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The fix for obesity is in your hands


A friend back in college once told me, “God loves you just the way you are, but too much to let you stay that way.” After deciding that it wasn’t meant as an insult, I ingested it and carry that thought with me to this day.

As health care providers, all of us have felt this way about patients at some point. We offer advice, and we hope our patients will heed our warnings. We care—otherwise we couldn’t deal with the levels of sickness and hurt we see every day.

What would you say if I told you that each of us has the ability to cure diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, fatty liver disease and a host of other common chronic maladies? You’d probably ask, “How? What do I have to do?”

Fight obesity.

For years, we health providers have sat around waiting for the perfect pill. Given that one-third of Americans are obese and another one-third are overweight, I’d say we’ve had plenty of company during this wait.

By the end of the year, there could be two FDA-approved weight-loss pills available. However, concerns about modest weight loss with the potential for serious side effects may sway some physicians and patients away from these medications.

As I learned in medical school, every drug has a side effect. Aside from higher rates of valvular heart disease, side effects of one of the medications may include sleepiness, confusion and hallucinations.

The answer may not come in the form of a pill after all. Instead, it may be right in front of us.


More and more research is showing the dangers of high-fructose corn syrup, proc-essed foods and fried foods. Scientists have seen that rats given access to a sugar solution will demonstrate a release of dopamine in their brain similar to the response seen when they are given addictive drugs. Yes, you read that correctly—the scientists equated a sugar solution to addictive drugs.

Another study demonstrated that rats fed a cafeteria diet (potato chips, cookies, crackers, etc.) developed an inability to stop eating! It appears the normal mechanisms that should have told them they were full went haywire, and they ultimately gained much more weight than other rats. (The researchers could’ve come to the same conclusion by observing me in a room with a box of doughnuts).

As for the correct way to eat, a two-year study in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2008 compared low-fat, Mediterranean and low-carb diets. The low-fat diet was based on American Heart Association guidelines. This diet promoted low-fat grains and limited consumption of fat.

The Mediterranean diet promoted vegetables and tended to replace red meat with fish and poultry. The main sources of added fat came from olive oil and nuts. The low-carb diet was based on the Atkins diet and started with 20 grams of carbs per day with a gradual increase to 120 grams of carbs per day.

The study was designed to monitor effects on weight loss, diabetes, inflammatory markers, triglycerides and cholesterol.

Despite all the press about the “dangers” of Atkins, the low-carb diet was No. 1, the Mediterranean diet was a close second, and the low-fat diet was a distant third. When they broke down the study by gender, they realized that women actually lost more weight on the Mediterranean diet.

I’m the first one to recommend avoiding fad diets, but if a diet is based on sound principles, at what point do we stop calling it a fad? Atkins, Mediterranean, South Beach, Paleo—there are subtle differences, but there are also common themes that can be found among all of these diets. The themes:

  • Avoid high-fructose corn syrup.
  • Avoid processed foods.
  • Avoid fried foods.

This pretty much leaves you with vegetables (nothing fried), salad, fruit and grilled, baked or rotisserie meats.

Some will laugh at this and others will take it seriously, but according to Money magazine, a projected 33 percent of us will soon be charged extra for health insurance by employers for health issues like overweight/obesity.

Don’t diet (verb). Change your diet (noun).

Dr. Allan Hardy is a board-certified gastroenterologist who works at Rappahannock Gastroenterology Associates in Fredericksburg. You can send him questions or comments about his column by email to