Fast-acting weight-loss plans have been a preoccupation of Canadians and Americans alike since the Indiana-based Mead Johnson Co. introduced the Metrecal diet of liquid meal replacements in 1959. Indeed, Dr. Herman Tarnower’s Scarsdale diet was on The New York Times best-seller list for most of 1981. But now many experts say that being up to 20 per cent overweight poses less of a health hazard than the ill effects that often accompany constant dieting. In addition, last month the Chicago-based American Dietetic Association (ADA), a professional organization of dietitians, released a set of guidelines that incorporate weight-loss recommendations with a basic disease-prevention regimen. Included in the guidelines are: increased calcium consumption with such foods as low-fat dairy products; iron-rich, high-fibre foods; regular exercise; and no tobacco products.
Many experts say that weight loss achieved through dieting alone is usually temporary. Among those is University of Toronto psychologist Janet Polivy, who with her husband and colleague C. Peter Herman spent 13 years studying a variety of dieters for their 1983 book, Breaking the Diet Habit. Polivy says that the body reacts to reduced food intake by lowering its rate of metabolism in an attempt to maintain weight. And not only do as many as 95 per cent of all dieters regain their lost weight within two years, but according to Polivy rapid weight loss could cause such problems as gallstones and heart disease. In extreme cases, an obsessive desire to lose weight can lead to such disorders as anorexia nervosa: selfimposed starvation.
Still, many experts are uncertain whether weight-obsessed North Americans will switch their allegiances from crash and fad diets to ADA guidelines. Said Toronto psychiatric social worker Nita Daniels-Levine, who specializes in eating disorders: “Behavior takes time to change, and people trying to lose weight want instant gratification.” But according to Polivy, speedily attained slimmer hips and tighter stomachs may come at a high price—future health problems.
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