Dieting isn't always easy, but it can be safe and healthy
Published: Saturday, January 13, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 13, 2007 at 12:34 a.m.
Beth-Anne Blue, the psychologist who wrote the "Talking Back" piece on Saturday, Jan. 6, was certainly comforting when she stated that "90 percent (of Americans) . . . can lead very healthy lives without the health risks once thought to be associated particularly with being overweight."
Though this is a comforting idea, it contradicts the conclusions of the nutritional scientific community.
Walter Willett, M.D., chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard and professor of medicine, is a co-investigator in the famous Nurses' Health Study of over 40,000 women. He concludes in his book, "Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy," that the risk for hypertension, gallstones, and heart disease increases quickly and dramatically for all individuals with a BMI greater than 25. (BMI, or Body Mass Index, is a parameter used to measure weight for height status. For the average woman who is 5 feet, 5 inches, the BMI exceeds 25 if she weighs more than 150 pounds.)
According to the National Health Nutrition Examination Survey of 1999-2002, where overweight and obesity are defined by a BMI over 25 and 30 respectively, approximately 65 percent of U.S. males and 45 percent of U.S. females are overweight or obese, and 30 percent of adults are obese. At a BMI of 25, the risk for diabetes goes up five times the relative risk for a BMI of 22. It is simply not the case that "90 percent (of Americans) ... can lead very healthy lives without health risks once thought to be associated particularly with being overweight."
Blue also states that "dieting is dangerous." I understand that as a psychologist working with eating disorders, she must see many dangerous dieting practices. However, when most adults cut back on their eating and their blood sugar and blood pressure become low enough to get off their medicines, most health professionals would agree that they are much healthier.
As a dietitian, I counsel patients who have undertaken the most radical calorie restrictions; those who have had gastric surgery and those who follow an all-liquid diet. These radical measures often cure diabetes, hypertension, and other diseases that can very negatively impact patients' lives. I've often heard these patients say how happy they feel about their new body with its increased energy and their decreased medications.
Do some people gain weight back? Yes, they do and it may be a little harder to lose weight the next time. But rather than concluding that dieting is dangerous, it makes sense to understand what dieting entails.
People who want to change eating behaviors to lose weight must realize that it will not be an easy process, and that they need to prepare for it. Further, the changes are for the long-term. This means, as with all major projects, one should have some time to devote to it.
Is dieting dangerous? It certainly can be, but if you can know that the plan you are following will nourish you well and increase your health. You can enjoy, as Blue states, eating the right foods and maintaining an active lifestyle.
Patricia Gregory is a registered dietician who lives in Gainesville.
People who want to change eating behaviors to lose weight must realize that it will not be an easy process.
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