Friday, June 01, 2007

'Rethinking Thin' Is Absolutely Wrong, Just Find What Works For You And Do It

New York Times journalist asks Americans to begin "Rethinking Thin"

We all want it so badly, crave it deeper than even a big slice of the most decadent dessert you could ever imagine, and millions would quite literally do anything to attain it. After all, there's a steady streamline of positive images associated with this thrown in front of us day after day after day that it has become a national obsession.

What is it? The insatiable and desirable quest to be thin.

Just take a quick look at all the magazine ads, television commercials, and billboards used in marketing nowadays. Have you ever noticed how nearly ALL of them are unreasonably, even abnormally thin? When did our society make this the model for what bodily perfection looks like? Have we artificially raised the expectations of what is healthy, beautiful, and normal?

These are just a few of the questions that New York Times science reporter Gina Kolata sought to answer in her book entitled Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss--and the Myths and Realities of Dieting. With our culture seemingly mesmerized by the latest diet fads and weight loss gimmicks that keep coming out, Kolata wanted to bring a touch of reality and common sense to this issue that encompasses so many physical and emotional ties to the lives of overweight and obese people.

As a former 400-pounder who was able to overcome morbid obesity through the use of the Atkins low-carb diet, I was personally excited about reading this book that charges people to begin Rethinking Thin. There are so many good overall themes that Kolata makes in this book, but there were also some recurrent and glaring omissions that made me just shake my head in disgust because people who read the book will not get the whole picture.

Kolata said she was almost shocked by how eerily similar the stories of people who had gone on a diet sounded. They started on a plan, lost some weight, reached a point where discouragement set in, and then gained it all back and then some when they got off the plan that helped them lose weight to begin with. This vicious cycle accurately describes the fate of most of the people who fall under the "dieter's spell," as Kolata puts it.

However, after I lost 180 pounds in 2004, I have been able to keep the weight off in the three years since. How? By refusing to allow any external or internal forces to get me down so low that I choose to give up on the fantastic low-carb nutritional approach that has helped make me skinny. For me, this has not just been a diet but a real permanent lifestyle change that I will be doing for the rest of my life. I only wish Kolata would have acknowledged people like me who have been successful at losing weight and keeping it off because we refused to give up or give in.

Another excellent point Kolata makes in Rethinking Thin is how our culture has devolved from a half-century ago when being at a normal weight was not considered a travesty as it is today. Size 0 in 2007 is even too fat for our got-to-be-thin-no-matter-what social norms. Kolata says this puts an unreasonable expectation on people to try to be something they'll never be.

Yet, at the same time, we need to be reasonable about what normal is. Just as seeking to be as super-thin as those supermodels on the front cover of magazines is extreme, so too is allowing your weight to continue on an upward path to health destruction. Again, Kolata does not acknowledge that there are tens of millions of Americans carrying around extra weight which is putting an incredible burden on their health, and, in turn, our healthcare system today. Clearly, obesity is a real issue that needs to be seriously addressed.

Kolata says she is hopeful about the research that is coming to help with obesity, but states the solution is more about figuring out the physical defect in the individual who is fat rather than their unhealthy behaviors. While I don't deny there are real genetic and other forces at work that keep some people overweight, the vast majority of obese people simply use that as an excuse for refusing to do anything about their weight. I used to think the same thing before I finally broke out of my self-pity and did something about my personal problem.

Let me be very clear--being overweight and purposefully staying there is NOT healthy or normal. Going on a sound nutritional approach, such as Atkins, South Beach, Protein Power, or The Zone diets, is NOT suffering from starvation as Kolata describes. It is important for people who are overweight or obese to pursue meaningful measures to protect their health from future harm. Kolata would rather people remain obese than to do something about their weight and that's a very dangerous message to promote. I hope she reconsiders her conclusion because it is 100% dead wrong!

Rethinking Thin is very well-written (as you would expect from a professional journalist), but unfortunately lacks the depth that you would expect from a truly investigative piece on obesity. That's the way it has been marketed and obviously it is not. If Kolata was able to convince everybody who reads her book that she's right, then what would be the result? Even more massive obesity, continued health problems, and a confused nation of people wondering why they can't lose weight. But at least they'll feel good about their fatness!

Instead, why don't we tell people that they do have hope for a brighter tomorrow and that their dreams of becoming thin can become a reality? It's not an easy thing to do, something Kolata acknowledges, but that doesn't mean you just give up on weight loss forever. People need to find the plan that works for them, follow that plan exactly as prescribed by the author, and then keep doing that plan for the rest of your life. It sounds simple, but that's the answer to most weight problems.

Take it from me, the payoff in the end is worth every bit of energy, determination, and inner strength you can muster up to do this. You're gonna be tempted, you're gonna feel like giving up, and you can't rely on others to stand in the gap with you. Even still, weight loss and improved health is well within your grasp and I personally cheer you on to great success. YOU CAN DO IT!!!

Gina Kolata wrote at the end of Rethinking Thin that she sees a major paradigm shift coming soon about diets that will radically change how we think about obesity. Here's what she wrote:

"I believe that research by scientists who have open minds about obesity and its causes and consequences is starting to open doors. I believe that we will see the fruits of that research and that they may not be what we expect or what we hope for. But I also believe that one result will be that the age-old assumption that the perfect diet will somehow emerge will, eventually, fade away."

This is the result of the low-fat lie we have been forced to live with for many decades. I agree with Kolata that the scientific research into things like the negative impact of carbohydrate consumption and the positive health benefits of saturated fat and animal foods is going to change that monopolistic opinion of what a healthy diet is. There are many ways to get thin--now let's give people a wide variety of options to choose what works best for them.

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Blogger elkit said...

I don't buy the genetic defense for a very simple reason: there would have to be a specifically American gene. Just take a look elsewhere in the world, and you'll notice two things: there are far fewer morbidly obese people in other parts of the world, and even where people are fat, their "fatness", their body shape, looks different. A friend of mine who is very obese, took a vacation in Eastern Europe, and was puzzled that everybody figured out he was American without him even opening his mouth. *shrug* It's very obvious to Europeans.

6/01/2007 7:25 PM  
Blogger Science4u1959 said...

Elkit is completely right here. 15 years ago, when I started my research in proper diet and nutritional science, I travelled and lived also much throughout the many Asia/Pacific countries. I can assure you I could not find a single Asian researcher or doctor that would believe (at that point in time) that Asians could and would ever suffer from obesity and diabetes, and it's closely associated slew of illnesses.

Of course, these days that is different, as also here the obesity/diabetes monster already is showing it's ugly head. Although the absolute numbers per capita are very still much lower than in the Western world, they are very clearly on the rise. 15 years ago I did not see any obese persons here. Maybe 1 in several thousands was slightly overweight (and still "thin" by our standards). But especially diabetes is becoming a serious problem in Asia these days.

The reason for that is simple and obvious. As economies boom and people are better off, Western-style dietary patterns and habits slowly creep in - also thanks to the media and commercials. With, of course, predictable results. White flour, sugar and junk food have the same disastrous effects anywhere - even the Inuit, once the most healthy population on Earth, suffer from it since "modern" foods and dietary delusions have been introduced.

What amazes me is that none of these self-proclaimed dietary "experts" have ever actually visited the various countries they are crowing about, and lived with the man-in-the-street, and analyzed the common, predominant diet. Would they have done so, many of today's dietary delusions would simply not exist.

And people in general would suffer much less.

A while ago, while in Hong Kong, I read in the newspaper an article about the sister of a well-known model, who died from a heart-attack as a result of malnutrition. The first girl died of the same cause. A very sad story indeed. In the newspaper amazed and shocked friends declared that "she ate so very healthy". I have worked with models - most of them practically faint every 60 minutes from hunger. Most models suffer incredibly from the low-fat/low-calorie lie and, unfortunately, quite a few pay the highest price.

But the most remarkable was the fact that this very same day I spoke to a number of Asian ladies. During that conversation they pointed out to me that they wanted to look like Western models, especially with the fair skin and absurdly "slim and slender" - although all of them were far from overweight. I happened to carry that newspaper with me, and showed it to them, with a big picture of that gorgeous, smiling, extremely slim model. "This is what the Western diet will do to you" I said. They loved it, and absolutely wanted to look like that. And then I slowly revealed the headline and said "She died yesterday, and her sister a while back too - from starvation and malnutrition". Many mouths fell open.

Although I was there to lecture on ICT-related topics, I ended up giving some sort of Atkins-seminar. You know what the nice thing was? They understood the need for less refined carbs, and sufficient fats and proteins. These people have not yet been indoctrinated with our politically-correct "essential carbs" nonsense and instinctively know what is truly healthy and good for them.

It makes me sad that, despite the abundant evidence of total and complete failure all around us, in the Western world it is still so very hard to convey that logical, scientifically proven message.

6/01/2007 10:09 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

The genetic cause is being used as the excuse for every bad lifestyle these days. Scientists pronounce or assume a genetic cause before even showing any connection. That's how we got into the low-fat error, presuming a connection before any was shown. It's not science or free inquiry, it's purely wishful thinking and ideology.

6/03/2007 11:44 PM  
Anonymous AB said...

It sounds very much like none of you have actually read the whole book, which is quite detailed in its research. To address the "American" aspect of this, see pages 178-79, and note that in countries where food becomes cheap and plentiful for those in lower socio-economic areas, obesity does inevitably rise.

The author does also discuss people who lose a great deal of weight and keep it off, but you all must acknowledge that statistically this is a tiny minority.

5/24/2008 2:46 PM  

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