2008-05-02 / Columnists

SJEH Wellness Corner

No Easy Way Out Of Obesity Epidemic
Commentary By Daniel Buff, M.D. Chief of Geriatrics And Nutrition

DANIEL BUFF M.D. DANIEL BUFF M.D. We are constantly bombarded by diets that promise to shed twice the weight in half the time without having to starve. Yet, despite 25 years of diet plans, the obesity epidemic has only gotten worse. Recent figures show that two out of three American adults are either overweight or obese, with this problem growing even faster among children. We have become a society that prefers to sit around and watch TV or surf online, while ingesting high-fat, high-calorie foods.

Sooner or later we step on a scale or try to put on a bathing suit that fit in the past and realize something has to be done...fast!

This is where the fad diets come in. Promises of rapid weight loss can be very seductive and we all have a friend who tried the newest diet and lost 15 pounds the first month. If you check with this friend a few months later, more than likely he has ballooned back to his previous weight and more.

Most diets fail because they require a drastic change in our eating habits: calories are restricted to a significant degree. This makes these diets difficult to adjust to and, in the long run, weight loss is not sustainable. The plans will differ in what is allowed and what is restricted, and although each will claim that theirs is the best weight loss program, studies comparing diets reveal little difference in the total amount of weight lost over time. Disappointingly, only about half of those starting a fad diet can stick to it for a year, and the reward for those who were able to gut it out for the year will only be a modest weight loss of about five to 15 pounds.

When considering any diet plan, the bottom line is this: to lose weight, we must take in fewer calories than we burn. That's it, plain and simple. Using this formula, a person will lose weight if he or she takes in fewer calories by eating less, burns more calories by exercising, or, best of all, combines the two.

Alittle simple math is needed to analyze how to accomplish desired weight loss. To start, keep in mind that for each pound of body weight, a person has to take in about 12 calories per day to remain at the same weight. Second, each pound of fat equals about 3,500 calories.

Now, let's say John weighs 200 pounds. To maintain this weight, he

will have to eat about 2,400 calories a day (200 X 12 = 2,400). If John wants to weigh 175 pounds, he will have to eat about 2100 calories a day (175 X 12 = 2100). Therefore, all John has to do is consistently eat 300 calories less per day and he will gradually lose weight to his desired level. How fast will it take to get down to 175 pounds? Well, if one pound equals about 3,500 calories and he takes in 300 calories less each day, it will take him about 12 days to lose one pound, or about ½ pound per week. To reach his goal of 25 pounds of weight loss, it will take about a year. Of course, John can accelerate his weight loss by focusing on the other side of the equation: burning calories with regular exercise.

For example, fast walking or jogging one mile burns about 100-150 calories. If John walks/jogs two miles four times a week while maintaining his diet, he will burn an extra 800-1,200 calories per week, which almost doubles his weight loss. Combining relatively minor diet and exercise changes, John can safely reach his goal in about six months and should be able to maintain it.

Each person is different and may need help in choosing the right diet. This is where a physician, dietician or nutritionist comes in.

They can help you pick a diet and exercise plan that meets your needs and is safe. So put down your fork and pick up your sneakers. With a little knowledge and a little help, healthy and sustainable weight loss is within your reach.

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