No other condition is subject to more fads and less grounded in scientific fact than dieting. Each decade, a new crop of diet gurus claims to have found the new answer to weight loss for a civilization whose biggest problem is supposed to be excess.
Much as the conventional image considers obesity a problem of gluttony, as with heart disease, it seems that we Westerners are victims of scarcity, not plenty. We are fat not because we eat too much, as doctors usually tell us, but because we eat too little. We no longer eat the foods or engage in activities that stoke up our metabolic fires. The latest evidence shows that people who eat little but more or less constantly as many as seventeen snacks a day! are more likely to lose weight and stabilise to their ideal weight than those who rigidly stick even to three sensible meals a day. Feed the engine and it operates to maximum capacity. Starve it and it operates on emergency alert, as though you were shipwrecked and it needed to derive fuel from every last morsel.
As with just about every disease that has burgeoned in the last century, fat is a disease of so called progress. Every generation has known obesity, but never has such a large proportion of fat people existed until food became industrialised. Nowhere is the relationship more evident than in America. Despite the development and the wholesale consumption of low fat foods of every variety, at least a half of all Americans are overweight, including roughly the same proportion of teenagers.
The medical profession contributes to this situation by continuing to adhere to what has been called elsewhere the "checkbook" method of weight reduction: calorie counting. This interpretation of human metabolism is not only reductive, sometimes dangerously so, but also self defeating. The more people restrict calories, the more their metabolism slows (it is, after all, on starvation alert) and the fatter, ultimately, they become. At this point, the answer then is a fad diet, many of which are dangerously unhealthy for you, one of a number of potentially dangerous drugs, which stop you from absorbing your food, or a variety of barbaric surgical procedures from liposuction or stomach stapling to the current state of the art, a stomach "bypass", which detours past much of your small intestine, making you sick if you attempt to eat too much.
For most of us, being even slightly overweight is mainly a psychological burden we carry with us as the most visible reminder that we are not everything we could be. It is possibly one of the greatest reasons we are prevented from being satisfied with our lot in life.
But the fact is that overweight is not merely a case of eating too much and wrongly. Fat is a warning signal, like arthritis or asthma or even cancer, that you are not adequately adapting to your environment. Sorting out even a small amount of overweight requires as much effort and detective work as sorting out an illness of any type. You could be overweight because you are allergic to something, or because you don't eat enough carbohydrate, or essential fatty acids, or because your blood sugar spikes up and down. Or because you're taking in too many pesticides. Or even because you don't eat breakfast.
Most of us are fat because we don't have enough: enough good fats, enough greens, enough carbohydrates, enough regular and healthful meals, enough love.
Happy New Millennium. May your life and your dinner table be blessed with abundance.