US Fattest Society In
World History?
Overeating Is King
By Cynthia G. Last
Scripps Howard News Service
The diet industry has a long history of promoting diet and nutritional changes as the key to weight loss. Being influenced by this idea, most people have gone from one diet to the next, following the fads religiously, hoping for a miracle - that one special diet that allows us to lose the weight and keep it off forever.
If a low-fat diet doesn't do it, maybe a low-carbohydrate one will. If the low carbohydrate diet doesn't work, switch to a high-protein diet. There's also the "cabbage diet," and the "water diet." And there are diets named after doctors and diets named after cities.
Despite the promises of the low-fat revolution, the number of obese individuals in the United State during the 1990s exceeded 60 million adults. As a nation we are fatter, not thinner, than ever before. In fact, with the exception of a few island populations in the Pacific, the United States contains the heaviest people on Earth and some experts argue that we may be the fattest society that has ever existed in the history of the world.
There is no question that a reduced-calorie diet of almost any type can help us become thin. However, research studies show that only a small percentage of the 45 million Americans who try to lose weight through reduced calorie diets ever reach their ideal weights.
Besides disappointing results from short-term weight loss, the news for long-term maintenance of weight loss is even more discouraging. Research consistently shows that people who go on diets and lose weight almost always gain it back.
Despite the fact that "miracle diets" are often illogical or downright dangerous, such programs have sold quite well. Look at the covers of the best-selling books in the diet section of any bookstore. The titles imply that we can lose a lot of weight in a ridiculously brief period of time or that we can eat all the food we want and still lose weight.
It is not physically possible to lose large amounts of weight in very short periods of time, nor is it possible to eat more calories than our bodies need and still lose weight, no matter what type of food is being eaten. Yet we buy the book hoping against hope that this will be the diet that does the trick once and for all.
It is because of our failures that the diet industry remains so profitable. The business thrives on our inability to stay thin because we remain eager consumers, once again desperate and willing to buy the next miracle cure.
Fortunately, a group of voluntary guidelines released in February by a group of government, industry and health representatives, should make it easier for consumers looking at diet programs to figure out which will work for them. The "Partnership for Healthy Weight Management" released voluntary guidelines designed to help providers of weight loss products and services give consumers clear and easily understood disclosures to help them select the products or services that best meet their needs.
These guidelines are a critical first step in providing consumers with the information they need to make wise weight management choices, but fail to provide for the disclosure of how much weight people who participate in a program lose and keep off. Without that key information, it is extremely difficult for consumers to intelligently compare the effectiveness of one program to another.
As long as our focus remains on what we eat, rather than why we eat, we will continue to be an overweight nation. Permanent weight control usually is not obtained with diets and no one approach to weight loss will work for everybody.
To get control of our eating and our weight, most of us must address the real underlying psychological reasons why we overeat and target those for change.
Cynthia G. Last is professor of psychology and director of the Anxiety Treatment Center at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She is author of the new book "The 5 Reasons Why We Overeat" Birch Lane Press, 1999.