Smart People Don’t Diet

How to eat well and be healthy through psychology, common sense, and the latest science.

We Aren’t in Oz Anymore

Scientists know what leads to weight loss and it isn’t magic.

Last month, Dr. Mehmet Oz (of The Dr. Oz Show fame) was the recipient of public scrutiny when he admitted to the Congressional Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance that some of the weight loss products he endorsed weren’t exactly supported by science and probably wouldn’t pass the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) standards of safe and consumable products. (Because supplements are neither food nor drugs they aren’t subject to FDA review – it’s quite a loophole!) Some folks were saddened and felt let down by the charismatic Oz, others shocked, and still others simply decided to purchase a different assortment of weight loss supplements.

This raises a critical question since one in three Americans is affected by obesity and related consequences: Do weight loss supplements work? The easy answer is, “NO.” However, this doesn’t stop the reach of the mighty and powerful Oz! Whenever he mentions a product intended for weight loss on his show — such as “green coffee beans” — sales increase. He’s made plenty of other recommendations as well, but there are only questionable anecdotes and no credible scientific evidence to support these recommendations.

Behavioral psychology, a bit of common sense, and a whole lot of science should make it clear that we aren’t in Oz anymore. We actually know what works for weight loss. More importantly, we know what doesn’t work. And, when I say “we,” I mean nutritionists, dietitians, doctors, psychologists and other health professionals. Yet, time and time again, people are willing to be duped by the $60 billion weight loss industry.

I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic. If I could sit on my couch, eat Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream all day and then pop a pill to keep me from gaining weight (or even better, drop a few pounds!), I’d buy that pill. But when Dr. Oz says he has the “number one miracle in a bottle,” and you’re never going to have to watch what you eat again, you better think twice. When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Not only do most weight loss supplements, plans, and pills not produce the effects that they claim, they often actually lead to weight gain (and can even cause other health problems, including death). Sadly, there is no miracle for weight loss; if you want to lose weight you must eat less, eat smarter, and move more. I know that’s not exactly a sexy prescription for weight loss, but it is the only prescription proven to promote not only weight loss, but health and fitness. I wish that merely cutting out carbs or “juicing” would leave me with the ideal body, but that’s not the way this works. And eating well and being active doesn’t have to be hard. 

I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know. The problem is when we let our desire for weight loss and wishful thinking take over the rational part of our brain. And yet, our brain is our most powerful weapon in our battle of the bulge. Staying smart and rational is essential. Dr. Oz’s “passionate and flowery” prescriptions (as he called them when defending himself recently) may be appealing, but they aren’t evidence based. Instead, try following these basic rules for weight loss – they’ll work a whole lot better and they are risk-free!

1) Don’t drink your calories; stick to water and low-fat milk most of the time.

2) Snack smart. Fruits and veggies are always the best options. 

3) Focus on minor food and fitness changes; slow and steady wins the race!

4) Make changes to your diet that you can stick to permanently. Don’t entirely cut out foods that you know you’re going to want to eat again.

5) Try to participate in some sort of physical activity most days.

6) Don’t fall for fad diets. Stay smart when it comes to what you eat and how you attempt to lose weight!

 

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Copyright Charlotte N. Markey, 2014.

Dr. Charlotte Markey is a health psychology professor at Rutgers University and author of Smart People Don't Diet.

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