Let’s Hear It for 50 Years of Weight Watching?

“Trimming the Fat,” an article by Norine Dworkin-McDaniel in a recent issue of Weight Watchers’® eponymous magazine recalls that first propitious meeting 50 years ago. It’s 1963 – obesity is minimal and Americans ate just three meals daily and about 2000 fewer calories EVERY week! Since then, the diet business has grown to a $61 billion industry, Weight Watchers alone does almost $2billion a year[1], and we have an obesity epidemic. What happened??

Early Weight Watchers was about portions using actual scales to weigh and measure food. Soon someone realized that this approach was too simple and basic so the focus shifted to calorie counting. The reasoning, apparently, was that quantity could be sized up once you knew the calorie counts for everything you ate. Take zucchini. If you ate it steamed and bland, you could down 78 bites and the damage was only 188 calories while if you ate the delicious fried version you had to close your mouth at single digits! It took a couple of decades of low fat nutrient manipulations, but eventually we had unfixed our previously “fixed” stomachs. As our insides grew so did businesses selling food, diet, fitness, seat belt extenders, plus size clothing, coffins etc.

New York University Professor of Nutrition Marion Nestle, author of “Food Politics” (also the co-author of “Why Calories Count”), explains that this shift from less to more was in keeping with the needs of our consumer economy. Since advocating less is practically unpatriotic, the focus shifted to “better” which translates to LOTS of healthy (low calorie) foods. Of course, food marketers like Nestle, General Foods, Kraft, Kellogg’s, etc actually benefit from the eat “healthy” advice since they understand that a stretched, desensitized stomach always wants more. The result is that after you’ve eaten the “better/healthy” version you will also consume what they sell and what you like. The egg white omelet with steamed kale and a green tea is the “better” breakfast nutritionists advocate. Forget that you really want a cappuccino and 8 bites of a croissant with strawberry jam. Today when people eat every two hours they can’t imagine a cappuccino and croissant at 8AM and not being hungry until maybe 1PM because they are hungry since their leptin/ghrelin hormones are out in their oversized stomachs.

Perhaps it was all just an honest mistake and no one could foresee the fallout from obsessing about calories rather than just eating less food. But now there is more miscalculation about the other half of the weight loss formula: exercise more or “burn up those extra calories.”[2] Recent research shows that when thin people exercise vigorously they get leaner; but when fat people do the same exercise losing becomes harder! Yes, exercise is good for your heart and lungs and coordination and balance, but it is NOT a weight loss tool.

If you are one of the 150 million adult Americans who have been fed faulty diet/exercise advice, you probably feel angry—but also relieved!! Now you can relax and learn how to eat less food, less often — the easiest and cheapest way to get back to normal. And you can learn it at www.80bites.com. We’ve only been around half as long as Weight Watchers, but in 25 years we have never wavered from this message: Less is More!

[1] According to Bloomberg Businessweek estimates found here.

[2] A recent study looking specifically at contestants on The Biggest Loser found that they experienced a significant drop in resting metabolic rate, burning 504 fewer calories on average, thanks to an effect known as “metabolic adaptation.” And perhaps as many as 90 percent of the contestants on the show regain all their lost weight, according to US News.” – by Cameron English.