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The Truth About Weight Loss Wonders

By Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD

Everyone knows our nation is fighting an obesity epidemic. To the credit of many food manufacturers and restaurants, we're seeing more and more healthful changes on packages and menus. But there are also lots of companies trying to take advantage of overweight people who want a quick fix.

Who wouldn't love to lose weight simply by swallowing a pill or slathering on a cream? But if it were so easy, why would there be an obesity epidemic in the first place?

Of course, it's just not that simple. The only thing simple about weight loss is the math: Calories taken in vs. calories burned = weight gain, weight loss, or weight maintenance.

Over-the-counter pills, potions, and "miracle" cures are, at best, a superficial approach to a very serious problem. At worst, they're just a way to separate you from your money.

Don't fall for the lure of detox and fads

There is a dizzying array of ads and promotions for magical weight loss potions, promising to help you lose weight while you sleep or detoxify your body and get trim.

The ads lure us with powerful testimonials from supposedly successful losers, celebrities and athletes – not nutrition experts.

Detoxification is the latest fad diet buzz word and to most consumers it makes sense. Why wouldn't it be beneficial to cleanse the body of all the toxins from food and the environment? The fact is your body is a detox machine. Your kidneys, bowel and liver are your body's defense organs. They remove wasteful by-products and toxins from your body and excrete them in urine and stool. Bottom line, you don't need to fast or engage in expensive detoxification protocols to stay healthy or to lose weight. Besides, even if you followed a detox program, the only way it can facilitate weight loss is if it reduces calories.

But remember that money, not ethics, rules this business. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Healthful weight loss options

From treats packaged in 100 calorie servings to more healthful choices on fast-food menus, the food and restaurant industry are making it easier to control your calorie intake. Food labels and restaurant menus carry nutrition information and sometimes icons that show which items are healthy, helping us make informed choices.

It has become virtually impossible to go into a restaurant and not see at least a few healthy offerings. The fast-food and fast-casual giants led the way with an explosion of grilled chicken goodies and entrée salads. Now, you'll find even more delicious choices with fewer calories and fat as legislation is requiring nutrition information on menus across the country.

Moving beyond America's favorite – hamburger, French fries, and a giant soda – is tough, but at least we have plenty of healthy choices on the menu. Undermining the effort to eat healthy are the inexpensive options on menus like $5 foot long subs or $1 menu items. These deals can be hard to pass up but think about your waistline and your health before ordering the bargain meal.

And menus at fast-food and casual dining restaurants have an enormous impact on what our nation eats. According to the National Restaurant Association, the average person eats a meal out 4.2 times per week and spends 53% of his or her food dollars on items eaten away from home.

The good news is President Obama passed a bill requiring restaurants with twenty or more locations nationally to post the calorie counts of menu items. He signed the bill in March 2010 but restaurateurs have a year to post the numbers. In the meantime, nutrition information is available on restaurant web sites and at most restaurants – just look around for the poster or ask for a copy. If you want to plan ahead, check the web site before leaving home and decide on selections that fit your eating plan.

Health care professionals, obesity experts, food manufacturers, academia, industry, and government are all working together to make a dent in the obesity statistics. Michelle Obama's 'Let's Move' campaign is generating attention and programs to stem the tide of obesity in children. I believe that fighting obesity takes a village and together, we can make a difference in the health of Americans.

At UnitedHealthcare's Source4Women, you have access to experts, resources, recipes and more to help you manage your weight. To be successful at weight management, your responsibility is to make a commitment to reasonable, healthy eating behaviors that you can sustain for life, along with regular physical activity.

This – and not any pill or potion touted in clever ads – is the true answer to our nation's obesity problem.

Here are some of the best bets at popular restaurants:

  • Salads are everywhere. But beware: some are better than others. Check the nutrition information and choose those with plenty of vegetables, beans, fruit, and lean protein. Top them off with light vinaigrette or low-fat dressing to keep calories in check.
  • McDonald's has added apple slices and apple juice or low-fat milk choices for its kids' meals. Some healthy salads are available for adults, and yogurt parfaits and low-fat ice cream are nutritious treats with less than 160 calories.
  • Wendy's has bolstered its list of healthful offerings with orange slices and low-fat milk "chugs," along with plain baked potatoes, chili, and salads. Many pizza companies are offering a healthier pie with less cheese, meat, and calories.
  • Subway, Darden's Season 52, Ruby Tuesday, Taco Bell, Dairy Queen, and many others have also made menu changes to meet the needs of the health-conscious diner.

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