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Weighing the Facts About Eating and Weight

I try to keep up with new research about eating and weight, and occasionally run into surprising or contradictory information. Although it can be unsettling to learn that what I thought was true is not now (or maybe never was), I endeavor to keep an open mind and not get too attached to ideas which may be proven wrong. For examples, read on.

Here are some conclusions from an NIH study (Obesity Facts and Fiction, 4/13, DukeMedicine Healthletter) as well as some challenges to them from Franca B. Alphin, MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN of Duke University:
Conclusion: “Small changes in calorie intake or calorie-burning do not build up over
a long period of time to effect large changes. In fact, individual body mass changes alter the body’s calorie requirements”; Challenge: “Small changes do lead to some gains, but you have to keep adding new changes to see further gains.”
Conclusion: Compared to realistic weight goals, “more ambitions goals sometimes
produce better results”; Challenge: “Ambitious goals may result in greater losses, but, in turn, they result in quicker and larger regain.”
Conclusion: “Studies show larger initial weight loss is likely to produce lower body
weight at the end of a long-term follow up”; Challenge: “Ambitious goals may
result in greater losses, but, in turn, they result in quicker and larger regain.”

Alphin reminds us that “eating is a very personal, intimate act that addresses not only our physiological, but our psychological needs as well.” She points out that facts often get distorted so that they’re no longer true. The diet and food industries are notorious for such distortions, that is, taking a kernel of truth and bending it into fiction.

So, what’s a conscientious person who wants to be well informed to do? The key is to use your critical thinking skills. Recognize that we’re still in the infancy of learning all there is to know scientifically about eating and weight. Sure, it seems as if research is moving rapidly along. It is, but think where it will be decades from now. Always look for research or study citations when conclusions are given, and for well-documented challenges to conclusions. Keep an open mind and don’t become wedded to a particular stance, for example, that sugar is or is not addictive. It’s easy to “find” only the facts that support what you already believe, a process called confirmation bias. Avoid it at all cost. Holding on to a belief does nothing to prove that you’re intelligent or right. It only means you’re frightened or ashamed of being wrong. Better to remain curious and open to all conclusions. Then you’re truly weighing the facts.