We all know someone who has been dieting to lose weight, or has lost weight only to gain it all back, while others, blaming it all on their genes, have given up. Perhaps your doctor has told you to lose weight. Most doctors advise us to keep our weight down and eat a balanced diet, although they do not know what that means because they did not study nutrition during their medical training. During the last decades, we have been told that fat is bad but carbohydrates are good. Then carbohydrates became evil, so don't even look at them, just fill up on all the fat you can get. Some advise us to increase protein, while others caution us that we eat too many proteins. No wander why most people jump from one diet fad to the other, have minimal results and, frustrated, they give up.
At this time, more than one-third of U.S. adults (over 72 million people) and 17% of U.S. children are obese. Obesity rates doubled for adults and tripled for children during 1980 - 2008, regardless of age, sex, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education level, or geographic region. Together, we are all getting larger. To make things worse, we are often reminded that obesity increases our risk of developing many health conditions, such as:
- Coronary heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cancers, such as endometrial, breast, and colon cancer
- High total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides
- Liver and gallbladder disease
- Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
- Degeneration of cartilage and underlying bone within a joint (osteoarthritis)
- Reproductive health complications such as infertility
- Mental health conditions and memory loss
Also, obesity related health care costs have been going up every year. In 2008, US adults spent $147 billion in medical care costs related to obesity. Obese people had $1,429 higher medical costs, less productivity, and chronic absence from work than their normal weight counterparts according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). I urge you to see the animated US obesity prevalence map from 1985 through 2010.
Clearly, we need to stop this tsunami before CDC runs out of colors. But what are the obesity causes? Is it our genes or our lifestyle to blame?
Our Genes — Historically, human populations have maintained relatively stable body weight over time amidst an abundance of food. The common belief is that obesity runs in families. In the 1980s, none of our states had an obesity rate over 20 percent. In 2010, only one state has an obesity rate under 20 %. This cannot be a genetic problem, since our genes have not changed in the last several decades. Genetic research shows that obesity genes account for only five percent of all our weight problems. Then, what causes the other 95 percent of obesity?
If our genes do not account for obesity, could our diet be the culprit? Indeed, the dietary habits we inherit from our family are more important than the genes we receive. In 1960s, we were told that the fat we ate made us gain weight. Fat contains nine calories per gram, so it would seem that eating more fat and more calories would make us gain weight. Our nation rushed to adopt a low-fat diet, which became the most common approach to the prevention and treatment of obesity and diabetes. However, all low-fat, low-calorie diet studies published in the most prestigious medical journals, JAMA, NEJM, and AJCN showed only a maximum of 3.8 -18.14 lbs. weight loss, with weight regain virtually always occurring by the end of 1 year. Dr. David Ludwig and Dr. Walter Willett, both renowned Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health professors, following careful reviews of all the studies on dietary fat and body fat, concluded that dietary fat is not a major determinant of body fat.
If low-fat diet does not work, then low-carb diet must be better, right? The Atkins era moved in and carbohydrates became evil. However, after one year on the Atkins diet, participants had the same poor results as the low-fat dieters. Why do all these diets fail? They all fail because they ignore basic human biology (our genetic makeup and our underlying medical conditions), as well as our environmental stressors (poor nutrition, physical and emotional stress, limited resources). We will be able to win the battle of the bulge only when we will apply a personalized, integrative and functional approach to weight loss.