Toms River, N.J., August 17, 2010 – Americans are obsessed with losing weight. Pick up any newspaper or magazine, turn on the television or radio, and you can’t help but be bombarded with the latest and greatest fad diet or weight loss plan. From the nationally known diet franchises to low-carb schemes and energy pills – they all seem to promise fast and easy weight loss results with little or no effort on the part of the dieter.
“Every one of these diets makes claims about weight loss, what you can eat and what you should avoid,” says Eileen Keating, a Registered Dietitian with the Outpatient Nutritional Counseling Department at Community Medical Center, “and some of the claims – like you’ll never be hungry, or you can lose weight while eating more – are just preposterous. The reality is that losing weight and keeping it off, and more importantly adopting a healthy lifestyle change, is not an easy thing to do and it doesn’t happen overnight.”
Nonetheless, the bumper crop of quick and easy weight loss programs out there feed our insatiable desire for the ‘magic bullet’ and our quest for instant gratification. And while we may read the fine print and understand the ‘results depicted may not be typical,’ Americans are buying in. Weight loss has become a huge market in this country – with new and easier diet plans and rapid weight loss programs for sale virtually everywhere you look. In fact, according to government studies, Americans spend an estimated $30 billion on weight loss plans and products every year.
“We do have an obsession with wanting to be thin,” says Keating. “Our number one New Year’s resolution is always to lose weight, be healthy and exercise more.” And as the growing weight loss market clearly shows, we’re willing to invest in the cookbooks, diet products, pills, and plans to help us succeed. It’s ironic really, that eating right is so important to Americans, and yet according to Keating, it’s also one of our biggest challenges.
“Eating right is especially challenging because of today’s busy lifestyles,” says Keating. “If you’re a working mother, it can be difficult to make a nice healthy meal for your family. After a long day at work it can be really tempting to order a pizza or pick up fast food.”
While those quick, super-sized weeknight meals picked up at drive-through windows across America may make our lives easier in the short term, they are taking their toll in the long run. The myriad of fad diets are achieving success as measured by corporate profits, but they are hardly making headway in the fight against the ‘battle of the bulge.’
“Obesity is a growing, life-threatening health crisis in this country,” says Keating, “impacting everyone from children through senior adults.”
In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than half of Americans are currently overweight or obese, and obesity among children is on the rise. Excess weight and obesity are known risk factors for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, hypertension, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis and some forms of cancer (uterine, breast, colorectal, kidney, and gallbladder). Obesity is also linked with depression, high blood cholesterol, pregnancy complications and more.
The problem is so widespread that experts speculate that life expectancy in the United States – a gauge of our success in improving public health in this country – could actually begin to drop within the next 50 years because of obesity and the health complications that accompany it.
“We need to take a look at our overall eating habits,” says Keating, “particularly the foods that our children eat.” Keating says that high fat school breakfast and lunch selections coupled with a decrease in physical activity are setting today’s children up for health problems in the future. “Many of today’s children are getting one to two-thirds of their meals Monday through Friday at school. We need to take a closer look at what foods we’re making available and start to offer lower fat selections with more vegetables and fresh fruits,” she says. Selections, that she says could help children learn to make nutritious, healthful food choices at an early age, and perhaps reduce health issues related to obesity and the need for dieting in the future.
The secret to successful weight loss, according to Keating, is really no secret at all. “The key to losing weight and keeping it off is to make healthy, well-rounded food choices. To increase your intake of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and reduce the amounts of fat and sugar in your diet.” She encourages people not to skip meals, saying it encourages overeating and poor food choices later in the day. She also suggests monitoring portion sizes, drinking lots of water, and establishing a habit of regular exercise.
Making these nutritional and behavioral changes may not sound as glamorous as jumping on the South Beach or Mediterranean bandwagon, but the long term results have stood the test of time. And while many of us may know someone who has lost weight on one of today’s more popular diets, over the long term the results are just not as successful.
“Typically, fad diets are somewhat effective in the short-term,” points out Keating. “Their true downfall, however, occurs in the long term, because people fail to establish healthy eating habits or make those healthy lifestyle changes that ultimately lead to long term weight management success.”
In fact, some of today’s fad diets that encourage participants to include or exclude entire food groups or specific foods can sometimes cause more health issues than they solve. “There has been some concern that people on the Atkins diet, for example, eat too much red meat and not enough fiber,” explains Keating, “which could raise their risk of colon or prostate cancer, heart disease, stroke or diverticulitis.”
Successful long-term weight loss, stresses Keating, is accomplished by making positive behavioral changes – altering your eating habits and increasing physical activity levels. But, she points out that, in some cases, fad diets may be useful in jumpstarting a weight loss plan.
“All of these diets have their pros and cons,” she explains. And while some of these diets do have risks associated with them, according to Keating, the risks of morbid obesity can often outweigh them. “The key here,” she explains, “is to evaluate your goals – determine how much weight you need to lose and how long you plan to be on a particular diet. Most of these diets are not successful in the long term, because they’re too difficult to adhere to. But used in the short term, they can jumpstart a weight loss program, motivate a person to make long term behavioral and lifestyle changes, and ultimately lead to success.”
The Outpatient Nutritional Counseling program at Community Medical Center offers nutritional guidance and medical nutrition therapy for children, adolescents and adults. The professional staff of registered dieticians offer individually modified medical nutritional therapy in a caring, confidential environment that also includes group programs and lectures. The staff has a wide range of clinical experience in a variety of specialties including high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, obesity/weight management, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, childhood obesity, sports nutrition, diabetes, renal disease and more.
Keating says that a visit with your physician is an important first step in any weight loss endeavor. “Let your physician know that you’re interested in losing weight and increasing your activity level. They can point you in the right direction, offer helpful tips and suggestions for incorporating exercise into your daily routine, and can recommend a dietitian who will help further your weight loss effort.”
Dietitians, like Keating, can be a helpful resource for those looking to shed excess weight. “Dietitians can offer nutritional guidance, menu planning, emotional support and encouragement,” she says, “along with sound practical day-to-day weight loss advice so you can ultimately reach your weight loss goals.”
For referral to the Outpatient Nutritional Counseling program at Community, Keating said patients need a prescription from their physician. For more information or to schedule an appointment at with a dietitian, call (732) 557-8000 ext. 11484.
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