What do you think of a nation that got fatter and fatter?

Just look at these statistics:

66.3% of adults over 20 are overweight or obese. This is an increase from 47.1% in 1976-1980.

32.9% of the 66.3% are obese. Obesity increased from 15% in 1976-1980.

We spend $33 billion annually on weight loss products and services.

$75 billion in annual medical expenses (2003 dollars) are attributable to obesity.

Obesity causes approximately 300,000 deaths per year.

Obesity shortens life by 5 to 20 years.

At any given time, 45% of women and 30% of men are trying to lose weight. This is up from surveys conducted between 1950 and 1966 when 7% of men and 14% of women were trying to lose weight. And it’s up too from 1978 when 16% of adults were trying to lose weight.

The average person (men and women) wants to lose about 30 lbs.

25% of men and women dieted for over 1 year or were perpetual dieters.

35% of men and 34% of women are trying to maintain their weight

(If you think this only applies to the good old U.S. of A, you're mistaken. According to World health Organization figures from 2005, there are 1.6 billion overweight adults in the world and at least 400 million who are classified as obese. That is forecast to rise to 2.3 billion overweight and 700 million obese by 2015.)

As for losing weight:
You can plainly see the statistics on the side of being overweight, gaining weight, and being obese are impressive. On the dieting and weight loss side of things, there are no comparatively impressive statistics, only dismal ones; but we’ll get to that. The conclusion, even before telling you the facts: it’s so easy to gain but so hard to lose…and keep it off.

Wouldn’t it be terrific if there were a sure cure for being overweight or obese? Unfortunately, there is no research that points to what that might be. Still, as you probably know quite well, diet and weight loss resources abound. This year, 2009, Amazon.com lists 21,492 entries under the heading “diet books”.

Here are your “losing” choices when it comes to weight loss. They are lifestyle change, which almost always euphemistically means changing your diet and doing exercise, regular old dieting, weight-loss medication, and surgery. Most attempts at weight loss involve dietary modification.

The hot new trend is bariatric surgery. From 1998 to 2002 the number of bariatric surgeries increased from 12,775 cases to 70,256 cases, an increase of 450%, and the trend is still going strong.

The old standby, medicine, used to be known simply as a diet pill. Now it’s called medication. Even with the new name, it is not a magic pill. Medication is roughly as effective as the combination of dieting and exercising.

Here’s the good news, the bad news, and the very bad news about dieting
In a review of nine carefully executed research studies on dieting and weight loss between 1990 and 2002, scientists at Rush University Medical Center found that the most common pattern was that dieters lost weight while non-dieter control groups gained weight. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that dieters lost only 7 lbs more on average than non-dieters. This is really bad news because the non-dieters gained weight. So how much weight did the dieters really lose?

Hold on, though, here is some more good news to offset the bad news. Researchers found a surprisingly large effect from small weight loss. Weight loss, even as small as 7 lbs. or less, reduced incident diabetes by 58% and reduced other health problems like hypertension as well.

Here’s some more bad news. The biggest weight losses occurred in short-term weight-loss studies, studies that ran only for weeks or months, not for years. That doesn’t seem like such a downer, does it? Weight loss is weight loss after all. Only here’s the rub. When you have lots of weight loss over a short period of time, what you find is that the longer the follow-up period is after the weight loss, the greater the amount of weight that is regained.

In other words, if you conclude right after you lose 5 or 10 or 20 pounds or more in the week, two weeks, a month, 3 months that you’ve done it, don’t hold your breath. Just wait a week, two weeks, a month, 3 months, even a year. The results show over and over again that the weight loser (and, unfortunately, the word “loser” fits) will most probably gain all the lost weight back again and maybe even some more as well.

If you think you’ll beat the odds by not going with a short-term weight-loss regimen, but opt for weight loss over a long period of time, the results are no better. Once again, the finding is that the longer the follow-up period is after weight loss, the more likely it is that you will regain all the weight or almost all the weight.

More bad new: Studies in controlled settings show that people who complete weight loss programs lose about 10% of their body weight. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? But there’s a catch, the losers gained two-thirds of it back within 1 year and most all of the weight back within 5 years.

You can see why it’s so easy to get the feeling, why even try.

What to do:
There’s nothing more to say right now as far as the nation’s statistics go. You know them. You might be one of them. Now it’s up to you to stand up and make a difference for your country. Patriotism starts right here and now. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, and all that.

But how? Should you line up and take a pill, have your stomach surgically altered, or get genetically re-engineered because it’s too hard to do anything else? What about dieting, that old standby? What about diet and exercise? What about changing your lifestyle? Too hard. Too hard. Too hard. Losing weight is just too hard if you have to change your ways, you say.

You’re right, it is. Changing yourself is really hard. But that’s the task. What you need to discover is what would make changing easier for you, easy enough to do and do well. Why not turn on some of that old American ingenuity, the kind that this country was founded upon, and see what you need to change in yourself to remove your name from the statistics list of two-thirds of Americans who are overweight or obese.

Here’s a proposal. Why don’t you undo what you did to yourself? Huh? That makes no sense. If it’s so hard to change, how can you just undo what you did?

To tell the truth, you didn’t set out to be a person who weighs 20, 30, 60, 100 pounds more than you were. That would have been much to daunting a task. You just got there, little by little, step by step, almost without knowing the way, and without really intending to get where you are now.

You ate too much and much too often. OK, we all know that. But do you realize that you ate and gained because you were using food, not simply eating it Food became more than a hunger satisfier. You established a “special relationship” with it, one that you came to depend upon. This is what you have to change. You can’t keep hanging out with the old crowd (overeating and being overweight). They’re the wrong crowd. You have to know by now they’re bad for you. Didn’t your mother ever tell you that? Of course, she did.

Well, to change you’ll have to not use food to give you what you should be getting and doing for yourself in other ways—in your relationships, in your accomplishments, in your personal life, in your daily life. This approach to losing is all about the psychological side of things. Funny, it’s never mentioned in the statistics. It’s barely recognized as a treatment for overweight and obesity, neither medical nor self help. Yet losing weight is mostly mental. What a shame that it gets none of the recognition it deserves.

Why not start with a new pledge, one that pays tribute to the importance of undoing what needs to be undone: One Nation Undoing its Fat with Psychological Insight, Personal Change, and Weight Loss for All.

Endnote: As you might have guessed, a psychologist wrote this.

Author's Bio: 

Kenneth Schwarz, Ph.D. is a psychologist specializing in personal change and goal achievement. He is in clinical practice in Sharon, Connecticut and on the allied health staff at Sharon Hospital. Dr. Schwarz is co-author of the online weight-loss solution, “Diet Tuffy: The Fun Way to Seriously Make Your Diet Work”. For Diet Tuffy and more about how to conquer the psychological side of dieting, go to mariaslastdiet.com