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Facts and myths about weight loss

Here’s what I heard in my office recently for the umpteenth time: “Doc, this is just cold weather weight. I put it on every fall and winter, and I take it off every spring.”

You would think I was talking to a hibernating bear that needs the fat to keep away the winter chill.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t sleep in a cave. I have central heating. Please.

Studies show that many Americans put on three to four pounds every winter but only take off one to two in the spring. The net effect is the obesity effect – we tend to gain 10 to 20 pounds every decade.

With that in mind, I’m doing a three-part series on obesity, our national obsession. These columns, which start today and run through Oct. 26, are based on research published in the New England Journal of Medicine regarding the facts and myths about weight loss. With science in hand, you can make smart choices going into the colder seasons.

So let’s begin.

First, some statistics: 33 percent of all adults are now overweight. We spend $30 billion a year on weight-loss programs and $68 billion on extra health care because we’re fat.

Despite what you see on late-night TV, there is no magic bullet, fat blaster or sugar blocker that will shed pounds without hard work. Sorry, folks. That’s magic quackery designed to empty your wallet.

All weight loss comes from burning more calories than you take in. The problem is that some people are much more metabolically efficient – able to extract more calories from the food they eat. They are “efficient absorbers.”

Then you have others who burn more calories ostensibly from “rest.” When you look at these ideal-weight people, you find that many of them fidget all day. One study I read years ago showed these fidgeters burn an extra 300 to 500 calories just by constantly moving around (I happen to be one of them; I’m in constant motion).

Genes play a role, but we’re not a slave to our genes. It’s a myth that because your mom, dad, sis and bro are overweight that you’re going to be overweight, too. The genes give us a propensity for slimness or obesity, but they’re not the whole deal. What we do counts more.

Recent research shows that fat content is regulated by hormones, especially the hormone Leptin, which is excreted by fat. Perhaps when we understand how Leptin works we’ll have the ideal fat-buster pill. And believe me, there’s lots of money in this game so the research on Leptin is proceeding full-speed ahead.

My spin: We are all not the same. Because fat regulation is complex, and poorly understood, it’s hard to give a hard-and-fast rule of what might work for you. Next week, I’ll talk about weight-loss myths. I promise it will be an eye-opener.

Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician, university professor and author. He also hosts a call-in radio program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7.

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