Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

by kwolosz on October 2, 2012

This is part one of a series looking at the basic health psychology of a ‘diet’ and how we can better understand the role that our environment, society, and personality play into achieving optimal health and wellness.

Image courtesy of gettyimages.com

One half of Americans are currently on a diet.

The others have just surrendered and are on a food binge.

As a nation, we are overweight, sick, and in a personal/societal diet state of ambiguity. Collectively, we  spent nearly $60 billion in 2011 alone on weight loss programs and products from books, to pills, to equipment all in search for that ‘perfect’ size.

Lets face it: our consumer society focuses on diet programs with ‘approved’ foods or supplements for an instant five-pound weight loss in a matter of days, hours, or minutes. Amazing, right?

Well, not exactly. Research has suggested that while 45 million Americans diet each year, around ninety-five percent will regain all, if not more, of the weight back within one year. This national pursuit of weight loss encourages the cyclical market of weight loss, weight gain, and then directly back to the diet industry to search for another solution. Capitalism profits from the self-loathing and desperation associated with the diet industry that is, after all, a renewable resource.

Consequently, the diet industry simply turns their head to the adverse health risks associated with their ‘quick fix’ solutions. In the United States, the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the diet industry and has been strict with approving diet drugs mainly due to the unknown long-term side effects (i.e., heart failure, death).

Finally! Someone from the government has decided to take the authoritative role and regulate pharmaceuticals that underlines at least one value in medical ethics; non-maleficence or “first, do no harm” (primum non nocere). Hypothetically yes, the FDA still has strict regulations, but politically speaking they still support diet drug research.

In fact during a research trial, test subjects who average a 2% weight loss are considered a success. To put this into perspective, in the U.S. the average male and female weight is 195-lbs and 170-lbs, respectively. A successful 2% weight loss is less than a mere 4-lbs for both genders.  And approved diet drugs will average less than a 5% success rate, ironic to just what the Average Joe does to lose weight.

In the past 20 years, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported a dramatic increase in obesity rates in the U.S., estimating that almost two-third of adults are either overweight or obese. To the diet industry, these statistics are just feeding the beast; the beast being this very industry fueling the rising obesity levels. After all, the diet industry would be a very short-lived business venture if these diets did what they claimed and provided simple, effective weight loss success that was maintainable.

So, what are we supposed to do? Are we blaming the diet industry, or ourselves, or maybe even our conventional western civilization? Conventional wisdom would tell us that it is based on the balance of calories in vs. calories out, ergo eat less, exercise more and poof! weight loss for everyone. The blame game would prove to not only deny individual responsibility but also the trends in our western diet.

Nonsense aside, now is the time focus on a sustainable and conscious diet lifestyle that incorporates the whole person. Throughout these next few weeks, I will try and explain how the diet industry has cognitively changed how we view food, our environment and our own identity. I will focus on the psychological nature that capitalizes on our mental ability to create behavior change and why it is a challenge for many to not only lose weight but also maintain. Finally, in honor of National Vegetarian Month, I will look at the importance of a vegetarian lifestyle for long-term personal and environmental health.

Stay tuned!