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Weight-loss obsession can make you fat

Dr. Michael Sardone, author of The Naked Truth: Overweight, Overwhelmed and Confused, specializes in functional and natural medicine, and practices in Temecula and San Diego, California. Dr. Sardone founded The Do It Right Health and Fit...

Wishful thinking packs on the pounds

Americans are in big trouble, with almost seven out of 10 overweight or obese – and if things remain the same, this figure will increase to nine out of 10 in the next 20 years. We are constantly being reminded that we are fat and getter fatter as a nation, and everyone from renowned scientists and physicians to celebrities, personal trainers and even Aunt Millie has a solution on how to lose weight. Ironically, the very ones who know the least about nutrition, metabolism or human physiology are the ones telling you what to do – so it’s no wonder that weight loss is on everyone’s minds and losing weight has become an obsession. But being obsessed with whittling your waist may be precisely why your weight-loss efforts are failing.

Woman obsessing over diet

Wishful thinking is sabotaging your weight loss

As a doctor who treats overweight and obese patients, I can tell you, without a doubt, that focusing on weight loss is one of the main reasons you are overweight, cannot lose weight or regain it after losing it over 98 percent of the time. How can this be? Have you ever said or heard someone say, "I would give anything to look like her; she's so skinny"? Wishful thinking often begets obsessive thoughts, which typically promote the "I will believe and try anything mentality," and this leads to drastic measures, guilt and frustration. The irony is that most of my patients are in my office because the weight-loss plans they have tried have failed time and time again.

Fad dieting doesn't work

Obsessing over weight loss leads to fad-dieting, serious calorie restrictions or fasting, taking weight-loss supplements or appetite suppressants, and doing other overly hyped-up gimmickry – all of which fail because they focus on quick weight loss at the expense of muscle mass and overall health. These methods are also unrealistic, undoable over a long period of time and potentially dangerous.

Quick weight loss isn't long-lived

Quick weight loss is typically a result of water and muscle loss with very little body fat burned. This occurs because the body goes into self-preservation mode. In other words, the body thinks you are starving yourself and this triggers the release of various hormones that start the sabotage process. One such hormone is cortisol, termed the "stress hormone," which breaks down muscle tissue, liberating proteins that can be converted into sugar used to supply energy needs. Losing muscle however, gives up the very tissue that utilizes body fat as its major source of energy; therefore, the less muscle mass you have, the smaller your fat-burning engine. It's like downsizing the engine in your car from a V8 to a V4: Which one do you think burns less gas?

Don't let the scale rule your life

Focusing on weight loss also causes a significant amount of stress and frustration, especially if you weigh yourself every morning. This stress, anxiety, guilt and frustration promotes more cortisol secretion. Considering that daily fluctuations in weight can be a result of hormonal changes resulting in water retention or loss, watching the scale go up and down from day to day is an exercise in futility. A more effective alternative is to replace your scale with a tape measure and body fat percentage device. Measuring your waist circumference and taking your body fat percentage reading are better measures of overall health than body weight.

Step away from the diet pills

Taking diet pills, prescribed or over-the-counter, can be counterproductive – and dangerous. Again, suppressing appetite will eventually fail because the body will slow down its metabolism as noted above. More important, some appetite-suppressant pills like Meridia (sibutramine) increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke, while popular "fat trapper" treatments like Xenical and Alli can cause vitamin A, D, E and K deficiencies as well as liver dysfunction.

Focus on healthy living

What is the solution? I teach my patients to change their focus from losing weight to becoming healthy and fit by making lifestyle changes. Learning how to take control of your health and fitness status through smart eating, supplementation and exercise are the three golden keys to success. Eating a well-balanced diet that incorporates quality foods and ingredients that you control through preparation, taking essential supplements and cross-training (aerobics and weightlifting) are proven lifestyle factors that will improve your overall health and fitness – body fat will come off as a consequence. Once doing these things becomes as routine as brushing your teeth or taking a shower, you will never have to focus on weight loss again.

More on fad diets

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