See no fat! Hear no fat! Eat no fat?

By: Phil Lempert

Many of us wish it were just that easy to lose weight and get in shape. With the national elections just about a year away, and the campaigns heating up, expect more "fat" legislation, more "fat" lawsuits and more comparisons to the political wars. Fat in 2004 will mean votes. And the candidate that moves from general healthcare and fighting over Medicare to helping people lose weight will win.  Voters may not agree with Al Sharpton's politics, or want to emulate his hunger strike in a jail in Puerto Rico that began his own fat crusade.but everyone agrees that he looks great and wants to know how he has been able to keep the fat off.

People are confused and tired about all the conflicting information that appears on the front page and then disappears: trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, low carb diets, the PYY hormone, and of course, the story that never quite disappears is the one that suggests just who we can blame for making all of us this fat.

The fast food chains seem to be trying to convince us that they've changed and we shouldn't blame them. McDonald's has hired Oprah's trainer, and Wendy's is allowing kids to substitute milk for soda and fruit for fries. Taco Bell has introduced healthy alternatives named "Fresco Style" that include Fiesta Salsa as a substitute for cheese and sauce.

Food brands want to avoid the kind of class action lawsuits and bad publicity that tobacco companies faced. Kraft, one of America's largest and best known food companies, is reformulating their products to get rid of trans fats, reduce portion size and create a more healthful product profile. Frito-Lay introduced "Smart Snacks" under the direction of Dr. Kenneth Cooper (best known for his heart saving work at his Cooper Clinic in Texas) with a nutritional profile that has no transfats, less than 1.5 grams of fat and less than 120 calories per serving.

School systems throughout the country have been blamed for accepting money from those companies that have filled their vending machines with soda, candy and fat laden snacks. California, always a leader in matters of health and fitness, once again showed their stuff when last year the Oakland school district enactated a system-wide ban of all junk food from its buildings. Governor Gray Davis, amidst sharp criticism and a recall election, signed SB 677 into law, which limits the sale of beverages on elementary, middle and junior high school campuses to milk, juice, water or sports drinks beginning in July 2004. The bill also prohibits a school district governing board from entering or renewing a contract with any vendor that sells it non-nutritious food or beverages, without first notifying parents about the contract and providing for public comment.

Even the IRS has gotten on the fat bandwagon. In accordance with the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, the Internal Revenue Service now acknowledges obesity as a disease that in "some" cases requires medical treatment. However, the law is very specific in stating that write offs relating to weight loss are only legitimate if ordered by a physician.

So if we can no longer blame the fast food joints, the food companies, the schools or the government who can we blame? The answer is simple. We should blame ourselves.

This past June I made a commitment on air and in print, that I would no longer use words such as "obese," "large" and "overweight" to describe our most important health problem .or my fellow fat Americans. In my opinion, by using these politically correct terms, the debate changes. Fat is an emotional word - obese is not. And what we most definitely need these days is a bit less rhetoric, less miracle foods and certainly less expensive diet plans and books. What we need is to emotionally connect fat to people. And I've kept to my word.

On Monday, June 23, 2003, I put my own fat on notice and started to post ( a daily journal of food, exercise, water consumption, and stress level along with the required daily weigh-in. Researchers have proven that people who keep a food diary and monitor what they eat, actually consume 15% less food than those do not. And while I haven't reached my ultimate goal of losing 15 pounds, I'm about halfway there, there is no doubt I'm eating healthier, drinking more water, reducing my stress level and feeling very guilty about how little I actually exercise.

I'm tired of all the talk and television shows trying to scare America into fitness. This past spring gave us a look into the crystal ball of Politics 2004. Major "fat" declarations were made by two of America's highest profile health professionals. U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona termed obesity as "the terror within" - obviously trying to bring our fear of fat to the same level of our fear of the Taliban. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), announced that the Centers has " recalculated the actual causes of death in the U.S. and we (CDC) did see that obesity moved up very close to tobacco, and is almost the number one health threat." She also in her speech at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club used the terrorism analogy saying that in her stint working in a hospital ER, "none of my patients were admitted for bioterrorism." Dr. Phil has turned his healing talk show into the latest iteration of reality TV: Big Brother Meets the Twinkie!

Losing those extra pounds is more important than you may think. Two out of three Americans are overweight or obese according to the Surgeon General, marking a 50 percent increase over the decadent 90's decade. 15 percent of kids ages six to 17 are overweight or obese and diabetes is showing up   The Centers for Disease Control report that one in four Americans get absolutely no exercise. And with a healthcare system that is teetering anyway, a looming debate continues about just who will pay the price for all those extra heart diseases, cancers and diabetes that have been accelerated by those extra pounds.

Losing weight is not about a miracle diet, expensive surgery or special foods. It is about eating less and exercising more. It's about taking 5 minutes a day and writing down what you ate and did the day before. And then looking at it, and really seeing what you are doing to your body. In working together and offering support to each other we can show the food and diet world we are not quite the dupes they think we are, and bust open the $60 billion weight loss market.

For your own free fat diary, log on to

Copyright © Philip Lempert

An expert on consumer issues, marketing trends, new products and food safety, Lempert is a respected analyst with an uncanny ability to identify and explain trends to both industry and consumers in a thought provoking and entertaining manner. Known as the Supermarket Guru®, Lempert is the food trends editor for NBC News' TODAY Show, founder and editor of and can be heard weekly as host of the syndicated radio show Shopping Smart®. He's also a correspondent for BBC Radio's 5 Live Program and is the author of several books including Being the Shopper: Understanding the Buyer's Choices, Phil Lempert's Supermarket Shopping & Value Guide. Phil is a member of the Advisory Board to the Partnership for Food Safety Education in Washington DC.  For more information, please visit:

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