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Weight Loss and the Solution to the Obesity Epidemic

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Unless you've been living under a rock, you've been bombarded recently with startling news about the out-of-control obesity epidemic and the ruin it is causing. It's been in the headlines repeatedly and is the subject of HBO's Weight of the Nation TV special. What you haven't seen in the headlines is that we now know the solution to the epidemic and we can implement it immediately. The solution is described below. First, some of the alarming news:

  • A recent study by Duke University estimates that 42 percent of Americans will be obese by 2030, up from about 34 percent today. Contrary to other reports, the epidemic is getting worse, not better. Will we all become obese?
  • A recent story in the New York Times exposes how dangerous obese airline passengers can be, with engineers describing how seat belts may not restrain obese people. In a crash, obese people may "blast through" seat belts and into other passengers. Have you seen the films of normal-size test dummies crashing into dashboards? Imagine getting hit by a 250- to 300-pound linebacker at jet speed.
  • The CDC estimates that obesity costs us about $150 billion per year today, almost 10 percent of health care costs. It's the second leading cause of preventable death in the country, just behind smoking, and it is gaining. That cost is projected to increase to over500 billion.

As a result of these alarms, we hear lots of opinions and proposals about what to do. Almost all involve public health initiatives, government programs and new laws. The CDC, Department of Health, Surgeon General and First Lady are all on the job, brainstorming and leading us. Yale's David Katz, M.D., Founding Director of the Prevention Research Center, praises public/private collaborative efforts to promote better nutrition in the marketplace. Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker imagines a possible future with a government-mandated diet. I'm very much in favor of community leaders taking us in the right direction and government action, such as generating laws that the FDA and Public Health Departments enforce, as they do today with other matters. However, let me propose a different solution.

You can solve the obesity epidemic. Yourself. Now. You don't need to wait on others. However, you must be overweight -- not as badly as I was, but more than is healthy. If you're not sure what that is, ask your doctor. From this paragraph forward, I'm not addressing the shrinking minority who are not overweight, but the majority of us who are unhealthfully overweight.

While I am very healthy now, at my ideal body weight for over 25 years, it wasn't always so. At one time, I was obese, more than 300 pounds. And while I resented anyone sticking his or her nose in my business about my weight, I didn't like being overweight. The truth is, there wasn't a day that went by that I didn't want to lose that weight, even if I didn't admit it. Virtually, none of you want this. You hate it. I know this because today, I specialize in therapy for overweight and obese people. When you are alone with me, regardless of the front you put up, you tell me you'd love to solve the problem if you could. You can. And when you do, you'll have done the most important thing that anyone can do to solve the obesity epidemic. If everyone who wanted to solve his or her weight problem got her or his wish, there would be no obesity epidemic. Go after what you want for yourself. Don't worry about the epidemic. Focus on yourself.

While you may not know a lot about the behavioral medicine I teach, you know that changing your behavior permanently is the answer to your weight problem -- getting your permanent eating habits to conform to a pattern that will cause a healthy weight. In the past, you've tried diets and giving up what you like to eat and the way you like to eat, and perhaps lost a lot of weight doing it, but it didn't last. Don't give up. You just have not learned enough yet. You're not finished yet.

When you change yourself, you'll change the world. The change in you will affect those around you. You'll be helping others just by modeling and leading the way. The improvement is contagious, just like the problem. That's how you'll be solving the obesity epidemic. When you make yourself better as a way of helping the whole world get better, you are committing yourself to something greater than yourself, and this will tap a power greater than yourself. To solve the obesity epidemic, the most important thing you can do is to solve your own weight problem for your own reasons.

This is not to say that I am against social and political action to change the culture, especially when it comes to the children. They are at our mercy, subject to the training and conditioning of the culture and marketplace that is working hard to train them to consume as much as possible. The habits we develop as kids stay with us, and it's better to learn good habits than to try to unlearn bad ones. So, we need to regulate and rein in the food industry and support institutional health training. Also, I would love it if it were easier to eat healthfully in restaurants. I'd eat out more. So, I am happy to see the laws passed that require them to disclose the nutrition info, and happy to see them responding to the public demands for healthier offerings.

So, be active socially and politically to change the culture if you like doing that. It will help reverse the obesity epidemic. But you don't have to do that if that's not your thing. Solving the problem in you is many times more important and effective to that end. You can solve the obesity epidemic. Yourself. Now. You don't need to wait on others.

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