Yes, “Industry”

     When it comes to weight loss, many factors come to mind- the desire to look attractive, feel the benefits that come from being physically fit, and stay free or lessen the chances of the health risks resulting from carrying around excess pounds, to name a few. Along with these come the myriad of methods by which to lose weight- exercise and what type, what to eat and how much, and how to assimilate these changes into our lifestyle without too much hardship. For some, losing weight becomes a necessity due to health problems and the need becomes more immediate, especially among those who have a body mass index (BMI) over 30 or are considered obese. All of these considerations combined can be overwhelming, causing some to either quit before they start or to seek an easier solution that will take some of the legwork off, or to turn to a quicker route when a lot of weight needs to be lost quickly. This has given rise to an industry of weight loss aids, from pharmaceuticals and supplements to surgery and medical devices, all designed to either boost the process or be the main gist of it. While these solutions may in some circumstances be necessary and are very enticing in the face of the discipline needed to carry out a weight loss program, lifestyle changes attendant to all of these options are the common denominator that has been proven to work and keep the weight off in the long term. The harder we fight for it, the more likely we are to hold on to it.

     Although this is not what most people want to hear as they’re setting out to lose weight, are there other ways to make weight loss easier, take the drudgery out of it and actually bring some excitement to your 50th squat or declining that second slice of pizza? There are, but first let’s examine why some of the options mentioned above may or may not be ideal or even recommended.

     Particularly popular are the many weight loss supplements available over the counter that claim to make losing weight a snap. The Federal Trade Commission, which is buckling down on diet supplement makers who promise quick results with no data backing these claims, warns consumers to beware of products that make statements like these:

“Lose weight no matter how much you eat of your favorite foods!”
“Lose weight permanently! Never diet again!”
“Just take a pill!”
“Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!”
“Everybody will lose weight!”
“Lose weight with our miracle diet patch or cream!”#

     The FTC and other consumer watch groups keep a close eye on supplements like these, because as Congress decreed in a law passed in 1994 (the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act), they are regulated as foods, not drugs, and therefore the companies that make them do not have to get FDA approval before selling them to the public and are further under no obligation to prove their safety or efficacy. This is disturbing when many consumers who have used them have developed symptoms such as anxiety, nausea and insomnia, and there have been documented cases of hepatitis, liver failure and heart attacks being caused by some of the products. Not only this, studies have shown that most women who use them only lose a few pounds, if any. # This is a disappointment to many who trust the pills at face value as an adjunct to their weight-loss regimens, and they also risk actually damaging their health by taking them.

     Pharmaceuticals of course are regulated by the FDA and are tested rigorously for their safety. Many who have used medications such as phentermine, orlistat, Belviq and Qsymia to kick-start their weight-loss programs have had success, provided they also couple them with dietary changes and exercise and continue with these regimens once stopping the drugs. As with any lifestyle change that requires a complete overhaul of habits, stopping one major facet of it can cause the whole structure to teeter when patients face continuing them without this aid. I personally did not utilize medication or surgery while losing my weight, but upon reaching my goal weight and faced with adjusting my routine to one of maintenance rather than weight loss, I was terrified of scaling back my daily 40-minute runs and adding more calories to my diet. I felt that if I gave up any of the control I had fought so hard to master I would fall right back into my old habits and gain the weight back again. Fortunately, the pride and accomplishments that these new habits had generated guaranteed that I would never stray back. I know what I am capable of, what I have done and I will never go back. Not having access to one major part of my current lifestyle however, having just arrived at my goal and trying to make it stick, might have derailed me. I can’t speak for all who have used medication to lose weight, and there are those for whom it has worked and they’ve been able to keep the weight off, but I do know that it is possible to do the same without it and my personal experience has shown me that a new process generated entirely from within is more likely to stay ingrained. I would encourage readers who have had similar experiences with their weight loss to share their stories here in the comments, as well as readers who have had success via medication or surgery. And to ALL who have or are in the midst of changing their lives, may I extend my heartiest encouragement and congratulations!

     Bariatric surgery is another treatment that is becoming widely prevalent in weight control in recent years as well, and is usually considered as an option when a patient is severely overweight or is encountering obesity-related health problems such as heart disease or type 2 diabetes. Surgery of course is a more drastic solution and is typically performed on patients for whom rapid weight loss is indicated due to potential or existing health concerns. These procedures too require an even greater and more sudden overhaul of a person’s lifestyle and are fraught with greater risks, some long-term. These risks and the post-operative maintenance are usually negligible when compared with the risks of not having surgery done, but some patients feel that they cannot lose a great amount of weight on their own and so turn to it as their only option. Some are also encouraged in this by their doctors, and I personally feel that this may undermine the person’s long-term efforts, having begun the process by not feeling that they can accomplish losing weight themselves via the same methods they’ll have to employ post-surgery regardless. Having said this, I do know several people who have had one of the many forms of bariatric surgery, all with differing results: one has had good success keeping their weight off, having embraced the lifestyle changes and lifelong post-surgery precautions necessary, another has some trouble with the strict dietary curtailments that the procedure imposes and has gained some of their weight back, and a third who gained all their weight back a couple years post-surgery and then some. Prospective candidates for the surgery are routinely required to have preparative counseling ahead of time and during their recovery, to ensure that they are ready to take on the changes necessary for the operation to be successful.

     In addition, there are some less invasive procedures currently being tested and pitched to the FDA, such as balloons that are inserted through the mouth into the stomach and inflated to produce the feeling of being full, therefore prompting the patient to eat less, and a neurological device that is surgically implanted and employs electric pulses to a nerve governing hunger and digestion. I will be curious to see how and if these and similar devices catch on and with what success. One thing is for sure however: there will be no shortage of methods marketed to assist the millions of people seeking to accomplish a hard-won, yet so-rewarding task.

     I will conclude this post by saying that I realize mine is not the only story or method of losing weight, that every person and circumstance is different and that we can all offer insight and help to those who are just beginning their journeys or wondering if they can turn theirs into a success as well. I share my story from the perspective of turning a moment’s clarity, after a lifetime of doubt and feeling trapped by what I thought was my inability to accomplish anything of value, into the greatest eye-opener and triumph of my life, and seek to help others in my shoes do the same. I wish all of you the best of luck and the assurance that yes, you, can. 🙂




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