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The Food and Diet Industries Compete for Your Attention – And What To Do?

It isn’t just the food industry trying to catch your attention with low-fat, low-sugar or other miracle-fix promises. How many people pick up that grocery store checkout magazine with the newest fad diet on the front cover? Come to think of it, almost all our magazines, social media site and online blogs are shouting with confidence that the way to a trim body and perfect life are through the maze of one fad diet to the next. This topic was discussed recently at one of our online support groups on Facebook. The competition over your attention between the food and diet industries makes for a very confusing relationship with how we eat.

On one hand, commercials advertise “healthy” restaurant and fast food options. And while we have an ever-greater number of healthy options when eating out, these restaurant and drive-thru choices still represents the primary source of our diet-busting food consumption. Often, lower-fat choices are compensated for with higher sodium and sugar, fillers added to replace the taste that’s lost in the processing. Even the most heavily advertised products found at the grocery store are often highly processed foods and drinks.

Then, sometimes, even during same show, you may be bombarded by advertisements discussing a new and great diet to lose weight quickly and with minimal effort. Not to mention those supermarket checkout shelves stocked with magazines touting the latest and greatest in fad diets, and paid social media “stories” with celebrity endorsements of the diet-du jour.

How Do We Manage?

First and foremost, we have to understand how difficult it is to lose weight and maintain that weight loss. With all of the temptation around us, and our bodies being accustomed to excessively large portions and highly-salted, fatty, sugary foods and drinks, the fight against excess weight is both physical and mental. Our bodies, over time, develop what is known as a setpoint… a weight at which the body believes it is in equilibrium. As we maintain a higher weight, this setpoint increases. The more excess weight we have, the more difficult it is to revise that setpoint downwards.

Unfortunately, dieting is not the answer. Today’s dieting has become unsustainable. There are diets that alternately eliminate all carbohydrates or all fats. Some diets require significantly limiting caloric intake. The common thread between them all is that they are simply unsustainable. So much of what we enjoy is completely – and unnecessarily – eliminated from our diets, leading us to find that the first time we fall off the wagon we lose our will to continue. We binge on whatever “off-limits” food we were avoiding, ultimately regaining all of our weight or more. Frustration and desperation ensue. It becomes a vicious cycle.

So, What is the Answer?

Ultimately, as a physician interested in the health of each of my patients, I advocate for a stepped approach to long-term weight loss. Yes, it is true that 90% of patients that try diet and exercise alone to lose significant weight ultimately fail. But that means that 10% of the patient population does respond and will lose and maintain that weight loss for the rest of their lives. Therefore, I always recommend trying lifestyle change first. But how we diet is key here. Do not start on an extreme fad diet, but rather reduce your portions, eliminate the worst offenders in the sodium, saturated fat and sugar departments and see how much better you feel. From there, incorporate some low impact exercise on a daily basis and you’re on your way. By keeping a relatively normal, albeit limited caloric intake, as well as eating a wide variety of foods, you reduce the risk of creating an unsustainable dieting situation.

If diet and exercise fail there are medically supervised weight loss programs. These may or may not include weight loss medications that are considered relatively safe, effective and may be appropriate for patients that are not suitable for surgical intervention. Of course, once the patient no longer attends these weight loss programs, there is a significant chance of regaining the weight.

Ultimately, weight loss surgery offers the best long-term option for sustained weight loss. While it should be employed only after lifestyle changes have failed, it should not be considered a last resort. Doing so often delays a patient seeking out more information about its benefits and risks, and whether they may qualify. It is also important to remember that weight loss surgery is not the easy way out – it takes a lot of work, but it is a great tool.

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