The Skinny on Fat and America’s $20 Billion Weight-Loss Industry

Choose your diet

Weight-loss references fill shelves at Barnes & Noble; Amazon.com offers over 1,200 books marketing current diet trends

Chew on this gigantic piece of fat: U.S. weight-loss industry revenues average over $20 billion dollars annually. Why? Because in any given year, over 100 million people who are dieting in this country (85% of whom are women) spend $35 to $40 billion on weight loss programs, books, diet drugs and weight loss surgeries. Statistics compiled by ABC News indicate that dieters on average try four or five weight-loss programs each year, suggesting to me that we’re spending our hard-earned dollars on frustration and dismal results. Question: if so many highly profitable weight-loss programs claim to guarantee such great success, why do statistics compiled by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) report that 35% of adults and 17% of children in America are afflicted with obesity? It’s a sure bet that Americans are losing something, but it’s more likely disappearing from wallets as opposed to waistlines! Perhaps we should stop feeding the multi-billion dollar diet and weight-loss industry, which appears by all indications to be in great shape, and instead subscribe to simple, time tested, time proven advice found virtually everywhere we look: EAT LESS-EXERCISE MORE. (Oh, and steer clear of fatty and salt-laden processed foods.) There you have it: FREE, PRACTICAL and SIMPLE with absolutely no requirement to shell out even one copper penny on this profoundly effective weight-loss program.

Words to live by

Words to live by

Assuredly, I am not a nutritionist or dietician and certainly not a physician, but I actively engage in … and tout … a lifestyle of healthy nutrition and physical fitness. I am not so bullish as to assume there are no effective weight-loss programs on the market, but I do believe there are a lot of “bull*#@%” weight-loss programs out there. Thankfully, in a valiant effort to help us deconstruct the claims of today’s most popular weight-loss programs, U.S. News and World Report recently assessed 32 of the most popular diets and ranked them based on several criteria: how easy they are to follow, nutritional value, safety, weight loss effectiveness and level of success in effectively decreasing the risks of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic disease. Here is a short summary of the Top 10 Best Overall Diets as reported by US News & World Report.

Dash Diet took first place in diet ranking

DASH Diet took top honors in USN&WR’s Top 10 Best Overall Diets while the TLC Diet ranked second overall

#1: DASH: (Daily Approaches to Stop Hypertension). Developed in part by National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute (NHLBI) to combat high blood pressure, this heart-healthy diet is centered on boosting your intake of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy and whole grains while limiting consumption of sodium, red meat and high calorie-high sugar treats. DASH is an easy-to-follow do-it-yourself diet directed at minimizing salt and processed sugar intake, therefore lowering the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension), increasing HDL (good cholesterol), decreasing LDL (bad cholesterol linked to heart disease), ultimately achieving huge cardiovascular benefits. It’s also been touted for lowering diabetes risk. Summary: load up on lean protein, fresh fruits and veggies; stand down on salt, red meat and sugary treats.

#2: TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes). Created by the National Institutes of Health, TLC is another heart-healthy do-it-yourself diet aimed at drastically reducing saturated fat intake (fried foods, fatty cuts of meat and whole-milk dairy products. Load up on fruits, veggies, whole grains, fish, no-skin poultry and low/non-fat dairy and TLC claims you can lower your LDL (bad cholesterol) by 8-10% in six weeks. If your only goal is to control cholesterol, TLC recommends 1,800 calories/day for women and 2,500 calories/day for men. If you’re interested in a slimmer waistline, it suggests 1,200 calories/day for women and 1,600 calories/day for men. Summary: load up on lean protein, whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies, and stand down on salt, red meat and saturated fats.

#3: Mayo Clinic Diet. (In a three-way tie). This is a healthy eating lifestyle diet which has logged great success as a tool against diabetes. Using the Mayo Clinic Diet Book as a guide, there is no calorie-counting and as much snacking as you’d like when starting this diet (the “Lose It” section). It initially focuses instead on 15 key habits (some to add and some to ditch). The Mayo Clinic Diet claims that after two weeks of sticking to its guidelines, you’ll lose 6 to 10 pounds and another one or two each successive week. The second portion of this diet (the “Live It” section) then focuses on monitoring healthy caloric intake for losing or maintaining your weight. Summary: Replace five unhealthy habits with five healthy habits and adopt five bonus healthy habits while exercising at least 30 minutes a day, then learn to monitor caloric intake to maintain your healthy lifestyle.

#3: Mediterranean Diet. (in a three-way tie.) Another heart-healthy, lifestyle diet, this one created utilizing proven habits of the long-living Mediterranean people, and focuses on heart and brain health, diabetes and cancer prevention and the benefits of a physically active lifestyle. The Mediterranean diet pyramid is firmly based on consumption of fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, beans, legumes, olive oil, herbs/spices, and recommends eating fish and seafood at least twice a week. The second part of the pyramid focuses on consuming poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt in moderation. The pyramid is completed by saving red meat and sweets for special occasions only. Summary: load up on fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean protein while saving the red meat and sweets for limited special occasions.

Weightwatchers turned 50 years old in 2013

Weightwatchers turned 50 years old in 2013

#3: Weight Watchers. (in a three-way tie.) Using a membership and a PointsPlus system, this diet is specifically targeted at weight loss. Each food (a list of over 40,000) is assigned a points value based on nutritional components (protein, carbohydrates, fat, calories and fiber content). You essentially can eat whatever you’d like as long as you remain within the daily number points specified for you, based on your gender, height, weight and age. Processed foods carry the highest points value, while fresh fruits and vegetables often carry a zero points value. There is no direct connection to diabetes control or prevention; however, Weight Watchers is proven to benefit cardiovascular health. Summary: choose from a variety of foods of but do not surpass the daily PointsPlus value assigned to you.

The Flexitarian Diet promotes a primarily vegan diet for weight loss  and optimal health

The Flexitarian Diet promotes a primarily vegan diet for weight loss and optimal health

#6: Flexitarian Diet. Flexible meets vegetarian in this highly nutritional lifestyle diet. By emphasizing tofu, beans, lentils, peas, nuts and seeds, and eggs (touted as the “new meat”), fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy products along with specific spices and sugar, then following a five-week 300/400/500 calorie per meal plan structured around your activity level, gender, height and weight, you can expect to lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and potentially end up weighing 15% less than your meat-eating friends. Summary: load up on “new meat”, fruits, vegetables and whole grains and stand down on carnivorous protein and fat.

Volumetrics Diet

Penn State Behavioral Sciences professor Barbara Rolls, PhD co-authored the Volumetrics plan

#7: Volumetrics. This diet is based on food density and getting more mileage from the food you choose to eat. Based on a philosophy that by consuming foods which contain fewer calories per gram and are less energy dense than others, you’ll eat less calories without eating less food. The end result: dieters will feel satiated instead of hungry while losing weight. In essence, consuming a high volume of low-density, low calorie food (fruits, veggies, grains and low fat dishes) as opposed to a low volume of their high-density counterparts (think a handful of crackers, nuts or chips) helps eliminate the impression of hunger that frequently occurs in many weight-loss plans. Volumetrics is heralded for weight loss and cardiovascular benefits. Summary: trade in small amounts of high density food (breads, crackers, nuts and desserts) for a high volume of low density, low calorie food (fruits, veggies which contain an abundance of water, and whole grains) and feel satiated while losing weight.

#8: Jenny Craig. Aimed specifically at weight loss, this is an easy-to-follow alternative to do-it-yourself dieting. Working with a consultant on a weekly basis, you’ll receive personalized meal and exercise plans while learning about balanced meals and portion control. Your personal diet will be designed around your current weight, level of motivation, eating and fitness habits, and will range from 1,200 to 2,300 calories per day. The Jenny Craig Diet claims that, if you follow your personal plan, you can expect to lose two pounds per week. Summary: follow the personalized meal and exercise plan created by your consultant and effectively peel off the pounds.

#9: The Biggest Loser Diet. This one is aimed at a balanced diet and exercise approach to weight loss. Emphasizing portion control combined with consuming calories from fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains, Get off the sofa, select one of the Biggest Loser books to guide you, then utilize the food pyramid tips offered for menu development, create an exercise regimen and document your progress via a food journal. The Biggest Loser Diet claims that six-weeks of healthy eating and consistent exercise promotes weight-loss and wellness in that it helps to prevent or reverse diabetes, cuts our risk for cancer, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and improves cardiovascular and immune system health. Summary: load up on fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains and stand down on your couch potato time.

#10: Ornish Diet. If you’re interested in preventing or reversing heart disease, diabetes, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and preventing certain types of cancer, this may be the diet for you. In his book The Spectrum, Dean Ornish categorizes food into five groups and has created a guide utilizing nutrition, exercise, stress management and emotional support benefits toward achieving personal goals including weight loss to chronic disease prevention. Based on nutritional components and value, Group 1 foods are considered healthiest and Group 5 foods are least healthy. Ornish also emphasizes daily aerobic exercise and a critical component of stress management via yoga and meditation. Surrounding yourself with people you love, respect and can count on for support is also a key component of the Ornish Diet. Summary: concentrate on eating foods listed in Group 1, balance a healthy diet with exercise, stress management and healthy relationships for a long, healthy, well-lived life.

The Paleo diet finished #31 out of #32 in USN&WR's report on diets

The Paleo diet finished #31 out of #32 in USN&WR’s report on diets

The Mediterranean Diet, Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig also appeared on the Top 10 Diets List created by Healthy Weight Forum.. Interestingly enough, one of today’s hottest diet trends, The Paleo Diet (somehow adapted from the eating habits of our caveman paleolithic ancestors), failed to appear on the U.S. News And World Report Top 10 or the Healthy Weight Forum Top 10 Diet Lists. In fact, among the 32 diets which were reviewed by U.S. News And World Report, the Paleo Diet finished in a tie for dead last in “Best Overall Diets”, next to last in both the “Best Heart-Healthy Diet” and “Best Diabetes Diet” and dead last again in the “Weight Loss” category. Now that, in my opinion, shakes out to be one bullshit diet …

Author’s Note: When researching for this post, I came across a lot of jaw-dropping data. But I found the CDC’s statistics on heart disease extremely disturbing: Heart Disease, the leading cause of death in America, kills over 600,000 people every year. That figure alarmingly equates to about 1,650 people each day! Key risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure (HBP), high LDL levels in cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, poor diet, overweight/obesity, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol consumption. Six of the eight risk factors I listed here can be substantially mitigated by … most importantly, seeking the prescriptive advice of our doctors … but also by managing and controlling our personal behavior on two basic yet crucial levels: regulating our food choices and intake, and getting off the couch. You know, EAT LESS-EXERCISE MORE.

One thought on “The Skinny on Fat and America’s $20 Billion Weight-Loss Industry

  1. Pingback: Good Days, Bad Days | The Body Pacifist

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