Read an Excerpt
Your Own Solution Inventory
In this chapter, you will complete your own Solution Inventory, which will customize the method to your individual needs. Chances are, all the causes are important to you, but some have influenced your weight more than others. This chapter presents an opportunity for you to fine-tune your solution and focus on the cures that will be most beneficial to you.
You will also find answers to some of the most common questions about weight: are weight problems in my genes? and what are the roots of my tendency to gain weight? And I'll give you a close look at one person's experience responding to these questions.
Stanley, a family doctor at San Francisco General Hospital, whose sister, Kristin, had attended a talk I'd given the previous month in St. Louis, called me about the method. Kristin had begun to lose weight, called Stanley and told him about the method, and he was inquiring about it for his patients as well as for himself.
You see, Stanley and Kristin had both experienced weight problems since childhood. As kids, they had shared forbidden foods, foods like cellophane-wrapped packages of chocolate cupcakes with squiggles on top and pans of Sara Lee frozen brownies--only partially thawed.
As adults their mutual weight problems had become a source of emotional "glue" between them. Stanley had convinced Kristin to cancel her marriage plans in part because her fiance had pressured her to lose weight. And when Stanley had gained thirty pounds during his residency, Kristin had shipped him a crate of Florida grapefruit.
The timing of Kristin's call to Stanley about The Diet-Free Solution couldn't have been better for his weight, whichhad always been a barometer of his stress and had gone up in the past year. Stanley's stress level was perfectly understandable. He had taken on, in addition to a full load of patient care, an AIDS research project that was aimed at finding ways to prevent the disease in inner-city adolescents. Although Stanley loved the work and got a certain "high" from the frenzied pace it required, he wasn't happy about his increasing weight. When we spoke, he had many questions, including the following.
"My family is heavy. Is it in my genes?"
You may have a sibling, parents and even a grandparent who are also heavy and wonder if you're fighting a losing battle with weight. You might even ask yourself, Is it my genetic destiny to be on the rounder, fluffier or bigger side? Stanley was no different. His sister and parents were also heavy, and he wondered if it was just his genetic destiny to be big.
We all know people with "round genes," the kind that encourage the body to vacuum up every trace of energy consumed and deposit it in just the place they'd least like to have it. If you've read the obesity headlines of the newspapers in the last few years--which suggest that obesity is all in the genes--you may have been inclined to throw in the towel, deciding that your weight is as static as your eye color.
How much weight do genes carry?
Although the media portray the genetic influence on weight as a guarantee of perpetual weight problems, science says differently. The influence of genetic factors varies from individual to individual, and researchers who study such factors--Claude Bouchard, F. Xavier Pi-Sunyer and Albert J. Stunkard--conclude that at most 5 to 25 percent of one's weight can be attributed solely to genetics.
What seems to be important is not the extent to which one's genes invite the number on the scale to increase, but how they interact with one's lifestyle. Due to their genetic makeup, some people exhibit a greater tendency to gain weight, or more elasticity, than others.
For instance, the Pima Indians--who have unique genes that are highly elastic--can eat even small amounts of extra food and gain weight. On the other hand, many people with "skinny genes" can binge eat, habitually indulge or watch television for days on end, and there is no effect on their weight.
There are considerable data that support the view that one's genetics is not the whole story. Stanley Garn from the University of Michigan reviewed a broad spectrum that followed people over several decades. He found that body weight varies tremendously over time. In fact, according to one study by Dr. Garn, 40 percent of women and 60 percent of men who were initially obese were normal weight two decades later. Based on these data, it is clear that weight is not immutable.
If being overweight is primarily genetic, how could it increase 31 percent nationally in ten years?
Recent research has suggested that Garn is right. Weight--for most of us--is quite open to change.
That evidence is based on nationally representative samples of Americans surveyed with the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). According to the results of this survey, the prevalence of obesity has shown a phenomenal upward trend in the last two decades. In adults, obesity rates recently have jumped 31 percent--from 24.5 percent in 1976-1980 to a full 33.3 percent in 1988-1991. What's more, we have seen a similar trend in children, with child obesity skyrocketing 54 percent in the last two decades and adolescent obesity up a full 39 percent.
Indeed, steep inclines in obesity compel us to look at lifestyle factors--not genetic predestination--as a primary cause. But what aspect of lifestyle is fueling this dramatic weight gain among Americans? People who quit smoking gain weight, and smoking rates have plummeted in the last decade, so perhaps reduced smoking is the culprit. Alternatively, demographers might argue that overweight women have higher fertility rates, thus possibly increasing the presence of genetic obesity in the national gene pool. Perhaps it's all those hours at the computer, television and video. The best estimate is that these causes have minor effects on the increase in obesity rates.
The evidence points to what we eat. Despite the no-fat hype in the marketplace and the proliferation of such products as fat-free brownies, sugar-free and fat-free ice cream, and no-fat chips, we are eating more fat and more calories now than in 1978.