Carol Landau, PhD - What's the magic cure this time?
A recent article exposes the latest exploitation of women who worry about their weight. These are not, in general, the women among the 33 per cent of Americans who are obese. No, the article in the New York Times (03/07/11) points out that one of the women waiting for her treatment was disturbingly thin and another had a history of anorexia nervosa.
What's the magic cure this time? Not amphetamines, nor the many anti-obesity potions, medications, or herbs marketed over the years. This tine it is hCG, a hormone, distilled from pregnant mares’ urine. The promise is that daily injections of hCG not only will cause rapid weight loss, but also distribute the fat differently. And without hunger or fatigue! Despite the fact that there is no evidence that this plan works, women are lining up at doctors’ offices across the nation.
One might ask, what's wrong with this if it works for some women? Answer: many, many things. First, women are spending $1000 a month for an unproven program. This use of hCG is not approved by the FDA and has side effects including blood clots, depression, headaches, and breast tenderness. The women are also placed on very low calorie diets, 500 calories a day, which are unlikely to be maintained over the long run. This means that the women who do lose weight will only regain it later, demoralized and thousands of dollars poorer.
Unfortunately they’ll be good company. The fact is that we still have no magic bullet, nor even new ideas, to help people Lose weight. Decades of research suggest that we need to exercise more, a lot more, --over an hour per day--and consume fewer calories. In addition, as Kelly Brownell at the Rudd Center for Food Policy at Yale University points out, what we really need to change is the toxic food environment in the US. This includes too much high calorie food from fast food restaurants, supersized sugary drinks, and our obsession with fad diets.
You may have noticed that I am passionate about this subject. Here is why: I have treated women with body image concerns for many years. Few women escape from the self-criticism of comparing themselves to some unrealistic ideal. Most American women see themselves as too fat, too flat-chested, too big in the hips, too top heavy, legs too thick. And on and on. Tragically, a beautiful young woman I saw recently even worried about the stretch marks on her calves after she took up running. What a sad state of affairs. Years ago, with feminist ideas taking hold, we hoped that women could shed some of the internalized criticism. Unfortunately, what we have seen instead is more young men becoming body-obsessed.
Only when we normalize our eating, take up some enjoyable exercise, and accept our bodies—curvy shapes and all- will this situation improve.