Belly On, Belly Off

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Belly On, Belly Off

The weight loss industry has grown fatter than ever, feeding off our desire for a quick fix. Can diet lead to long-term health and fitness?
From the August 2013 Trumpet Print Edition

In spite of very public political efforts to wean Americans off Big Gulps and Big Macs, obesity in the nation increased last year. This continued an unbroken 15-year trend, according to a June report from the Centers for Disease Control.

The problem is not unique to the United States. Last year, the global weight loss and diet management market was worth a record-breaking $265 billion. By 2017, all these sales of dieting books and videos, meal replacements, diet pills, weight reduction surgeries, nutrition consultancy, and other products and services is expected to swell to $361 billion worldwide.

Why are we spending so much dough to be less doughy? Partly because most dieters regain up to two thirds of the weight they lose within one year of losing it—and all of it within three to five years. Longer-term follow-up studies show that up to two thirds of us eventually regain more weight than we ever lost.

If dieters could shed kilos and then keep them off, Big Weight Loss wouldn’t be such an economic heavyweight. Weight Watchers alone pulls in around $1.75 billion in annual revenue, much of it from repeat customers. One former manager admitted she was disheartened by how ineffective the company is at helping dieters keep their weight off.

No New Thing Under the Sun

Though the number of people on weight loss programs is smashing records in recent decades, the idea of diets promising big results in little time is nothing new.

Before Weight Watchers, Bikini Bootcamp and diet pills, there was the Vinegar Diet, popularized in the 1820s by bulimic poet Lord Byron.

A few years later, Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham began promoting a diet low in caffeine and high in a special honey cracker that he had invented and named after himself. Graham’s fad diet didn’t pass the test of time, but his cracker did.

Things took a bizarre turn in the late 19th century when entrepreneurs sold “sanitized tapeworms” to help women slim down—baby worms packaged in attractive pill-type form. Some thought inviting a parasite into their intestines to consume their nutrients would help them shed pounds without having to alter their eating habits. The trouble is, tapeworms can grow up to 25 feet long and cause seizures, dementia, meningitis and other ailments.

In the 1920s and ’30s, cigarette “diets” gained traction after tobacco companies started to emphasize the appetite-suppressing merits of their products. One advertisement for Lucky Strikes said: “Light a Lucky and you’ll never miss sweets that make you fat.” The claim is true, but omits mention of the common side effects: cancers of the lung, esophagus, larynx, mouth, throat, etc., heart diseases, death and more.

The Sleeping Beauty Diet became popular in the 1960s. Its followers (including Elvis Presley) heavily sedated themselves, slept for days on end, and emerged from hibernation a few pounds lighter.

The Calories Don’t Count Diet came into vogue around the same time and made big bucks for founder Herman Taller until he was found guilty of mail fraud and conspiracy.

The 1970s saw the rise and fall of the Prolinn Diet, whose devotees consumed nothing but a “miracle” liquid called Prolinn. The drink was made of ground-up animal hooves, horns, hides and other butcher byproducts, which had been broken down with special enzymes. At least 58 Prolinn dieters suffered heart attacks while on the program.

More recently, the Vision Diet became popular after a Japanese company learned that when we see the color blue, our appetites diminish. They’re mass marketing $20 “diet glasses” with indigo-hued lenses. Some dieters say they’re effective because food viewed through them looks revolting.

What if you don’t want your food to look gross but still want to lose weight? Some acupuncturists say the answer may be ear stapling, which isn’t as bad as it sounds, unless it sounds like having a surgical staple driven into the ear’s inner cartilage in order to strike an “appetite-suppressing pressure point.” Besides being utterly ineffective, the procedure can also cause a host of side effects ranging from infection to permanent disfigurement.

If none of those ideas sounds appealing, there’s also the Russian Peasant Diet, the Hot Dog Diet, Fruitarianism, the Feeding Tube Diet, Jenny Craig, the Cotton Ball Diet, the Junk Food Diet, raw foodism, the Biggest Loser Club, the 17-Day Diet, Fletcherizing, Atkins, South Beach, high protein, low carbs, low fat, the Cookie Diet ….

The nature of many of these programs and products shows that many of us aren’t driven by a desire to be healthy, but by an obsession with thinness and superficial beauty—sometimes at the expense of health. Many entrepreneurs pander shamelessly to this vanity. To say every slim person is healthy is like saying every old man is wise. But regardless of the dieter’s motivation, none of these programs consistently delivers long-term health and fitness.

The Skinny on Weight Management

So what’s the solution to this multibillion-dollar problem vexing more people every year? Who can we trust to provide a straight answer?

The “experts” contriving the diet programs don’t know. Despite record spending on their programs, the average American man today weighs 28 pounds more than in the 1960s. Each time we think we know something solid about links between diet, health and weight, a new study turns it topsy-turvy. For every nutritionist pinpointing a certain ingredient as the villain, another insists it’s the hero.

These shifting winds of fad diets, nutritional “expertise,” and food-industry advertising have exposed the science behind it all as confused at best, and often corrupt. (For example, you know that reassuring stamp on food boxes from the American Heart Association? Food companies pay handsomely for that endorsement.)

Is there any true authority on diet? There is one that you probably have never considered. Yet it’s likely you already have a copy.

It’s the Holy Bible.

“The human mind and body is the most perfectly designed mechanism ever produced from earthly material substance,” educator Herbert Armstrong wrote in Why Humanity Cannot Solve Its Troubles. “Our Maker sent along with His product [human beings] His operation manual [the Bible]. But this world’s bestseller has been the most ignored, distorted, falsely interpreted and least understood of all books.”

The Bible is our basic instruction manual! Each of us is limited to acquiring material knowledge through the five senses. But to live happily, peacefully and healthily, we actually need a spiritual knowledge base. The Bible doesn’t contain all knowledge, but it does contain the “foundation of knowledge,” as Mr. Armstrong described it. And God’s instruction manual is not silent on the topic of diet.

What’s On the Menu?

The Bible tells us what we should eat. In the very first chapter, God is recorded as saying to man: “I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat” (Genesis 1:29). Does that mean we should be vegetarians? A study of 1 Timothy 4:1-5, Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 shows that a balanced diet should include the right meats. But the indication is that it should lean more toward the flora than the fauna.

Applying biblical principles to diet shows that we should strive to eat whole, fresh foods instead of the edible food-like substances that fill grocery store shelves.

For example, all aspects of the intricate ecosystems of our planet were “very good” when God created them (Genesis 1:30-31). But men have long operated under a belief that we can improve the nature of many organisms. What does the great Creator and master Engineer think of such efforts? “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12).

To most food companies and consumers, it seems right to genetically modify, process, refine and “enhance” foods with laboratory science and technology. It seems right. But mechanical and chemical processes typically strip the natural food of many nutrients. Processed and refined foods also have a high glycemic index, which means we digest them quickly, absorb their calories quickly, and feel hungry again soon after.

Whole, fresh foods nourish our bodies the way they were designed to be fueled. They are more expensive because they’ve been raised or grown less intensively and with more concern. But we should try for the highest quality we can afford. This usually means avoiding packaged items, white rice, white bread and most crackers.

That Thing Is Your God?

The Bible also tells us how to eat. Several passages show that it’s good to enjoy your meal (e.g. Psalm 104:14-15; Isaiah 25:6; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Genesis 18:5-8). But the Bible stresses moderation more. “Hast thou found honey? Eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it” (Proverbs 25:16). Too much of even a healthful food can wreck our health.

Other passages about moderation include Deuteronomy 21:20; Proverbs 23:20-21; 25:27; Ecclesiastes 10:17; Ezekiel 16:49; Philippians 4:5; and 1 Corinthians 9:25. Moderation, in eating and in all other areas, is a vital ingredient for godly, healthy living. Failure to moderate is probably the number one problem of modern consumers.

In recent decades, portion sizes served both in America’s homes and its restaurants have grown. The surface area of the average household dinner plate has increased 36 percent since 1960. Our average restaurant meals are four times larger than they were in the 1950s.

The people of Okinawa, Japan, are among the longest-living and healthiest on the planet. They subsist mostly on whole foods like whole-grain rice, fresh vegetables, and fresh fish. And they also moderate. For generations, the Okinawans have followed a principle called “Hara Hachi Bu,” which means eat only until you’re 80 percent full. Applying this principle can help us all. Many of us tend to eat until we are 110 percent full, but our Creator says destruction is the outcome for those “whose God is their belly” (Philippians 3:19). Appetite is complex, but research shows that if we stop eating before we feel completely full, within 15 or 20 minutes we will generally feel satisfied.

“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God,” the Apostle Paul said (1 Corinthians 10:31). Limiting portion sizes can help us to eat in a mindset that enlarges God’s glory, rather than enlarging the “glory” of our bellies.

Like a Yo-Yo

The chief allure of most weight loss programs is that they don’t require us to alter our eating habits for very long. In many cases, a dieter is working hard and tenaciously holding to the prescribed regimen for the designated duration. By the time the diet period is over, he is seeing stark results. But a few months or years after the diet has ended, he’s back to using the hole he punched into his belt after that especially bountiful 2008 Thanksgiving season. Eventually he reaches a breaking point once again. He invests in a diet program again, loses weight again, and gains it back … again.

And so the discouraging, expensive and unhealthy cycle goes.

Why do so many get stuck aboard that yo-yo diet pattern? Because we generally feel, at the end of a time of restraint and self-discipline, that we deserve a reward. We feel like our good behavior means we’ve earned the right to finally return to what feels best, and to what comes easily. I sacrificed and got what I wanted; now I want some relief from all this discipline!

The Bible shows that improvements we make in our lives must be permanent. In Galatians 6:9, God inspired the Apostle Paul to say we must not become “weary in well doing.” He knew that we have to battle the human tendency to burn out, but said that “in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”

If the improvement in behavior—whether related to physical or spiritual health—is temporary, then its reward will also be temporary.

In 19 places, the Bible mentions “backsliding” into old bad habits or sins after having gained ground in overcoming them. That is our natural tendency. Instead, we need consistency and progress. Rather than undertake some brutal, unhealthy 17-day extreme diet and then return to our former eating habits, we should make more basic, permanent lifestyle changes that we can live with. Health is built by many factors besides diet. But consistently eating a balanced, healthful diet of moderate portions is the single best way to maintain a healthy weight.

The Apostle John wrote, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth” (3 John 2). Jesus Christ said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). God’s will is for us to lead a life of quality in every respect—including that of physical health. This is why He gave us definite laws of health in the pages of His inspired instruction manual.

Be wary of the shifting winds of fad diets. Instead, consistently apply these practical laws and reap the wonderful benefits of a healthful, robust physical life!