Wednesday, August 19, 2009

You Must Eat Less Than You Burn

There’s only one certain road to riches great,
You must spend less than you earn;
And there’s only one sure way to lose excess weight,
You must eat less than you burn.

The federal government’s Preventative Health Taskforce has been reported to recommend the introduction of regulation for the weight loss industry. It might come as a surprise to learn that at present there is no regulation at all beyond the basic dictates of truth in advertising law. That’s the same law that applies to any business, ranging from used car salesmen right through to real estate developers. There is no body similar to the Theraputic Goods Administration which controls the approval of medicines, and no guarantee that the weight loss program you purchase will actually work.

Of course, we have all been told repeatedly that there is no substitute for eating a sensible balanced diet and getting regular exercise. But still the market for meal replacement programs and other weight loss products is growing at a rapid rate, in fact almost as rapidly as the obesity problem itself. The catch seems to be that many of these products provide a diet regime which is far from balanced, and while they can be successful in reducing weight in the short term, the evidence seems to suggest that in the longer term they do not work. Once people finish the program they simply go back to their previous lifestyle and put the weight back on again. And that’s if they even finish the program because almost one third of people drop out of such programs in the first month.

Because of this tendency to drop out and to revert to old habits, people not only put the weight back on, but in many cases they gain even more weight. For this reason, nutritional experts believe that so called fad diets are actually making the obesity problem worse, not better. What’s worse, genuine weight loss, they say, can only be achieved with genuine lifestyle change, which for many people seems to be an impossible challenge. Even then, a realistic expectation of weight loss should be about half a kilogram a week, and a realistic target is to lose 5% of your body weight. I’m sure many people would hear that advice and wonder if it was even worth the effort.

In the end, although people should be entitled to follow whatever program they believe will work for them, they are also entitled to be fully informed as to the likelihood of success, as well as any other possible health impacts. Better regulation would result in better consumer choice, and hopefully better outcomes. But in the end, if you want to lose weight, there is no escaping the old advice… you must eat less than you burn.

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