THE BACK PAGE
Dear Back Page Readers: It’s nice to receive emails, especially when they agree with what I’ve written! Below is an email from Gina Gilchrist. Please read her impressive credentials that accompany her photo. This is her guest column, while I relax – but not too much!
Hello Bruce: I read your April Silent Sports article, Who’s the biggest loser here? about weight-loss contests. What stuck with me was your sign-off motto: Find healthy activities you enjoy and eat pretty darn good most of the time.
I completely agree but would add the following about diet:
Variety: All foods can fit – from broccoli and whole wheat bread to chocolate, and cheesecake.
Moderation: Eat healthy whole foods most of the time and less unhealthy foods.
Proportionality: Eat correct serving sizes and number of daily servings from the various food groups to keep calories in check.
I also have pros and cons of weight-loss contests, as follows:
Con: These shows demonstrate extraordinary circumstances. Most people won’t have a full-time team of professionals in exercise, counseling and nutrition fields to help with their weight loss, and lifestyle changes.
Pro: Persons in or watching the show may draw considerable inspiration from the diet and exercise information provided, to then begin making positive diet or exercise changes. Different things motivate different people. It’s about baby steps when it comes to lifestyle change.
Con: Some of these shows produce extreme results. Large amounts of weight loss over a short duration can lower metabolic rate. Fat cells are used to a certain set point. When they begin to shrink they send a message to the brain that they are starving and therefore lower calories burned to save energy. The brain also receives this “I-am-starving message” from fat cells, which further stimulates the hunger center in the brain.
For people who have been overweight most of their lives, weight loss is the beginning of their struggle. It’s not as easy as it seems on these shows. Also, overall weight loss does not always mean fat loss. Quick weight loss can lead to a decrease in muscle which also negatively affects metabolism. While many of these shows don’t promote diet pills or surgery, the bottom line is that slow weight loss is most desirable to keep the weight off and not negatively affect metabolism. One half to two pounds lost per week is recommend as safe for adults to keep the weight off, with less propensity to regain the lost weight and then some.
Con: These shows can perpetuate stigmas associated with being obese or overweight. It’s now recognized as a diagnosis/disease. Being obese is not just due to a lack of will or discipline. Rather, it’s a complex disease affected not only by diet and exercise, but also by genetic factors, hormone levels, stress, sleep, metabolism, environment, physical abilities, medications, mental health, income level and other co-morbidities. Certain insensitivities on these shows can provide the wrong messages about obesity. Addressing obesity is a lifestyle change whereby persons have to address the complex systems working together to produce lasting change.
Pro and Con: Many of these shows hire registered dietitians (RD) such as myself to consult with contestants. This allows RDs the opportunity to spread the message of good nutrition and also to correct misconceptions (such as carbs are bad). However, these are not often or are briefly aired. Behind the scenes, RDs explore diet histories, eating habits, food preferences and support systems. They teach contestants courses on healthy eating and provide cooking and shopping tips, as well as analyze contestants’ food journals. Therefore, a potential pro is that contestants receive professional guidance and education on diet and activity, to make necessary lifelong changes.
It is up to contestants to decide if they will adhere to what they’ve been taught. If they look at it not as a diet but a lifestyle change, perhaps they would be more successful. This is what dietitians promote: a lifestyle change. If contestants are made to feel like they are on a diet, and they don’t achieve the ideals they have in their minds, they can quickly become discouraged and fall back into old habits.
Con: These contests’ competitive nature can cause emotional damage to contestants as well as viewers.
These are my thoughts! Phew! Sorry for a lengthy email, but this topic is near and dear to me as you can tell!
Gina Gilchrist, RDN, LD, is a board-certified dietitian/nutritionist through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the State of Illinois, with over 18 years of experience providing nutrition therapy. Her broad background includes acute and long-term adult and pediatric nutrition care, weight management, diabetes nutrition research and workplace health/community wellness. She has worked closely with preemies, athletes, celiac’s, vegetarians, diabetics, cardiac clients and those seeking overall health and wellness. She has also completed certification courses in motivational interviewing and weight management.