Being a doctor and working with people for more than 20 years, trying to help them get healthy, has given me a different perspective on obesity. I think I have heard every excuse in the book. Because of this, I no longer tell people what they want to hear, but rather I tell them the truth.
The truth begins by finding out the reason for overeating. Your own personal reason may be different than that of anyone else. In dealing with obesity, it is important to understand why you are overweight. If you don’t deal with this issue, you will not be successful in your efforts to lose weight.
In one case, a woman came in to see me saying she wanted to get off of her diabetes medications because they took away all of her energy. I explained that since she weighed more than 250 pounds the fat would prevent her from achieving her goal and we would have to deal with that.
She came in faithfully every two weeks for more than a year but didn’t lose a single pound. She said she was doing everything I suggested, but it just wasn’t working. Finally, in frustration, I dropped my head into my hands and questioned, more to myself, “Why aren’t you losing weight?” She timidly answered, “Because I don’t want to.” I looked up, amazed. “Why not?” She went on to explain that she had seen a man on TV who had lost 100 pounds and they showed his skin hanging down from his arms, legs and abdomen. “I don’t want to look like that!” she blurted out in tears.
Another woman who wasn’t losing weight on a supposed 500-calorie-per-day diet offered that she kept the fat on to keep people away: “I don’t want to get close to people and risk getting hurt, and the fat is a very effective way to keep my distance.” This included her family and friends. She was sabotaging her own efforts on multiple diets over years because of her emotional fears.
Over the years I have collected some of the most common myths that obese people believe that prevent them from getting healthy. Many of them are actually touted in the media, and even by doctors!
1. Exercise can make you skinny.
This is a huge one. If it were true, then Sumo wrestlers would be thin. They exercise all day, every day, and are able to maintain over 100 pounds of fat because they eat over six pounds of rice per day. They get up in the middle of the night to eat rice and maintain their weight. Many believe they can eat what they want and just exercise more to “burn up the calories” and prevent weight gain. We were told that a calorie is a calorie, and that (calories in) – (calories out) = (stable weight).
Not true! If you don’t curb your intake, exercise can actually make you more efficient and cause more fat deposition. Don’t get me wrong, exercise is important for maintaining health and strength, but just don’t believe the myth that you can lose fat by exercising.
2. Eating less fat causes weight loss.
Another common myth is that low-fat diets cause weight loss. This idea was started over 30 years ago, allowing for an experiment on the whole society. As people eat less fat, they eat more carbohydrates. In fact, since the 1970s, sugar consumption has gone up dramatically from about 30 pounds per person per year to now, the average American eats his weight in sugar every year! This has caused an epidemic of obesity, as well as diabetes. Over 60 prcent of the population is obese, and about one-fifth of the entire population is either diabetic or pre-diabetic! Low-fat diets don’t lower body fat.
3. Low thyroid causes weight gain.
I am amazed by the sheer number of people who still believe that they are overweight because of a “thyroid problem.” Clinics in the 1980s for weight loss that gave people high doses of thyroid hormone were surprisingly unsuccessful. Multiple studies on the effects of thyroid on weight have failed to find a connection — and yet the myth persists. There are many medical doctors and other practitioners who perpetuate this myth, telling people, “It’s not your fault, it’s your thyroid.” They are then given thyroid hormones to take, but don’t lose weight.
4. Don’t look at the scale!
When people refuse to allow my office staff to weigh them, I know there is a deeper problem. These are the people who don’t want to look at where they are to know where they want to be. They feel they will get discouraged if they find out they are not losing weight, if their efforts are in vain. Not looking at the scale when you are trying to lose weight is like getting onto the plane and hearing the pilot say, “We’re not sure where we’re going, and our fuel gauge isn’t working so we’ll just see what happens.” I don’t know about you, but I’d get right off of that plane!
I find the real reason people don’t want to know how much they weigh is because they know they aren’t doing what they feel they need to do and don’t want a reminder. In order to determine if your efforts are working, you must have a way of measuring progress. Weight is not the best measurement of health, but it is a good indicator of improvement. If you are serious about getting healthy, it is a good idea to weigh yourself every day and write it down.
5. Diet pills help you lose weight.
Last week I had a woman in my office who was taking diet pills over 10 years ago, which caused memory, focus and weight problems. She is still feeling the effects of brain dysfunction, as well as obesity, because of that. “The pills worked to keep the weight off,” she told me, “but I would rather be fat than have all these problems with my brain!” I have many come in asking for diet pills, but all of the studies done on diet pills show a short-term loss of weight with a long-term gain. Moreover, they cause brain dysfunction. Why are they still used? Because of public demand. People are trying to appear to be healthy with drugs that are actually harming their health. Believe me, diet pills, whether over-the-counter or prescription, are not the answer to being overweight.
6. Dieting is the solution to an obesity problem.
In the 1880s, Mark Twain quipped, “Quitting smoking is easy, I’ve done it a thousand times!” I have many people who have tried “a thousand” diets with only short-term weight loss. The number of diet books could be stacked from here to the moon, and there are several more that come out every week. Dieting has been a national obsession for almost a hundred years! Ironically, over this time people have become fatter and fatter.
Getting off of the “diet treadmill” means making permanent lifestyle changes instead of temporary ones. Instead of “being on a diet” you may need to make rules to live by for the rest of your life. These rules should include eating whole foods, avoiding processed foods, eating more in the morning and less at night, limiting snacks and drinking only water. All of this will be modified according to your taste and lifestyle.
7. Thin people have more willpower.
Most people who remain thin make a decision to do so. Yes, it requires a change, as does every gain in life, but a little knowledge is very helpful. Start researching what it means to be healthy and have a healthy body. Life is about sacrifice, and we have to choose every day to sacrifice either our health or our taste — we can’t have both. This isn’t just in the area of food, it’s a part of everybody’s life. I find this issue with tobacco, drugs, alcohol, sex, money, stress and every possible desire that human beings have. Not everyone is so tied to their taste buds that they gain weight, just like not everyone likes to smoke tobacco or drink coffee.
If you feel that you need willpower, then you have an addiction. The only way to overcome an addiction is with the help of God. Multiple studies have proven that any other way is temporary, at best. In these cases, prayer is an essential part of any weight-loss program.
8. Fasting is bad for you.
The single healthiest thing people can do, especially if they are overweight, is fasting. Multiple studies on every species of animals, including worms, spiders, yeast, cats, rats and monkeys, have shown a longer and healthier life in those who fast. Monkeys who fast every other day live longer, healthier lives than their counterparts who are fed daily. There is no nutrient, food, pill or juice that can boast the invigorating power of fasting.
For weight loss, the benefits are tremendous. The weight comes off — about a pound per day — the hunger and cravings disappear, the stomach shrinks, the digestive system is more effective and the weight doesn’t come back easily. Fasting is the “reset button” for your metabolism.
One man in Scotland who weighed more than 470 pounds went to his doctor and said he wanted to weigh 180 pounds. The doctor said, “Quit eating,” so the man did. He started drinking only water and taking a vitamin and electrolyte (salt, potassium, minerals) pill. After a year and 18 days without food, he weighed 180 pounds. He began eating sensibly, and nine years later he still weighed 180 pounds.
You can start with just one day of drinking only water. Sometimes it takes as long as a week to begin your fat-burning metabolism. Be careful of hypoglycemia, or low sugar. You may want to have some carrots handy in case you get headaches, weakness or cold sweats. There are many good books on fasting. I would recommend getting information if you don’t have any experience with this most healthy dietary change.
9. High-nutrient-and-low-calorie foods are expensive!
Of course, ounce for ounce you will find that organic foods cost more than those smothered in pesticides, and prepared foods seem to cost less than their unadulterated counterparts, but this isn’t the whole picture. Eating smaller amounts of grass-fed meat or wild-caught fish maybe twice per week, and having organic fruit and vegetables instead of packaged snacks is actually less expensive. People who are eating nutritious foods don’t eat when they aren’t hungry, whereas snack foods are eaten for taste and hunger doesn’t matter. That’s why people get fat on snack foods.
Moreover, preparing the food in your home will save lots of money over going to restaurants. The average American eats in a restaurant five times per week. This is significantly more expensive than bringing food from home, and it’s less nutritious.
10. You can eat anything you want and still lose weight.
People are often told they can have their cake and eat it, too. After trying this for many years, one would think that people would catch on to this scam. These are telling people what they want to hear. This is the big lie of lies in human metabolism. The fact is, without sacrificing food there is no way to be healthy. Mostly, we just have to change our thinking to begin eating for nourishment instead of for taste. Over time, nourishing foods become tastier, and the engineered foods become nauseating.
“I eat hardly anything and I still gain weight,” a young, overweight woman explains in tears. She had written down her diet for the past couple of weeks — everything — and could verify that she was eating about 1,200 calories per day (the average is almost 3,000) of whole foods, and was indeed gaining weight. From the diet record, however, we found that she was eating a lot of fruit, and having a metabolism sensitive to sugar, this made her gain weight. We took out the fruit between meals and substituted nuts, celery and cucumber, and she started losing weight for the first time since she hit puberty. But it required the sacrifice of all sweet things, including healthy and natural sugars like fruit.
Another of my patients came in looking for a diet pill. I explained the risks and benefits, and she said, “That’s not worth it. What can I do instead?” I told her the myths above, and then explained the principles of maintaining a healthy body. Several months later, she came back and I didn’t even recognize her because she had a nice figure. I asked her how she did it, and she said, “I just did what you said. I decided that if there was no easy way out, I would just have to change my diet.”
The 10 real rules of weight loss are simple, and everyone knows them:
» 1) It’s all about the food. Don’t eat processed foods, especially those with chemical additives: colors, flavors, sweeteners or preservatives.
» 2) Only eat whole foods, especially lots of green vegetables.
» 3) Eat small portions.
» 4) Fast one day per month.
» 5) Limit sugar in all forms. This includes “natural” sugars like fruit and juices.
» 6) Drink only pure water.
» 7) Eat as much raw, fresh, organic food as possible.
» 8) Buy grass-fed, free-range meat and dairy, and eat it sparingly.
» 9) Avoid restaurants.
» 10) Use lots of spices.
With these principles, you can win the war against fat, become healthy, and truly live a long and happy life.
— Scott Saunders, M.D., is medical director of The Integrative Medicine Center of Santa Barbara. For more information, click here or contact the Santa Barbara location at 601 E. Arrellaga St., Suite 101, or 805.963.1824, or the Lompoc location at 806 E. Ocean Ave. or 805.740.9700.