the same "blog" page had I clicked it.

I call it a "fake blog" because, well, that's just what it looks like to me. At a quick glance I don't see evidence of an archive of posts or anything like that resembling a real blog.

Steve Salerno said...

DS: The acai berry is big doin's nowadays. A "top 10" scam. But when you ask, "Could anyone believe such a claim?", I assume it's a rhetorical statement. People believe these and similar claims to the tune of, well, about $58 billion, at last count.

Elizabeth said...

(I) found this "fake blog" page name-dropping Oprah and Dr. Oz. It's pushing something called "acai" which allegedly suppresses the appetite. Courtney mentions the "Oprah seal of approval."

Now, if the acai berry, which has the approval of HRH Oprah and her royal physician Dr. Oz (and isn't it the perfect name for a dream peddler?) is so amazingly effective, then how come HRH Oprah keeps gaining weight? (Or is this an impertinent question to ask?)

And you're right, DS, losing 20+ in a week, if at all possible, cannot be good for your health. About two years ago, I was quite sick and had to drastically modify my diet (which was easy, given the pain and the number of pain meds which suppressed my appetite), losing almost 30 lbs in less than two months. My weight loss was dramatic, putting me essentially in the close-to-skeletal frame (and has led, I kid you not, to my insurance premiums going up, for some clerk decided that my being too thin is more upsetting to their company's well-being than to mine -- or than being overweight, for that matter).

I've since regained most of the weight, along with my dietary vices (sigh), but I cannot imagine that kind of a rapid weight loss to be a positive sign (unless one is morbidly obese). I think ads making such claims should be viewed with extreme suspicion (and preferably banned -- where is FDA when you need it?)

Steve Salerno said...

Fear not for Oprah, Eliz. We'll be getting her latest take on weight loss, body image and related matters on Monday, January 5, when she goes before the cameras, confesses that she's fat, and kicks off her 2009 program for addressing that truth--or, alternatively, for accepting herself for what she is. I guess we'll have to tune in and find out.

Elisa said...

I read the Secret, but it took some work, because I kept visualizing wanting to puke. (Hmmm, maybe that would be an effective weight-loss tool.) I have lost 80 pounds, and kept them off, by a new miracle diet:
1) Reducing my portion size and giving up certain foods altogether
2) Moderate exercise
3) Accepting that it would take several years to accomplish, given my sedentary lifestyle.

I am planning to publish my new book, "The Slow, Painful and Resentment-Filled Miracle Diet: You'll Want To Kill Anybody With A Fast Metabolism" this spring. It will be a national best-seller!

Elizabeth said...

"The Slow, Painful and Resentment-Filled Miracle Diet: You'll Want To Kill Anybody With A Fast Metabolism"

Elisa, now that's a title I love! I'm buyin'!

Elizabeth said...

This just in:

Study: Exercise Won't Cure Obesity

livescience.com –
Tue Jan 6, 12:06 pm ET

Physical activity has many proven benefits.

It strengthens bones and muscles, improves mental health and mood, lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, breast cancer and colon cancer. Exercise is also good for your brain.

It may not be a cure-all for obesity, however.

Though better nutrition coupled with exercise has long been the favored prescription for losing weight and avoiding obesity, a new study suggests diet actually plays the key role.

Researchers from Loyola University Health System and other centers compared African American women in metropolitan Chicago with women in rural Nigeria. On average, the Chicago women weighed 184 pounds and the Nigerian women weighed 127 pounds.

(...)

Diet is a more likely explanation than physical activity expenditure for why Chicago women weigh more than Nigerian women, Luke said. She noted the Nigerian diet is high in fiber and carbohydrates and low in fat and animal protein. By contrast, the Chicago diet is 40 percent to 45 percent fat and high in processed foods.

(...)

"Evidence is beginning to accumulate that dietary intake may be more important than energy expenditure level," Luke said. "Weight loss is not likely to happen without dietary restraint."

The results, announced in a statement from the university today, were published in the September 2008 issue of the journal Obesity.

Other centers involved in the study include University of Ibadan in Nigeria, Howard University, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and University of Wisconsin.


Full text:
http://tinyurl.com/8jcomr

Voltaire said...

I had a PE teacher once that gave a lesson in how to lose weight that's stuck with me all these years. She went to the chalkboard and wrote down an equation like this:

calories in < calories out

That's all you have to do in order to lose weight.

Of course this simple relationship doesn't sit very well with a public that wants no change in their habits or an industry that caters to this public.

Steve Salerno said...

Volty: Yep. Now, you'll hear all kinds of formulas (formulae?) that make subtle refinements to the CI/CO model, and you'll hear people insist (with some evidence, to be fair) that eating certain kinds of foods makes you want to continue eating, thus eroding the will to diet. But the basic truth of the equation endures: Eat fewer calories a day than you expend--whether those calories come from soy-burgers with bok choy or a giant slice of death-by-chocolate cake--and you'll lose weight.

Kevin said...

My suggestion is that you take a good look at Michael Pollen's work. From The Omnivore's Dilemma, to his classic article in The NY Times from a few years ago about how we raise cattle (essentially turning a nutritious grass eater into a toxic artery clogger with cheap government subsidized corn)to his recent 60 Minutes interview.

The nation is FAT because we eat the wrong things because they are cheap. It isn't simply about quantity, it is about quality. Forget about emotions, psychology and addictions. Kill the subsidies on corn, sugar and soy and watch the price of junk skyrocket and the incidence of obesity fall like a rock.

Steve Salerno said...

Hey, Kevin, I hear ya. In fact a buddy (and erstwhile editor) of mine, Creg Critser, wrote Fat Land. So again, I hear what you're saying.

BUT

the nutritionists and certified trainers will tell you that a calorie is still a calorie. For the most part.

taw said...

Genuine weight control requires dedication over time. It requires self-sacrifice and patience.

No it doesn't. Staying away from modern American food is good enough solution for 95% of world population, it's just Americans and people outside USA who eat American-style food (plenty of them here in Britain too) who get fat. Real food of the kind people used to eat for thousands of years, and even you over there ate until a few decades ago, never caused such problems, as bodies are very good at regulating how much real food they need, it's only the fake food that breaks the regulatory systems.

If you cannot even do that much, there are simple solutions with very good record in medical trials, like surgery and appetite suppressant drugs (ECA stack comes to mind as a very safe and effective one, trials show it works very effectively even without any diet or exercise). On the other hand I don't know of any serious study that shows "self-sacrifice" as an effective solution, it's as much of a sham as all the celebrity diets.

Anonymous said...

this id so boring to read, just tell us straing out what it is, I don't care about other diets that didn't work, I'm desperate to lose weight now, not in a million years that it would take to read that thing!