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!

Ginny Kendall October 2, 2012 at 12:44 pm

I am glad to see you focus on the Lifestyle vs. diet approach. The ONLY long-term weight loss and control is an attitude change toward eating and exercising.

kwolosz October 2, 2012 at 3:50 pm

I completely agree…

Margaret October 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Hi Kari,
I like the direction of your posts. A note on your numbers after a few clicked links through the 60 billion link you gave. The source of the number stated that the 60 billion market was globally. In another of the sources it stated that Americans spend 33 billion. I think you have you FDA linked to the wrong page. It goes to the Bank of America Newsroom.

I look forward to hearing more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Though, I think with the limits on my diet, becoming a vegetarian might be dangerous.

Margaret

kwolosz October 2, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Margaret,

This week I was very determined to write a post on a vegetarian lifestyle in honor of Vegetarian Month. However, once I started compiling my thoughts, I realized that I had much more to say regarding diet than I originally thought.

With regards to my links, our blog site has been acting strange, and a lot of my links were not saved after I updated them. Technology is fun that way! You just never know…

Rhonda October 2, 2012 at 1:21 pm

The diet industry wants to stay in business, which, as you point out, makes it a competitor to itself. But it’s not homogeneous. Some segments of the industry seem to be intent on creating permanent, sustainable lifestyle for effective weight management. Weight Watchers, for example, (at least in its current model) seems focused on helping people throughout their lives. Apparently, you can become a “lifetime member” after about a year and no longer have to pay a fee.

So how do you see the future of the diet industry? Will its primary focus be on keeping people in the gain/lose/gain/lose cycle, or will the ethos of helping people be healthier begin to prevail, as current “scams” are recognized? This is important, because organizations and individuals outside the diet industry also have a stake in the outcome – including employers, schools, government, communities, families. What is the role of these other entities in the conversation?

Some food for thought as you continue with this series.

kwolosz October 2, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Rhonda,

The diet industry is very manipulative, and yes, there are certain segments that are intended to create weight maintenance. Weight Watchers for example focuses on sustainability, but they are still a for-profit, and make products based off their program.

I enjoyed reading all your questions and they are going to be very helpful when I decide how I will write these next few posts. I am using this post as a forum to get an idea of what readers want me to talk about in these upcoming weeks.

Angela October 2, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Great topic! I’m quite interested in the ‘grooming’ towards an unhealthy lifestyle through advertising, school sponsoring, ‘nostaliga effect’ etc. Don’t know if there are business links between the fast food and diet industry?

kwolosz October 2, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Angela,

Very interesting about the link between fast food and the diet industry. More food for thought on my upcoming posts! Thank you!

Liz Borkowski October 3, 2012 at 12:01 pm

This is a great public health topic to tackle, and including statistics on weight-loss expenditures and percentage of people dieting at the beginning of your post was a perfect way to provide context.

In line with some of the other comments, I encourage you to give a clear definition of “diet industry” in future posts. Your discussion of pharmaceuticals makes it sound like you’re including diet drugs in this category, but when I think of the “diet industry,” programs like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig are what come to mind, whereas I think of drugs as being part of a broader “weight-loss industry.” Are you also including products like meal-replacement shakes and supplements/teas that are supposed to reduce food cravings?

I’m really looking forward to reading more of your posts!

Lydia Farah October 4, 2012 at 9:33 pm

I like the conclusion of your article. I think that vegetarian and vegan lifestyles are starting to go more mainstream, however they still get treated as fringe/hippy movements in much of the media. There are sooooo many books and studies by drs Campbell, Ornish and Esselstyn that demonstrate the benefits of changing how we eat to move away from processed foods and towards more plant-based, whole food. But it is rarely given real, critical attention. Articles either claim it is unrealistic to think that large segments of our population can eat that way long term, or they focus on the potential vitamins and nutrients that you are missing if you don’t eat meat and dairy. It seems it is easier to give someone a pill and deal with the side effects than to teach them how to cook and make better food choices. We know how to help most overweight Americans slim down, we just need the will/creative minds to figure out how to make it easier for more people to follow the lifestyle.

I do have hope though, my daughters’ school has an extensive garden and is bringing in a local chef who focuses on cooking with real food in sustainable ways. They have a mobile kitchen that they can use to cook in the classrooms and are starting to grow some veggies hydroponically this year, since the Michigan growing season tends to be short. I know we are not the only school doing this. You may want to look at some of the other schools in SE Michigan (and the country). I am hopeful that my children’s generation will be better informed and make better food choices than many people do today.

PF Anderson October 6, 2012 at 11:39 pm

My apologies for not having time to go through the post properly in my response. I just wanted to make a brief comment about please checking the credibility and authority of the sources you cite or to which you link as providing the science background for your post.

I saw this line: “Research has suggested that while 45 million Americans diet each year” which, for the “research” links to LiveStrong. Livestrong is a popular consumer health website which has a heavily commercial slant. Its credibility has been under attack and it is accused of serving as a front to protect Lance Armstrong from doping charges. The site has been accused of quackery and fraud.

The next link was: ” In the United States, the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the diet industry”, but the link provided is to Bank of America, not to
the FDA, nor to any of their regulatory materials! That was actually more shocking to me. I hope that this is a typo?

I didn’t look at the rest of the post.

There are a huge number of materials on the web to help people learn how to assess the credibility of web resources. There are many more on critical thinking and how to assess credibility of research articles. I have a fairly substantial collection, but because I’m swamped, I’m taking the lazy man’s way out and just pointing you to a couple of my tools, checklists that are used in graduate level courses at other schools.

Patient or consumer health materials: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~pfa/pro/courses/EvalPtEd.pdf

Clinician-oriented web content: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~pfa/pro/courses/EvalClin.pdf

Good luck on your future posts! This is an excellent topic. Perhaps you’ll revisit it?

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