Gwyneth Paltrow said she got rid of gluten to lose her extra “holiday” pounds. Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian declared their devotion to a gluten-free diet on Twitter. Now Lady Gaga is the latest celebrity to embrace a gluten-free diet, reportedly to slim down for her international concert tour.
The answer is, it depends. There’s nothing inherent about a gluten-free diet that’s going to melt away the pounds. It may help if you “get rid of the junk” and eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains that are naturally gluten-free, says registered dietitian Shelley Case. But it certainly won’t help if you just simply load up on the burgeoning array of prepackaged gluten-free products that are selling like hotcakes.
Written by Glenn Gaesser and Siddhartha Angadi, the article looks at the data and makes the following conclusions:
While a gluten-free diet is important for individuals with celiac and gluten sensitivity, there’s no evidence to support that gluten-free diets are beneficial for weight loss
Some studies suggest gluten-free diets may actually make matters worse for some overweight and obese individuals (linked to an increase in BMI)
Research shows that gluten-free diets can be inadequate in essential nutrients (linked to deficiencies in B vitamins, iron and folate)
Gluten-free baked goods are often high in fat and calories
Going gluten-free for purposes of weight loss may have unintended consequences
Now gliadin may be the gluten, or at least if you buy into the book by Wisconsin preventive cardiologist and “seeker-of-truth in health” William Davis. Dr. Davis is building an entire empire on his Wheat Belly brand, but it’s based more on his opinions vs. fact. These bloggers have done a good job of breaking down the claims:
Dr. Davis makes a powerful case for his opinions, as you can see in one of his promotional videos below, but anecdotal observations are not a substitute for science.
Here’s an excellent article written by Julie Jones that analyzes the claims made in Wheat Belly. Hope it will help you think twice before buying the book or believing the hype.
Sure, we could all benefit from cutting down on refined, starchy, sugary carbs. No argument. But let’s not condemn whole grains, which have a bushel of studies supporting their positive impact on our health, including weight management.
Yes, I admit it. I’m on vacation and I couldn’t resist picking up the most talked about book of the summer for the beach.
The book has been quite a phenomenon. A movie is already in the works and there’s been all sorts of spin-offs — from the Bobbi Brown Shades of Grey eye shadows to an album of Christian Grey-inspired classical music that was curated by the book trilogy author E.L. James.
Most definitely, this has been a Fifty Shades of Grey summer.
This got me thinking that there are lots of shades of grey when it comes to nutrition. Maybe that’s why it can be so confusing.
All too often people speak about food in absolutes – this food is “bad” and this food is a “miracle.” Or this diet is best, no this is the best diet.
Frequently claims are made based on a single study. Yet before sweeping conclusions are made, there are multiple factors to consider. It’s not that simple, not that black and white. Often there’s a nugget of truth in many of these bold declarations, but it’s all a matter of extremes. Again, lots of shades of grey.
Lastly, the book reminds me that we should all honor our inner goddess. That means eating well, enjoying food and avoiding negative self-talk.
There’s been a lot of buzz about green coffee bean extract. But it’s disheartening for me to see yet another diet pill get so much press — including the recent love fest on the Dr. Oz show. Green Coffee Beans have emerged as the new Raspberry Ketones — similarly described by Dr. Oz as a “miracle pill that can burn fat” and a “magic cure for weight loss.” Once again, an endorsement by Dr. Oz seems to set off a fire-storm with companies scurrying to bottle this miracle and set up websites to sell it– often using photos and quotes from Dr. Oz himself. There’s even a OzGreenCoffee page on Facebook.
So how did this new frenzy get started? Like many of today’s popular dietary supplements, there’s a small study (often paid for by the pill manufacturer) that gets the ball rolling. That’s exactly what happened with Green Coffee Beans. All of the recent claims are based on a single study of 16 people conducted in India. The lead author is Joe Vinson, a chemist at the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, who has conducted other studies examining polyphenols and other natural compounds in foods. Funded by the supplement manufacturer Applied Food Sciences in Texas, the study was published in the online journal Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy; you can read the full paper here.
Science-Based Medicine does an excellent job of analyzing the study in the post: Dr. Oz and Green Coffee Beans – More Weight Loss Pseudoscience. Author Scott Gavura concludes that the study has some serious methodological problems including the small sample size, lack of proper blinding, doses, unreliable diet recalls, and repeated measurements. The study was also not registered at clinicaltrials.gov, according to Scott Gavura, which he believes is a red flag.
Many medical journals will now refuse to publish a trial if it was not initially entered into a public registry. Not only does a registry ensure that negative results don’t disappear, it gives valuable information about the study, including its design, entry criteria, and who gave formal ethics approval for the study….I find it hard to believe that any investigator would undertake a clinical trial of an unproven supplement without obtaining prior ethics approval — but that seems to be the case.
Like many of today’s popular dietary supplements, including weight loss pills, there’s typically a small nugget of truth buried beneath all the hype. Often preliminary studies do indicate a “suggestion” or the possibility a natural compound could have potentially beneficial effects in the body. That appears to be the case with green coffee beans, which are rich in a type of polyphenol called chlorogenic acid (the purported active ingredient in the supplements). Historically, there’s been some research to suggest that regular coffee intake is linked to a healthier body weight, possibly due to the caffeine or the polyphenol content in the drink. That lead to this 2011 review paper on green coffee extract or GCE by Igho Onakpoya and colleagues (funded by GlaxoSmithKline) that explored the efficacy of GCE as a weight loss supplement. The authors identified five clinical trials, although only three studies (published in 2006, 2007 and 2009) met the quality criteria for the review. However, all of the studies, the authors indicated, were associated with a high risk of bias. They concluded:
The evidence from RCTs (randomized clinical trials) seems to indicate that the intake of GCE can promote weight loss. However, several caveats exist. The size of the effect is small, and the clinical relevance of this effect is uncertain. More rigorous trials with longer duration are needed to assess the efficacy and safety of GCE as a weight loss supplement.
Other experts have expressed their concern about popping green coffee bean extract, including these two physicians who were interviewed about the Vinson study by the LA Times:
Dr. Gerald Weissmann, a physician and biochemist at New York University:
This is certainly a provocative study, but nutrition experts would want assurances that green coffee beans do not cause malabsorption within the human gut — a condition that would lead to weight loss as well as malnutrition, heart arrhythmias and other problems because vitamins and minerals are not passing through the intestines.
Dr. Arthur Grollman, a pharmacologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook
Coffee beans contain about 250 different chemicals — some with positive and others with negative effects on human health. Though Vinson identified polyphenols and chlorogenic acid as the agents that appear to promote weight loss, that claim needs further study. In the meantime, consuming an extract that contains both good and bad chemicals in dense concentration seems an unwise thing to do.
Chlorogenic acid is found naturally in raw or green coffee beans, yet the supplement marketers claim that roasting destroys this beneficial compound. That’s why you need to buy it in pill form. Yet, Scott Gavura of Science-Based Medicine says that’s not true. He cites this study that shows chlorogenic acid is also present in roasted coffee and black tea
So is it a bad thing to buy green coffee bean extract? What’s the harm? I wouldn’t recommend for several reasons: First, all the promoters make a big deal about how participants in the study lost 17 pounds without making any changes in their eating or activity. All they did was take the pill. For sustainable weight management, it does come down to your daily habits, not relying on a pill to help you meet your goal. You can’t just take a supplement and then ignore what you eat and don’t make an effort to be more active. And if you don’t get the miraculous results — like the woman on Dr. Oz’s show who lost a 1 pound a day for 5 days — then you feel like a failure and you’re then seeking the next big miracle pill. It’s a never-ending cycle. And it’s money in your pocket that you could be spending on real food.
Yes, maybe there’s a biological effect due to chlorogenic acid. Lots of natural compounds in food go to work in different ways once we eat them. But the effect on our weight is likely very small. There are so many other things that we could be doing that would make such a bigger impact — such as eating more fruits and vegetables each day, keeping sight of portions, increasing our activity, and even enjoying coffee (in a cup instead of a pill).
Long demonized, dietary fats have made a break from the past, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Even so, the concept of good fats is an oxymoron for some folks. It’s just stuck in their heads that all fat is bad. But we’re a long way away from the old food pyramid that dumped all fat and oils into the tip with a warning to “use sparingly.” Now liquid oils and other good fats like nuts have earned a coveted spot on USDA’s MyPlate. For most adults, we should aim for 5-7 teaspoons of oils each day (which includes nuts, olives and avocados).
The topic of good fats was the focus of my latest blog for WebMD’s Real Life Nutrition. In the post, I talked about a new Purdue study that should make you think twice about buying a fat-free salad dressing. Researchers at Purdue found that a fat-free or low-fat salad dressing reduced the absorption of fat-soluble carotenoids – beneficial compounds in the salad such as lutein, lycopene, beta-carotene and zeaxanthin. So by buying some type of bottled fat-free dressing instead of mixing up your own vinaigrette with a luscious-tasting extra-virgin olive oil, you’re not only missing out on the benefits of the oil, you’re getting less out of the salad you just tossed. Plus, just think how much better it’s all going to taste with your own dressing.
The study’s lead author Mario Ferruzzi advised:
If you want to utilize more from your fruits and vegetables, you have to pair them correctly with fat-based dressings. If you have a salad with a fat-free dressing, there is a reduction in calories, but you lose some of the benefits of the vegetables.
This is just another reason why it’s best not to assume that fat-free or low-fat is always better. Sometimes you’re not even saving calories, as this comparison chart illustrates, and the “low-fat” health halo could coax you into eating twice as much, as three recent studies from Cornell University have shown. You also need to look at the ingredients that were used in a product to replace the fat (maybe extra sugar or refined carbs, perhaps more additives). Even messages about eating a low-fat diet can backfire, as this overview from Harvard asserts:
One problem with a generic lower fat diet is that it prompts people to stop eating fats that are good for the heart along with those that are bad for it.
So that’s the big issue. We need to get over our fear of fat so we won’t miss out on the multiple benefits of “good fats.” And we need to get past the idea that low-fat is always better. Here are some suggestions from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab on how to avoid the low-fat trap:
Pay attention to the calorie count of foods, particularly low–fat foods. When researchers went to a grocery store and looked at the fat and calorie content of various packaged foods, they found that although the low–fat versions of these foods have 59% less fat than the regular versions, the drop in calorie content is only 15%, which is not large enough to justify our increased consumption.
Understand what claims like “low–fat” and ”reduced fat” really mean, and be sure you’re looking at serving sizes on the label.
Consider buying regular or full–fat versions of snack foods instead of the low–fat ones if you think you’ll still be tempted to overeat. This is especially important for overweight people who showed a strong tendency to overeat low–fat foods, regardless of serving size labels. Also, some research shows that the ingredients companies use to replace the fat can actually make you hungrier, causing you to overeat.
It seems there’s a always a hot new “miracle” food or supplement that sweeps the country. Acai used to be the front runner. Now it appears to be raspberry ketones. Instead of goji berry, it’s African Mango. Saffron extract is the new Sensa.
Now there’s a new crop of products promising miraculous fat-burning, belly-blasting results. Increasingly these miracle products are getting their big break on the Dr. Oz show. Viewers hang on to every word Dr. Oz says and run out immediately after a convincing segment to buy the supplements touted on the show. Marketers of these pills love to say “endorsed by Dr. Oz” and his quotes are frequently cited in the ads for these products. You can find websites now that feature all the supplements that Dr. Oz promotes, a search on Amazon for “Dr. Oz supplements” results in 1,406 listings, and other online supplement sellers categorize their pills according to Dr. Oz recommendations – such as Dr. Oz Weight Loss.
Perhaps no one has helped fuel the sale of diet supplements more than Dr. Oz. And that’s a shame. Dr. Oz is a tremendous communicator and he’s brilliant at translating technical topics into simple, consumer-friendly language. And how wonderful to have a popular talk show that’s all about health. Unfortunately, his focus has shifted to the glorification of “miracle” pills and his viewers are gobbling it up. Before you’re tempted to spend your hard-earned money on the next hot thing, here’s what you need to know.
What it is: Natural compounds that give red raspberries their distinct aroma. Primarily used in the U.S. as a flavoring agent, they’re now bottled up in a pill (typically produced synthetically in a lab) and sold as a weight loss supplement.
What’s the promise: Dr. Oz described raspberry ketones as a “revolutionary metabolism booster that you’ve never heard of” and a “fat burner in a bottle.” Marketers sell raspberry ketones in pill and liquid form, claiming that the supplement can stimulate fat loss, inhibit fat absorption and increase fat burning or oxidation.
What you should know: No human clinical trials have been conducted. The claims are all based on animal or test tube studies from Asia, where raspberry ketones seem to have gotten their start as a weight loss supplement. It’s important not to jump to major conclusions based on what happens in the body of a rat or inside a test tube. Most of the supplements add other ingredients, such as caffeine, that provides a stimulant effect. Read more from Appetite for Health: 5 Things Dr. Oz Didn’t Mention About Raspberry Ketones.
Here’s the segment that got the raspberry ketone frenzy started:
What it is: A supplement made from extracts of the seeds of the West African mango known as Irvingia gabonesis.
What’s the promise: The pills are promoted as fat burners, especially belly fat.
What you should know: A study in Cameroon funded by a supplier of African mango supplements did show improvement in body fat among individuals consuming the pills compared to a placebo, but it is far from a miracle pill, particularly if you do nothing else besides take this pill (as promoted on the Dr. Oz show). You’re better off eating real fruit (like the lean West Africans do).
What it is: A pill or chew made from extracts of the culinary spice saffron, known as one of the most expensive spices in the word.
What’s the promise: Touted as an appetite suppressant, the supplements claim to control compulsive eating by affecting serotonin levels in the brain.
What you should know:
One study seems to be the basis of the meteoric rise in popularity of saffron supplements, although there are better ways to promote satiety with whole foods rather than pills, and more important things to do if someone is dealing with emotional eating (such as make an appointment with a registered dietitian who specializes in this area).
Here’s Dr. Oz talking about saffron extract. Just listen to the number of times he says “miracle,” “breakthrough,” and “revolutionary.”
What’s especially troubling to me is that this type of sensationalism reinforces a “fix it with a pill” mentality. Instead of encouraging you to eat, for instance, more fresh raspberries and mangoes, the focus is on popping a pill of these foods. And typically it’s a small extract of the real thing with other ingredients added in — so who knows how much of this “miraculous” ingredient you’re even getting. Plus, often it’s a synthetic version of the compound made in a lab. Yes, there are lots of convincing testimonials that get people excited, but these “success stories” on TV or in an ad, are not a sufficient substitute for science.
Steven Charlap, MD, founder of MDPrevent, is so incensed with what he sees going on every day on the Dr. Oz show that he dissects the dialogue on his blog. He’s been criticized for taking on Dr. Oz, but here’s his response:
The other day I received a comment in response to something I wrote about the Dr. Oz show. It read, “You don’t challenge a wizard.” It was an obvious cross-reference between the fictional Wizard in the Wizard of Oz and Dr. Mehmet Oz. In response, I impulsively wrote, “He’s not a real wizard. He just plays one on TV.” After writing my response, I started thinking about the similarities behind the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz and the actual Dr. Oz. Unlike the Wizard, Dr. Oz does not hide behind a curtain and use smoke and mirrors to impress his audience. Instead, on an almost daily basis he blatantly engages his audience with new secret cures and potions. However, both characters do pretend to be something they are not. The Wizard worked hard to create the impression that he was all powerful, which turned out to be an illusion. Dr. Oz pretends to have magic pills and miracle cures, to have powerful remedies to jump-start diets and create lean bellies, to make wrinkles disappear and treat dementia, which also all turn out to be illusions. So maybe we would all be better off if he actually hid all those supplements behind a curtain. They say that life sometimes imitates art. Has there ever been a better example than the Dr. Oz show?
All of this chasing the next big “breakthrough” and “miracle” is distracting. I agree with Dr. Charlap:
Almost none of the pills Dr. Oz recommends have any real value. There are no magic, miracle, or power pills one can take to stay healthy, and that task mostly remains with us as individuals. Be grateful that you have the ability to impact your health. The alternative may be far less pleasant.
Once again, it’s the magical thinking that bothers me. Sure, there could be beneficial supplements and aids for helping you lose weight, but these are not miracles in a bottle. It’s a disservice to all of Dr. Oz’s loyal viewers to make it seem like a pill is all you need. It makes everything else seem less important — like eating real foods, being active. I just wish Dr. Oz would channel his brilliance in getting America to cook more at home and to look to whole foods for the miracles. The answer doesn’t lie in a bottle. Dr. Oz is helping to sell a lot of supplements. I just wish he would inspire people to be just as enthusiastic about what they eat.
Now that the recent Paula Deen brouhaha is past us, what can we learn from it?
To me, the positive outcome is the attention it’s brought to the role of diet in managing type 2 diabetes. No amount of medication (even $500-a-month injections) can override careless eating.
Yet, what people need to eat if they do have diabetes is not as restricted as many folks think.
Sure, it’s probably best to forgo Paula’s famous bacon and egg burger that’s sandwiched between two glazed donuts or skip her deep-fried mac n’ cheese, but a ‘diabetic diet’ (an outdated term no longer used) is not all that different from the basic tenets of healthy eating.
Now experts say people with diabetes should follow the same type of eating plan as the rest of us, with an emphasis on fiber-filled whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and ‘good’ fats.
Even so, there’s been no shortage of sugar-free, diabetes-friendly foods showing up in supermarkets. Yet some experts I talked to believe the growing popularity of ‘diabetic foods’ simply perpetuates a myth. That was the topic of my latest post for WebMD’s Real Life Nutrition. Hope you’ll check it out and leave a comment.
One of the experts I consulted was registered dietitian Hope Warshaw, a certified diabetes educator and author of the American Diabetes Association’s book Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy.
“What is a diabetic food? There are no special foods that people with diabetes need to eat. We do a disservice to people by having them think they need to run out and buy special foods.”
Warshaw says the nutrition recommendations for people with diabetes are the same as the general public – no rigid diet and no need to go low-carb or limit your selections to sugar-free foods. In fact, the no-sugar myth is one of the biggest misconceptions about diabetes, according to registered dietitians Karen Chalmers and Amy Campbell, authors of the American Diabetes Association’s book 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet. This easy-to-read book busts the most common myths about diabetes and cleverly compares the old and new methods for managing the disease.
Sugar has always been intrinsically linked to diabetes. It was even referred to as ‘sugar diabetes’ in the past because people mistakenly believed that eating too much sugar was the cause. For years, people with diabetes were advised to eliminate all sweets to avoid overloading the blood with glucose. Now researchers recognize that sugar has an impact on blood glucose that’s similar to other carbohydrate-containing foods. Today’s emphasis is on keeping track of total carbohydrates rather than strictly avoiding all sugar.
Even if all carbohydrates impact blood glucose levels in similar ways, they do differ nutritionally. Experts still advise choosing whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes – in place of concentrated sweets or ‘simple’ carbs. Sugary foods and beverages can add a lot of empty calories and make it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight, which is important for managing type 2 diabetes.
So that’s where some sugar-free options that contain minimal calories (particularly beverages) can be helpful. However, some of the products on the market may not be as beneficial as people think. Many sugar-free candies, cookies, cakes and ice creams contain nearly the same amount of calories and carbohydrates as their real-sugar counterparts. That’s particularly true for sugar-free foods made with polyols or sugar alcohols (such as sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol).
Diabetes cookbooks are changing to reflect the new thinking and you’ll start to see books that no longer have such a heavy reliance on artificial sweeteners. One example is Jackie Newgent’s The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook, which uses real sugar in recipes and emphasizes unprocessed, whole-food ingredients.
You can even have your favorite comfort food if you have diabetes, as demonstrated in the American Diabetes Association’s latest book The Diabetes Comfort Food Cookbook by culinary nutritionist Robyn Webb. The book features lasagna, meat loaf, mac n’ cheese, and cake — along with the message: “Just a tweak here and there and familiar foods can remain favorites, guilt-free, and enjoyed every day.”
Maybe Paula Deen won’t have to make so many changes after all. But a few tweaks would certainly be good.
Images courtesy of Jeff Houck and Yummies 4 Tummies on flickr.
I recently heard a radio commercial for a diet pill that promised to get you “high school skinny.” It just struck me how often I’m hearing the word “skinny” these days. When did skinny become the new ideal?
So many of the popular diet books seem to have skinny in the title. Have you noticed? Perhaps the trend got started a few years ago with the success of Skinny Bitch,which is a vegan book that sparked an entire line of skinny books and products. Now you can read about the Secrets of Skinny Chicks and Unleash Your Inner Skinny while wearing your skinny jeans and sipping a skinny latte or Skinnygirl Margarita. If you’re hungry, you can grab a Skinny Cow ice cream or skinny protein bar. The skinny marketing trend has even jumped over to the beauty aisle with skinny shampoos and skinny lotions.
Skinny is everywhere. It has certainly become a mega-empire for the Skinnygirl herself, Bethenny Frankel, who’s making a bundle with her Skinnygirl cocktails, books and other products. Maybe skinny helps sell a lot of books and a lot of booze, but I still don’t like it. I think it sends the wrong message. That was the topic of my latest blog post for WebMD. To read more, please check out Real Life Nutrition.
All eyes have been on front-of-package nutrition labeling recently, with the release of the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations to help bring some consistency to front-of-pack systems. That’s great if we can unify the various efforts that call out nutritional attributes on packaged foods. Not sure if these new recommendations totally nailed it, but this is certainly an issue worth tackling.
What you see on the front of the label, however, is never going to be the full story. It’s still important to turn the package around and look at the Nutrition Facts panel that provides more detailed data on what’s inside. Consumers say they’re reading these labels, but an interesting study published in the November issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association begs to differ. Researchers at the University of Minnesota used an eye-tracking device to see if shoppers were truly scouring those nutrition labels like they said they were.
The shoppers said one thing, but their eyes said another. Among the 203 study participants, 33% said they always look at the calories on the nutrition label, yet the eye-tracking tracking device found that only 9% actually checked the calories. Only 1% looked at other components on the label, even though they said they almost always look at total fat (31%), trans fat (20%), sugar (24%) and serving size (26%).
What shoppers do tend to look at are the nutrition claims on the front of a package. And that’s the topic of my latest post on the WebMD’s blog Real Life Nutrition. I wrote about the 6 claims that need a second look before you toss the products into your shopping cart.
Trans fat free. Just because you see the words “trans fat free’ on the label is doesn’t mean the food is healthy. It could still be high in saturated fat or have lots of empty calories. Turn the package around to see what you’re really buying. If you see the word “hydrogenated” in the ingredient list, there could be some trans fats. A label can declare “zero grams” if there’s less than ½ gram per serving. So consider how many servings you might be eating. The trans fats can add up quickly.
Made with whole grains. Look for the words “100% whole grain” or check the ingredient list for the words “whole” in front of wheat or other grains. Made with whole grains could mean made with very little. Some of the grains inside may be whole, but it could be as little as 5 percent.
No high fructose corn syrup. This is no indication of the amount of sugar that’s in the food or beverage you’re about to buy. And just because you see a so-called “natural” sugar like agave nectar, there’s no real nutritional advantage unless the overall sugar content is reduced.
Omega 3. When you see omega-3 touted on a food label (and it’s not fish) it’s likely ALA omega 3. Unless you see the words EPA or DHA, or you spot fish oil or algal oil in the ingredient list, it’s safe to assume that you’re only getting ALA – especially when the product contains flax, soybean oil or canola oil. That’s fine, but you should know that not all omega-3s are created equal. Our bodies need to convert ALA to the more potent DHA or EPA omega 3 that’s found in fish (and less than 10% is typically converted). You might be getting less of these beneficial fatty acids than you think.
Detox. This has become an uber trendy term, but it’s basically meaningless. However, you’ll find it featured on the front of the label of protein bars, juices, teas and other beverages.
Natural. It’s the big buzz word on package labels and there was even a recent food fight with the FDA to determine if high fructose corn syrup really qualifies as natural. Other companies have gotten their hands slapped for playing the natural card. We’re arguing over technicalities and the word has lost all meaning. I think if a food wasn’t actually plucked from a tree or grown from the ground, then it shouldn’t claim to be natural.
So what does this all mean? Go beyond the trendy words on the front of the package and check the nutrition facts and ingredients on the back to know what you’re really buying. Keep your eyes wide open when evaluating claims.
We’ve lost the war on obesity. Fighting fat hasn’t made the fat go away. And being thinner, even if we knew how to successfully accomplish it, will not necessarily make us healthier or happier. The war on obesity has taken its toll. Extensive “collateral damage” has resulted: Food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, eating disorders, discrimination, poor health… Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat. It’s time to withdraw the troops.
This was certainly one of the more lively sessions at this year’s conference, and I’m so glad I attended (sitting next to my friend and colleague Marsha Hudnall, author of the blog A Weight Lifted.). However, I’m afraid at the end of the 1-1/2 hours, the sides were more divided than ever and we (the audience) were left a bit wounded on the battlefield. I think we have more to gain by working together than fighting with each other.
Here’s a blog post that gives the backstory of the session and a clip of Linda Bacon talking about her approach so you can get a better idea of what I’m talking about:
Each debater scored some points. Each one lost a few rounds. They both did a good job of discounting the other’s point of view, but the debate format made it challenging to adequately address the topic. I’m not even sure this should have been a debate. But it was….and here’s how I thought it played out.
Round 1 Winner: John Foreyt
I don’t think it serves Linda Bacon’s position well to deny the health consequences of obesity. She spent so much of her time sharing data that the obese live just as long as normal weight individuals and downplaying the health risks of being obese. Why go there? I think that’s why some people just shut down and never hear what this movement is all about. You’re right, Linda, perhaps this shouldn’t be “war,” but I don’t see how you can dismiss the health risks associated with obesity. And there are certainly quality of life issues (not being able to play with your kids, ride a bike, etc.). I just don’t think this is the question we should be asking. Our priority should be discussing what we do about obesity — not debating if there’s even a problem.
Round 2 Winner: Linda Bacon
I think John Foreyt shocked the audience when he dismissed mindful or intuitive eating — and even said it was the reason why we have an obesity problem in America. He lost me on that. I actually think that’s the missing equation in so many weight loss programs. The emphasis should be on health — and how to achieve it. Teaching people the principles of mindful eating — honoring our body’s signals of hunger and fulness, not making judgments of our choices, and choosing pleasureable foods that help you feel good — are all positive things. I agree that it’s all about adopting healthy habits, not dieting. But sometimes this movement takes a militant approach and people think it’s all about “fat acceptance.” Yes, we need to embrace size diversity, but the real value of this approach is sometimes lost because people assume that it means throwing in the towel and giving up.
Round 3 Winner: Tie
At the end of the session, they both made good points. I believe in small changes and long-term weight loss can be sustainable (as Foreyt said), but I do think that most traditional attempts at dieting can do more harm than good (as Bacon reinforced). I liked so many things that Linda Bacon had to say, but I think her statements about “the best way to win the war against fat is to give up the fight” are being misinterpreted. I think it’s more about being happy at every size, and letting go of past approaches to dieting. This movement is quickly gaining ground, and an increasing number of dietitians are embracing the HAES approach. But I think it’s important for people to get past the immediate reaction that these are “obesity doubters” (as Foreyt described) or simply fat acceptors. It’s really all about a healthy lifestyle. Restrictive diets don’t work…but people need guidance on what they should do instead. It’s not enough to say diets don’t work. I think we need to bring these opposing points of view together. I fully agree with the woman in the audience who asked the last question during the session. She ended with “why can’t you both kiss and make up?”
If you’re interested in learning more about HAES, here are the handouts that Linda Bacon provided to support her presentation at FNCE.
Thoughts, opinions, musings and discussion about nutrition, food trends, diet myths, new products and fad-free healthy eating.
About Janet Helm
I’m a nutrition journalist, consultant, registered dietitian and mom of twins. My passion is translating nutrition science into intelligible words – and healthy food choices. I want to help people make sense of nutrition news. I don’t think it needs to be complicated or confusing. l believe food should be enjoyed, not feared. And I think taste and health can happily co-exist.