Sustainable weight loss: Changing the paradigm for health

The following article appeared as an op-ed written by Alan in The Jerusalem Post:


Paradigms! They are a set of ideas. A standard way of looking at something. Most paradigms are formed over a long period of time, even years or decades.

The problem is that when something becomes very ingrained in our thinking, it’s very hard to push it aside, even when all the evidence goes against what we think. So it is with weight loss, and it is absolutely destroying health in Western societies.

State of our health

As I have written before, the state of our health in Western society is not good, and it is getting worse. The United States spends more health dollars per person than any other country, yet its outcomes are poor. They are near the bottom of the list on healthcare of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries. For decades already, we are seeing an increase in type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, autoimmune diseases and cancers. There are specifically 12 different cancers related to overweight and obesity.

In the US, the number of overweight or obese people is getting close to 80% of the population. There are those who still think you can be “fit and fat,” or that there will be some pill out there to fix what will ail you later on. But the data is quite clear: being obese will shorten your life. Life expectancy for men can be as much as 20 years less, and for women about five years less. That is what the data say! Clearly, what we are doing is not working. So how do we go about fixing the problem?

Dieting is not the answer

Here we are, still very much in post-Passover mode. The holiday weight gain added a few kilograms or pounds over the eight days, and everyone is still struggling to get rid of that weight, let alone the excess weight that might have been there before Passover. I am sure that thousands of people, or maybe even tens of thousands, have said those same words that we have all said over and over again: “I need to go on a diet.”

That’s where this paradigm idea comes in. Going on a diet is what everyone thinks is the right thing to do. Your doctor might have even suggested it, maybe even a specific diet. And here is the problem – diets don’t work! As a matter of fact, looking at almost any weight loss method, whether it’s a book, a group, an online program, or even seeing a dietitian or nutritionist, there is, overall, a 96% rate of failure.

Oh yes, everyone loses weight on almost any diet, but at the two-year mark after the weight loss, where are they? Most have gained it back, started to gain it back, or even weigh more than when they started the process. And what is more unbelievable is that in the United States, roughly $68 billion a year is spent nationally on weight loss!

Sustainability is key

The key word is sustainability. Those who study and are the experts in weight loss will tell you that the key to success is being on a program that is sustainable. We need to change the paradigm.

Here is a list of some of the basic and sensible principles that can start you off in the right direction:
  1. The number on the scale should not be the focus. Concentrate on healthy behaviors and your health in general, and you will see success.
  2. Stop counting calories and portions. If you eat the right foods, you can eat them in abundance without hunger being a factor. It’s not how much you eat, it’s more about the quality of the food you eat.
  3. There are three things to look for in the foods you eat.
    1. Is this food nutritionally dense?
    2. Is it fiber dense?
    3. Is it water dense? By selecting most of your food from vegetables, fruits, intact whole grains, legumes and a small amount of nuts and seeds, you will have filled those criteria.
  4. Avoid processed foods (they aren’t really food anyway) and keep animal products (meat, chicken, fish and dairy) to a minimum. If you need to reverse disease, you might have to be very strict in this area.
  5. Get sufficient sleep – yes, sleep-deprived individuals don’t do well with weight loss.
  6. Although exercise in and of itself will not go very far in weight loss, together with the right dietary habits and good sleep, it can help a lot and is healthful regardless of weight loss.

It’s personal

Not everyone will lose weight at the same rate, and two people doing exactly the same thing may lose different amounts of weight. As I tell my clients all the time in my clinic, everyone’s body has its own personality. It doesn’t matter – you’ll get there. But getting there is a must. I work with people who need to lose 3-4 kilo and people who need to lose 70-80 kilo. Once the weight starts to come off, their health improves and they start to feel better and more energetic.

The need for something new

We need real solutions to what has become a true health crisis. Step one is to recognize that what we have been doing until now hasn’t worked, so we need a new approach, one backed by real science and supported by long-term, large studies. Two, we need to establish an all new paradigm on weight loss that is free of gimmicks and false information.

It was only half a year ago that one of my clients gasped when I told her that eating baked potatoes was healthful and would actually help keep her full and satisfied and help her lose weight. After all, they are full of fiber, they are nutrient dense and contain mostly water! For the first time, she began to eat baked potatoes freely, along with other starchy vegetables that she previously feared. She cut out the junk, and her animal proteins are a little each Shabbat. She is already down 18.5 kilos (41 lbs.). Now, her blood sugar is lower, her cholesterol medication has been cut in half, it’s easier for her to walk up hills, and she is feeling better and better.

Lifestyle medicine

Reversing the 50-year-trend of worsening chronic and autoimmune disease starts with lifestyle medicine. Eating the right foods, exercising, sleeping enough and managing stress will lower your weight and improve your health far more than any medications, procedures or surgeries that currently exist. It will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”


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