I can possibly get in a lot of trouble for this, as it appears on the web site of the International Herald Tribune. I actually read this editorial by Alex Beam in the Friday, December 14, 2007 edition of the International Herald Tribune.
However, this piece so belongs in Help! I Have A Fire In My Kitchen, I am just going to go for it, and hope the powers that be realize that I am posting for readers who would never have read it otherwise, with all the links and with clear note that it is from the International Herald Tribune. (Click on the title and you will be taken to the article in IHT. All pictures below were added by yours truly and not part of the original editorial.)
BOSTON: A year-end fixture from the newsmagazines is The Year in Pictures, a roundup of the past 12 months' worth of photojournalism. Playboy, I'm told, used to run a feature called The Year in Sex. Maybe they still do. So here is my annual contribution: The Year in Fat.
2007 was another banner year for misinformation, swamp remedies, idiocy, and plain outright lies about diet and weight, subjects that obsess Americans far more than the future of Iraq or the solvency of Social Security. If only Oprah could promise New Hampshire voters that they would lose seven pounds - overnight! - by voting for Barack Obama, then Mike Huckabee would have to fold up his revival tent and go home.
Where to begin?
This spring, word arrived that Victoria Beckham, the former Spice Girl now married to underperforming soccer star David Beckham, had put her husband on a "daughter diet," in the hopes that she might conceive a female child. Supposedly Ms. Beckham insisted that David cut back on dairy products, red meat and coffee, and instead chow down on steamed vegetables, salads, asparagus, avocado, peppers and fish.
Of course you laugh at the intellectual mendacity of a pseudo-diet that purports to link eating habits to your chances of conceiving. But when you are talking intellectual mendacity, don't forget the Harvard School of Public Health! Without apparent irony, two of its docs, Jorge Chavarro and the ubiquitous Walter Willett, are hawking "The Fertility Diet," which says "10 simple changes in diet and activity can have profound effects on fertility."
Here is an excerpt: "The plan described in the Fertility Diet doesn't guarantee a pregnancy." Posh Spice isn't offering any guarantees either, but at least she's not charging $25.
The Main Event of The Year in Fat was the publication of Gary Taubes's title-heavy, 600-page treatise "Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease." Let's not pretend that either of us has read this book. But one of Taubes's widely bruited, heretical conclusions is that Big Medicine has oversold the terrors of fat consumption and undersold the virtues of eating fewer carbohydrates.
But wait. Didn't the late Dr. Robert Atkins preach precisely that, only to be greeted by catcalls, howls of derision, and brickbats from the medical "establishment"? Maybe it's time to revisit the Zone Diet. The quacks are back!
Later in the year, the New York Times food writer Jane Brody dropped a bomb on all those NordicTracksters who thought they could "work off" the fourth slice of bûche de Noël. Exercise is valuable, Brody opined, but not necessarily for losing weight. You'll probably eat more to compensate for the few hundred calories you burned off, plus "If you exhaust yourself by overexercising, you may do less routine activity for the rest of the day, reducing the caloric benefit of your workout."
Hungry for a second opinion, I consulted Eileen Kennedy, dean of Tufts's Friedman School of Nutrition, who confirmed that "weight loss is unlikely to occur simply from physical activity by itself." I haven't risen from the couch since.
Where to end? In October, my colleague Judy Foreman wrote a column headlined "Let the Post-Diet Era Begin." Judy posed the question, "Is permanent, significant weight loss really possible?" Her answer, in a word: No.
Shortly after that column appeared, I received a press release from "renowned physician, author, and weight loss expert Dr. Sanford Siegal" touting his "hunger-controlling Cookie Diet." Perhaps this is worth trying. I have been self-prescribing cookie diets from Dr. Famous Amos and Nurse Fields, with equivocal results.
Next came a missive from Dr. Constantino Mendieta, a plastic surgeon who boasts of graduating "Magna Cum Laud," possibly from a medical school. Mendieta claims to be the "pioneer of 'The Triple Threat,' a buttock enhancement, waist minimizer, and lower back sculpting" procedure that requires patients to gain weight "so that [Mendieta] can harvest the fat through liposuction on the flanks, outer legs, and upper/outer buttocks." Aha. "He then adds an antibiotic, injects the fat into the trouble zones, and starts to craft the shape," a procedure deemed to be "not only efficacious, but safe as well."
It sounds extremely safe, very simple, and costs a mere $13,000. I only hope that Carl Hiaasen, author of the brilliant parody of plastic surgeons "Skin Tight," isn't reading this column. Mendieta might become even more famous than he would like.
Alex Beam's column appears regularly in The Boston Globe.