Want to Lose Weight? This Year Set Yourself Up for Success

by Melissa Diane Smith

(Opinion) – If your New Year’s resolution is to lose excess weight in 2012, don’t make the mistake that virtually everybody makes and follow a weight-loss strategy that’s destined to fail. Most people believe that exercise is the key to losing weight. Unfortunately, that’s dead wrong. It’s nice to believe we can eat anything we want and burn off the calories to lose weight, but that just doesn’t work in practice. As I wrote about before in “Think You Need to Exercise Harder to Lose Weight? Think Again,” research shows that what we eat is the most important factor in whether we lose weight or not.

Millions of us have heard the complete opposite message, in large part because the food industry wants us to believe that we can eat and drink any of the unhealthy foods and drinks it creates without developing any health problems from doing that. Consequently, countless people start the new year off vowing to hit the gym hard and ignoring the importance of the type and quality of the food they eat. They keep doing the same thing they do every year, trying to exercise more and usually failing within the first month of trying. That’s because increased exercise stimulates hunger and usually makes it more difficult to lose weight.

It doesn’t help that First Lady Michelle Obama is now adding to the confusion.  In early 2010, I applauded her when she planted an organic vegetable garden, started an anti-obesity campaign for kids, and said that solving the epidemic of childhood obesity is easier than we think. She explained how her girls had put on unintended weight – a problem that was remedied when the family changed their diet by eating more fresh vegetables and fruits.

However, even at the time it began, her anti-obesity campaign focused on exercise and diet and was called “Let’s Move.” It didn’t explain what researchers know well: that changing what we eat is the most important of the two factors by far.  I raised my concern about people not being told this vital information at the end of my article, “Let’s Move to End Childhood Obesity, First Lady Michelle Obama Says.”

Since then, things have gotten worse. For nearly two years Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move campaign has been steering away from anything that challenges the food industry, according to Michele Simon, author of Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back. And just recently Mrs. Obama announced she is shifting her Let’s Move campaign away from food reform and toward an increased focus on exercise – a move that is likely to have devastating effects on the war on obesity.

Simon recently wrote an article in Grist magazine titled, appropriately enough, “Sorry Mrs. O, but Jumping Jacks Aren’t Enough.” In the article, Simon quotes obesity expert Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa, who says the first lady’s focus on physical activity to help end childhood obesity in a generation is misguided and definitely not evidence-based.

When asked what Dr. Freedhoff would tell the first lady, he said:

I’d tell her that we should be striving to change the environment so as to make lower-calorie, less-processed food choices the default. Let’s Move may be politically palatable, but “Let’s Cook” would likely have a far greater impact on health.

What are lower-calorie, less-processed food choices? They’re foods that aren’t grains and aren’t sugars and aren’t mass produced with lots of ingredients. They’re fresh produce grown in a garden. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You need to go against the grain (and yes, eat your vegetables!) to lose the weight.

Are you tired of making a New Year’s resolution each year to lose weight and never reaching that goal? This year try a new approach. Consider what I wrote in my previous article on exercise:

As I mention on the home page of this website, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you’re tired of pushing yourself to do exercise you dislike (and it’s not helping you lose weight anyway), try a new strategy. Stop doing something that is counterproductive. Save your money and stop your gym membership. Instead, start walking and build up how far you walk. Walk up and down stairs more and walk to stores from parking spots further away. Move your muscles in other ways, too – such as doing Tai Chi, yoga, swimming, gardening, yardwork, or cleaning – so that you do more slower but steadier activity in your daily life. Above all else, though, work on the food you’re eating. If you don’t know how to change the food you’re eating to promote weight loss, take the money you were spending on a gym membership and sign up for nutrition counseling or coaching so you can learn an important skill that will help you the rest of your life.

We’ve all heard over and over again that we can eat anything we want “in moderation” and exercise off the extra calories. (That’s a message food manufacturers have pushed on all of us; doctors, dietitians, and the media picked up on it; and we now accept it as fact.) But it’s just plain wrong. Following that strategy isn’t working for people who need to lose weight, and that’s why the United States and other countries are not winning the battle of the bulge. Buck the frenetic exercise trend and focus on what you eat. That’s the part of the obesity and overweight problem nearly everyone has missed.

Copyright © 2012 Melissa Diane Smith


Selected References:

Cloud, John. “The Myth About Exercise: Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin.” TIME, August 17, 2009. pgs. 42-47.

Simon, Michelle. “Sorry Mrs. O, but Jumping Jacks Aren’t Enough.” Grist, December 15, 2011.

Smith, Melissa Diane. “Let’s Move to End Childhood Obesity, First Lady Michelle Obama Says.” Against the Grain Nutrition News & Notes, February 12, 2010.

Smith, Melissa Diane. “Think You Need to Exercise Harder to Lose Weight? Think Again.” Against the Grain Nutrition News & Notes, September 25, 2009.

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