The MetroWest Daily News
Google the word “diet” and you’ll get 135 million results. That’s 56 million more than you’ll get if you Goggle “President Obama.”
More than 26 million diet books are purchased in the U.S. each year. Dozens of magazines, TV shows and websites are devoted to dieting.
In spite of this obsession, two thirds of Americans are overweight and half of that group meets the clinical definition for being obese. Why are Americans more overweight than ever?
The answer is simple. Because dieting doesn’t work.
A small number of people may lose weight and keep it off, but most people diet, lose weight, gain it back, then move on to the next diet and repeat the process.
Why don’t diets work?
One reason is that food is addictive. A person who is addicted to food has no more control over his or her actions than a person who is addicted to heroin.
If you think “addiction” is too strong a word, consider the research.
Scientists use rats in their research because rats’ brains react to addictive substances in much the same way human brains do. When hungry rats drink a sugar solution, dopamine is released, triggering a desire to consume more. They quickly learn to binge. When sugar water is introduced to their cages, they are drawn to it with even greater urgency than they are drawn to cocaine.
The food industry reinforces addiction. In 1700, colonists in America consumed an average of four pounds of sugar a year. By 2010, that amount escalated to 132 pounds a year.
Food processing boosted the industry’s capacity to package sugary treats that can stay on supermarket shelves for months. Today, high fructose corn syrup is in almost everything we eat. It costs less than sugar, but causes greater weight gain. Like alcohol, the more you consume, the more you want.
Monosodium Glutamate, or MSG, is another ubiquitous ingredient that contributes to food addiction. MSG, which restores flavor lost when oils are extracted, also stimulates the desire to eat more and is cheap.
Scientists have known since the 1960s that MSG contributes to obesity. In The Slow Poisoning of America, scientist John Erb refers to more than 500 studies showing a connection between MSG and weight gain in mice and rats.
The diet industry is a big business. Imagine if someone discovered a diet that worked and America addressed its weight problem. We wouldn’t need diet books, diet websites, diet pills or diet foods. Diet media would be out of business, while scores of lifestyle magazines, websites and TV shows would take a major financial hit.
Dieting is a $61 billion industry, according to Marketdata Enterprises, while the market for products that allegedly help you lose weight is expected to reach $47 billion in 2015.
If people ate healthy, the $300 billion fast food industry and $100 billion junk food industry would also be affected.
The healthcare industry hasn’t responded. The healthcare industry accepts dieting as the answer to losing weight, telling patients to stick to a calorie count and avoid certain foods. When patients give in to their cravings, they feel worse about their weight and their lack of willpower.
If dieting doesn’t work, what does?
Each of us has a unique biochemistry. A person’s biochemistry determines whether the person has cravings for certain foods.
Fortunately, though, the biochemistry can be altered. Through testing, we can determine deficiencies and address them through nutritional supplements. Once the body’s chemistry is in balance, cravings subside and it becomes easier to control appetite and make the lifestyle changes necessary for long-term results, such as eating healthy food, exercising, reducing stress and getting a good night’s sleep.
In some cases, medication may also be needed. It may also be essential to address underlying problems, such as depression, anxiety or ADHD.
Based on my treatment of thousands of patients, dieting doesn’t work, but appetite control does.
James M. Greenblatt, M.D. is the Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Medical Services at Walden Behavioral Care in Waltham, and author of the book, “Answers to Appetite Control.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.