Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Be Wary Of Any 'Expert' Weight Loss Advice

Why is Heather McPherson dishing out weight loss advice?

What I am about to say is probably going to sound a lot more cruel than I mean for it to, but it's something that we've all thought about from time to time even if it was just to ourselves. Here it is: Why do so many food and health editors at newspapers in America always look like they need to go on a diet themselves? Oh boy, now I've done it! BUT IT'S TRUE!!!

Case in point: look at that picture of 30-year veteran Food Editor Heather McPherson from The Orlando Sentinel above. You can REALLY tell that she loves food and it shows. That's not being disrespectful to her, I'm simply pointing out the obvious.

A few years ago, I remember somebody I had not seen in a while telling me when I still weighed over 400 pounds that I looked "healthy." No, she didn't think I was buff or an example for others to follow regarding a good diet, but actually just the opposite. Her idea of using the word "healthy" was that life must be good for me if I could allow myself to get THAT big. Even worse is it didn't immediately dawn on me what she had meant by her remarks and then I "got" it several days later. Nice subtle hint that this fatso needed to get rid of his lard you-know-what!

I'm getting off topic, so let me get back to Ms. McPherson for a moment. I think it is fair to say she could stand to lose some weight, right? Nobody will argue this point I am sure. So, how ironic would it be to be lectured to about how to lose weight from someone like her? Would you believe, though, that is EXACTLY what she does in her latest column?

Just like The Washington Post Health Editor Sally Squires who is another "expert" on health who could stand to take some of the advice she so willingly dishes out to others about how to shed the pounds, McPherson gives her analysis of the various diet foods on the market today in response to new statistics released in the July 2006 issue of Prevention magazine that found Americans forked over $63 billion on diet food and yet obesity is as bad as it ever was.

Before we get into what McPherson actually says about these foods, let me explain something about "diet food." Just because something said it is low-carb or low-fat doesn't mean it's healthy for you. You still have to be aware of what you are putting in your mouth which is why you hear me harp on the message to READ THE LABELS and the ingredients that you are eating like a hawk. Food companies cannot be trusted to provide you with the best information you need for your respective weight loss plan because they are simply out to make a buck.

Instead, you should be your own best health advocate and make wise decisions about what you can and cannot eat to help yourself on your new lifestyle change. Eating low-fat Cheetos all day won't make you skinny, so DON'T DO IT!

Okay, with that out of the way, let's take a look-see at what McPherson wrote in her column about how other people should lose weight the "right" way (because we know what an "expert" she is on the subject, you know!) with these different kinds of diet foods.

Here are the pros and cons of the various diet foods:

Pros: Convenient, controls portions
Cons: Too salty, takes away thrill of cooking

Pros: Convenient, quick meal
Cons: Unable to learn how to eat "normal"

Pros: Great for staving off hunger between meals
Cons: Too high in portions, fat and calories
(we'll come back to this one!)

Pros: Allows you to eat larger portions
Cons: Not advisable for people who are big-bellied

Pros: Great for diabetics who must avoid sugar
Cons: Not a substitute for people who like sweets

I have three observations about McPherson's comments in the article:

First, McPherson describes the low-carb foods as the "low-carb lowdown," but she concedes this way of eating does "promote weight loss." But she goes on to say that "staples such as whole-grain breads and cereals are essential to a well-balanced eating plan." Says who, Ms. McPherson? I don't buy into the whole grain craze nor do I need cereals to help me lose weight. Most of these "healthy" whole grain foods are much too high in carbohydrates to be healthy for me on my low-carb lifestyle.

Perhaps your endorsement of whole grain foods might explain why you are still struggling with your weight. I'm not being ugly, I'm just earnestly trying to help you as an advocate for healthy eating advice that you so willingly put out there.

When you say that low-carb foods will satisfy your hunger, you are dead-on. But then you go and blow it by unnecessarily talking about portions, fat and calories, none of which are necessary for people who are losing weight by livin' la vida low-carb. Sure, these things are important, but low-carb living naturally balances all of these things at a level that will enable the body to burn fat and get healthier. This has been scientifically shown to be a fact, Ms. McPherson, and why I was able to shed the pounds so well two years ago. Your ideas about a healthy diet are frankly outdated and sorely need to be updated to the most current research. As an "expert," one would think you would already stay on top of things like this.

Second, I am pleased to see you acknowledge the failure of the low-fat diet we have been lectured on for decades. But this chastisement of low-fat by you is in direct contradiction to your concerns about low-carb where you say the fat needs to be reduced. So how much fat is too little and how much is too much, Ms. McPherson? Oh, once again, I know you're probably not the best one to answer that question, so nevermind!

Third and finally, on the sugar-free foods you say that people are better off just eating sugar or honey because they are more natural than those awful artificial sweeteners that will simply "fool your body" into thinking it is eating sugar and make you crave more sugar. I've got a word for that: BALONEY! I've heard both sides of the argument over sugar on and I'm convinced sugar is rat poison. I'm not diabetic, but I stand as a strong advocate of sugar-free products because they were an essential part of my 180-pound weight loss success as I avoided sugar entirely as part of my healthy lifestyle change. I would NOT have been able to lose my weight had it not been for sugar-free foods. PERIOD!

When I need something sweet to eat, sugar-free chocolates and the like have helped me get through those tempting times when I could have just as easily eaten sugar which would have sabotaged my low-carb plan. Instead, I emerged triumphant over my weight and gladly include a variety of sweeteners as part of my healthy lifestyle, including the plant-based Stevia, the chicory root-based SweetPerfection, and, of course, Splenda!

I don't mean any disrespect to Heather McPherson regarding what she thinks about healthy eating, but I do think she should clean up her own house first before she goes telling others what they need to do to lose weight. It's always good to be wary of any "expert" who claims to have weight loss advice for you to follow. It should go without saying, but if they are overweight and/or unhealthy, then it's probably not a good idea to heed what they tell you. Word to the wise.

You can visit Heather McPherson at her blog entitled Forkhead or you can send her an e-mail regarding her column at

If I offended her with my comments at my blog, then I certainly apologize for doing so because it was certainly not my intention. Instead, my goal was to simply point out something that I have noticed among many food and health editors at newspapers all across the United States.

Here's an idea! Maybe all of these overweight and obese health and food editors could all start livin' la vida low-carb this year and then write about how wrong they were about the low-carb lifestyle in simultaneous columns in January 2007. Now wouldn't THAT be cool?!

6-22-06 UPDATE: I guess it should come as no surprise that I heard back from Heather McPherson today.

Wow you must feel all warm and fuzzy inside making such a leap from a 10 year old head shot with a head tilt. That's some real creative journalism. That made my day! Thanks!

Heather J. McPherson
Food Editor
The Orlando Sentinel

Was it something I said? :-~

6-23-06 UPDATE: I knew when I wrote this it could be left to being interpreted as me being condescending towards overweight and obese people. That was not at all my intention. However, fellow blogger Jim Fitzgerald said this post "sounds innocent enough, but his article might anger a few people."

"Don't get me wrong, I do not have a problem with it, but I can definetly see some that would."

Hopefully most people understand I was simply pointing out a problem I have with the so-called health and food "experts" who tell us how to lose weight and haven't conquered that problem themselves. Two of my readers understood my intent very well.

The first e-mailer said I hit the "bullseye":

Great article about weight loss "experts." As someone who has lost 50 pounds and kept it off, I marvel at these clearly overweight "experts" telling everyone how to lose weight and often times it's some wack-o approach. I love the fact that you said, low fat or low carb does not translate to "healthy, eat all you want." I always enjoy reading your articles, nice job. I wish people would pay attention to those who "been there, done that" and "get it."

The second e-mailer said these "experts" get away with shelling out dieting advice because of public acceptance that fat is "normal" now:

Kudos on your courage to speak the truth. I've noticed a few diet advice givers being rather plump, to say the least. I've given the subject some thought since I first read Sally Squires email newsletter when it launched. And they aren't the only examples. Whether their advice is sound or not, they obviously don't practice what they preach, which smacks of hypocracy to me. (Or maybe they do practice what they preach and it doesn't work!)

I have a theory: as people increase in weight and size, their view of normal (and unfortunately what's acceptable) changes. To heavier people someone like Heather McPherson may look like an acceptable goal weight. You can test this out in any mall, food court, grocery or Walmart. When it comes to the size of people, plump is the new 'small', overweight the new 'medium', obese the new 'large' and morbidly obese the new 'plus'.

And I don't mean in clothing sizes. That's another changing trend. In the eighties, I had no trouble finding size small or size 4/6 in women's clothing and in a wide selection. Back then, plus sizes were hard to find (and not very in demand.) I recently shopped Walmart for summer tanks and on a full rack of about 100 tank tops found exactly three (3!) in size small (which I greedily grabbed.) There were a few more mediums, and dozens of large, 1X, 2X, 3X. I perused the rest of the clothing out of curiousity and this trend held. The market follows the trends, that's where the money is, after all and the demand is for larger sizes.

Is it possible, to the growing masses (no pun intended) Ms. McPherson and Ms. Squires are examples of a physique to aspire to?! Oy Vay!

Got an opinion on this? Was I right or have I missed something here? Leave your comment below or e-mail me at

6-25-06 UPDATE: The UK health blog ThinkSlim appreciated what I had to say in this post and said the same thing happens in her country.

I've noticed in the UK many journalists just jump on the bandwagon of hyping the latest fad diet -- whichever book is being promoted most at the moment -- because it's easier to find something new to write about weight loss than to see whether it works or not.

Bingo! As a regular writer (EVERY DAY AT THIS BLOG!), I would not write about something unless I have looked into it and have some kind of connection to the information I am providing. Of course, I'm not a journalist with a responsibility to do those things, but I do them anyway because my readers deserve the respect that comes from doing your homework. Maybe this explains why newspaper circulations are at an all-time low, hmmmmm?


Blogger Lowcarb_dave said...

To Quote Sam from that old TV show "Quantum Leap"

"Oh Boy!"

6/22/2006 12:17 AM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

So what does "Ziggy" say my odds are, Dave? :D

6/22/2006 6:25 AM  
Blogger Chelsea said...

This post reminds me of these two middle aged women at my last job. They were both overweight and doing weight watchers, and put down anyone who followed any other eating plan, including my low-carbing. In the two years I worked with them, they never lost more than a couple pounds.

6/22/2006 10:34 AM  
Blogger 1Peter3 said...

It's very difficult to tell anything about what a person's body is like from a head shot photo.

The reason I'm bothering to mention this is that there is a young lady at the gym I go to who has a very puffy face. This is not just full cheeks though, her cheeks and double chin look as if she's been inflated like a balloon. If I only saw a head shot photo of her, I'd most likely come to the conclusion that she must be at least 50-100 pounds overweight, if not a lot more.

That's not the case though - this young lady is very thin over the rest of her entire body. You can see the strong muscles on her (very lean, muscular legs, tight abs, etc.), and almost no body fat anywhere... except for her face. I supsect something might be wrong metabolically to cause that puffiness, but being overweight is not the problem.

As far as the photo of Ms. McPherson is concerned, unfortunately, newspapers tend to use the same photo for far too long. If it's 10 years old, as she says, she may look very different now.

6/22/2006 1:04 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

Perhaps it is just an "old" photo. But why is it that these "experts" seem to struggle with the very issue they are shelling out advice about? That's just bizarre to me.

6/22/2006 1:06 PM  
Blogger 1Peter3 said...

For over a year I was subscribed to a menu service from someone who was supposedly a certified nutritionist. (I later found out that a single 5 hour class can qualify someone to be "certified" as a nutritionist!) The menus were generally good, with lots of good low carb seasoning and sauce ideas, which I still use today.

Anyhow, I'd seen a head and shoulders photo of this lady on her website, and didn't think anything about it because she looked to be within the realms of normalcy... but as it turns out, she must have had a real weight problem herself when she first started doing this menu service, because it was only a few months later that she was hawking a new book chronicalling how she'd lost 50 pounds, by using - you guessed it - her version of low carb.

(Aside: Her version of low carb seemed to be a good bit higher in carbs and lower in fat than what most of us are used to, and some of the recipes had such teensy protein portions that I'd have been looking for more to eat before even getting up from the table, but generally speaking, most of the menus could be tweaked to make them work with low carb. She also has several other versions of her menu service, which are generally very low in fat, so I found out later that often the regular menu people would get the exact same menu as the low carb people... I suspect some recipes even cross over all the different menus available, since she also has a "heart healthy" menu available)

There is a new photo of her on her site since her weight loss, but it's taken at a very imaginative angle , so that she looks extremely svelte. It's taken from high above her, with her looking up towards the camera, but all you can see of her body is that her shoulders seem to be wider than the rest of her. The camera angle and clothing were chosen very carefully to make her look her absolute best (thinnest).

The only thing is, I also saw a TV clip of her doing a cooking demo at about the same time as the book came out, and although she was not seriously overweight anymore, she was not nearly as thin as the photo on her site would lead you to believe.

I suspect that most people who write diet and nutrition colums either have their own weight problems, or are just researching information from other dieticians/books and reporting on them.

6/22/2006 1:54 PM  
Blogger 1Peter3 said...

Sorry, that should have said:

"I suspect that most people who write diet and nutrition colums have their own weight problems, and are just researching information from other dieticians/books and reporting on them."

6/22/2006 2:00 PM  
Blogger Invisible Blogger said...

if you do an google image search for heather McPherson, you'll find another even less flattering pic of her... no telling how old it is tho...

6/22/2006 3:21 PM  
Blogger Mark said... DF4G8574-AIGA-copyTN.jpg

This is a picture of Sally Squires from 2005 from what I can tell. Like 1peter3's nutritionist, it's taken in way that tend to make her look thinner. I would guess she has a BMI somewhere between 27 and 32, i.e. overweight to mildly obese which unfortunately describes the average american. Since she has written extensively telling Americans what to eat and not to eat, this probably shouldn't be a surprise. In the interest of full disclosure, my current BMI is 28. 5' 10" and 193 lbs. 3 years ago I was able to lose more than 30 lbs over about 1 yr on a low glycemic index diet, i.e. Sugar Busters. Thanks.

6/23/2006 11:05 AM  
Blogger Gary said...

Re: McPherson.

Goodgod, how does a "food editor" make any claim to knowing what is good for one's health? She's not a health editor, she's a FOOD editor. She's entitled to write about what tastes good (to her), but not about health.

Ah, but the public doesn't know the difference. Maybe Ms. McPherson doesn't either!

6/23/2006 3:57 PM  
Blogger Gary said...

Re: "Whole Grains"

BEWARE of the food industry's attempt to fool the public on this issue. "Whole grains" is a meaningless term, particularly when we're talking about highly processed "whole grains" in factory-produced foods. NOT the real deal. If you want something with whole-grain goodness, at minimum look for products that say "stone-ground" flour on the label. Anything else is close to the equivalent of white flour (enriched or not) with brown food coloring.

Furthermore, beware especially of the cereal industry's drive to recapture some good press when they claim that their product has "whole-grain goodness" or some such ridiculousness – particularly when the first or second ingredient on the label is SUGAR, and the product contains (still, despite the new law that prohibits the use of trans fats) partially (or fully) hydrogenated oil or fat. The cereal industry just loves to serve factory cookies reformulated in the form of "cereal" to kids for breakfast – and to adults too. And don't forget that they are using high-fructose corn syrup too.

Got that, Ms. McPherson? I dare you to publish it.

6/23/2006 4:04 PM  
Blogger Lowcarb_dave said...

I expected more of a fall-out from this Jimmy!

Ziggy says your odds are good for coming out alive!

he he

6/24/2006 12:22 PM  
Blogger audreylhw2 said...

It is true that alot of nutritionalist/health experts are obese and in no way shape or form should they be spouting what is the best way to lose weight when they can' do it themselves. The doctor prescribed nutritionalist in a local hospital here has been telling our over weight ( morbidly obese) teen that she needs to eat small amounts and no fat. That lady has a larger behind that the teen does and the teen is pushing 300. What right to they have to condemn low carb when they can't stick to their own diets and maintain a healthy weight for a year of more? I have since put that teen on lowcarb/atkins and has lost 25 lbs in 2 months time. More than they the doctors and nutritionalist have been able to do in the 10 years they've been treating her. Go figure! Ps no school lunches they were so carbed out! that it was a wonder the students are not all heart attack and diabetic fatalities. I bet if you looked into the school meals in your area you'd find they are doing a diservice to the kids of today. Along with that check out the sizes of your local nutritionalist and ask them about atkins or any low carb way of eating. I'm sure they will scoff and put up a fight about it. Sorry I'm lousy at grammer.

6/24/2006 2:56 PM  

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