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  Gary's take on obesity in the media

Gary sounds off on the obesity issue - what's being done, what's being talked about, what crazy weight loss solutions are being advertised, or anything on-topic that comes to mind.

Walking in L.A.? Not just a pop tune from the 80's
Is Whole Wheat or Multi-grain the next American craze?
Going "cold" on Cold Stone Creamery
Gentlemen - Start Your Anythings!
The "Fatter Is Healthier" Study
Kirstie Alley's "Fat Actress"
Short term solutions vs. Long term solutions
Stomach Bypass Surgery
Information Overdose
The Low Carb Craze

Walking in L.A.? Not just a pop tune from the 80's

It was the summer of 1983 when I heard the song first: "Walking in L.A.? Nobody walks in L.A." It was song from Missing Persons - since disbanded, then re-banded, then, well you get the picture.

Anyhow, at the time it was a Top 40 Hit and I was a 17 year old high school senior who thought the band was simply "hard up" for ideas to write songs about. Then about 4 years later I visited Los Angeles with some college buddies. Nobody was walking In L.A. Since then I've been out a bunch of times for business, talent showcases and R&R. Nobody is walking the streets anywhere (except shoppers on Rodeo Drive). Just recently I was on the west coast working on the Million Calorie March documentary with Jon Butcher at Electric Factory Studios. Trust me when I tell you there was nobody was walking in L.A. Except me of course. Hollywood Way in Burbank? Just me. Sunset Boulevard? Me. Mulholland Drive at dusk? Just me again.

Missing Persons had it right - nobody walks in L.A. for exercise, or to get anywhere or apparently for any reason at all. Nor can anybody pinpoint the reason why. Some say it's not the "hip" thing to do. Others say the place wasn't built for walking to keep people out of high end neighborhoods. Yet many chalk it up to people's laziness and conditioning to driving everywhere.

All I know is this: California has the number one fastest growing obesity epidemic in the United States today. Hollywood - once known as the land of the fit and the beautiful has changed. Walking around Wilshire Blvd and 3rd Avenue looked no different than some of the towns I walked thru in the south during this past summer's Million Pound Meltdown.

Bottom line - Missing Persons hit the nail on the head and Los Angeles needs a "Million Calorie March" or "Million Pound Meltdown"of it's own this coming year. With little luck we may bring one to the left coast one day soon

Is Whole Wheat or Multi-grain the next American craze?
The USA hops aboard the grain train

So there I was walking through Times Square in NYC the other day when I came across an advertisement for whole grain bread that read "The grain, the whole grain and nothing but the grain".

Ten minutes later in my favorite New York Deli I was listening to two apparent co-workers enthusiastically talking about the make up of their "healthy" sandwiches.

"This roast beef wrap on 5 grain bread is delicious"
"Yesterday I had a meatball sandwich on 7 grain bread - but today I'm having turkey on a Whole Wheat wrap"

As America's low carb craze bottoms out and bread companies have stopped threatening to create a bread made "entirely of pork" a silver lining has appeared - people are focusing on the importance of grains again. And that's a good thing:

"That new 9 grain bread is really good"
"The 9 is good - but we've got 12 grain back at the house!"

Ahh - it's refreshing to hear Americans trying to "one-up" each other on health isn't it? After all in certain European countries they're referring to their recent obesity crisis' as "American Fat". We were innovators of the obese condition and now we're at least trying to understand what's healthy or not. (Hopefully what's between the 7 grain bread will not be overlooked here…)

Thanks to the low carb craze of the late 1990's and early 2000's we're back to realizing the importance of grains - and watching our carb intake as well. That's a really good ending when you think about it. Grains - or whole grains are healthy for the body. They help lower cholesterol, aid in digestion and give our bodies very important nutrients. Some studies suggest they reduce certain types of cancer such as colon cancer as well.

Just one thing I hope we don't see: A potential whole wheat /whole grain craze. The kind that makes people forget about watching the fats, sugars and most importantly the calories! The Low Carb craze gave birth to products like ice cream and candy bars with only X amount of Net Carbs. (Of course most of us are still trying to figure out what a "net carb" is to begin with) Will the whole wheat / whole grain craze bring us products like whole wheat Cracker Jacks and whole grain Capt'n Cruch?

Forgive the sarcasms here (although it is one of the many services we provide here on "Weighs In") but you and I both know it can happen. In America we're all about crazes. The liquid diet craze. The Low Carb Craze. The bypass surgery craze. The whole wheat whole grain craze. It can happen - so watch your step if you decide to jump on board the grain train!

Going "cold" on Cold Stone Creamery

Okay let's just say - for the sake of argument - that a guy is still hovering around the 240 pound mark a year after his cross country walk to lose weight and champion obesity awareness ended.

And maybe - and again just for the purpose of this column - decides to "research" the latest ice cream rage in this country: The Cold Stone Creamery. And perhaps in the process of conducting this research he takes a giant swan dive into a medium Cheesecake Fantasy Ice Cream with strawberries, blueberries, and graham cracker crust all served on a chilled chocolate waffle bowl. A bowl folks - not a cone here dipped in chocolate - but a bowl made of waffle cone and then covered in chocolate! Okay I confess - I did it - I really did it.

I may be outing myself here but I had to. For three reasons: First, I needed find out what all the rage was about. Every radio disc jockey is talking about their trips to Cold Stone over the weekend. Every nightclub partier seems to head there after a night on the town (as if late night breakfast is no longer the "hip" thing to do?) and every time I drive by one of their ice cream stores the line is out the door as if they are giving the stuff away.

The second reason I did it was research - "Weighs In" seeks to dissect the USA's food obsessions and perverse atmospheres here in the "land of plenty". The country is 65% overweight and 31% obese and I suspect that Cold Stone's clients aren't just the hard bodied Americans out there. When I was there I saw plenty of people caught in the struggle consuming flavors like Oreo Overload, Coco Banana Cabana and Cherry Take double Take. Ahh America - land of hope…and calories. The folks at Cold Stone even offer something called "the Ultimate Bucket" - the ice cream version of KFC's chicken bucket. My word - it's the "Big Gulp" of assorted ice cream! Now I don't mean to be cold on Cold Stone here, but do we need a Jacuzzi sized bucket of Strawberry Shortcake Serenade or Mud Pie Mojo? Okay, maybe the Mud Pie Mojo - but I digress.

Third reason that I went to Cold Stone Creamery… the absolute Jurassic Park of Ice Cream places? You've got to live people! I said it in my book "Big & Tall Chronicles" and I'll say it again: Food is great. This is America. Enjoy it and treat yourself once in a while. You'll only regret it in the morning if you don't strap on that i-Pod and hit the lake or track. The mystic lakes in Medford - that's where you'll find me this morning. The guy with the grin with a large chocolate waffle bowl digesting within…

Gentlemen - Start Your Anythings!
Reaching out to men in need of inspiration

So what exactly is going on with the "guys" out there these days? Gentlemen - work with me please. When I started Generation Excel, The Million Calorie March and even my book "Big & tall Chronicles" - I set out to do something that hadn't been done before. Reach out in a colorful "everyman" fashion to both men and woman who were caught in the weight struggle and were in need of inspiration. Growing up overweight, it was always some what of a surprise to me how many products and programs seemed to be geared towards women. Think about it - 50 years of the weight loss industry and most infomercials, magazines and other media markets only to woman. Well ladies, it doesn't take a genius figure out why - you're the ones buying the stuff! Males just don't reach out for help as much - it's almost as if it's unmasculine these days.

So here I am, not celebrity, not a sports star and not a female - reaching out to the guys out there to get a grip on their girths and find their paths to health before it's too late. And at the end of the day I can't get arrested with these guys. It's always been peculiar to me.

Want some numbers? 90% of the people who show up at my book signings are women. 80% of the audiences at my speaking engagements are women as well. It's a real eye opener - (I mean, I'm not Richard Simmons here, guys!) But now here's something interesting - that statistic flip-flops when I do talk radio. 90% of the callers are men. Does that suggest men are still self-conscious and uncomfortable? Is the 'anonymous" appeal of radio the only way guys will open up? Interesting, isn't it?

Take it from me fellas - step into the light. "You ain't heavy - you're just my brothers!" Once you take the plunge and admit to yourself and others that you really do want to change this - it pushes your inner button in ways you never thought possible. Suddenly you don't care who's scrutinizing your weight anymore. Take it from me - last year I relapsed live on ABC's "Regis & Kelly" in front of 10 million people - gaining weight! Apparently the months of busy planning leading up to the kickoff of the "Million Calorie March" combined with all the going away parties in Boston caught up with me and I'd gained a full 16 pounds - 16 pounds heavier than the press kit in Regis' hand read. Now if I can take one for the team and do that surely you can step up to the plate and admit you've got a problem.

Join me on that road to health, won't you?

The "Fatter Is Healthier" Study

Has anybody seen the latest study by the Journal of the American Medical Association? The newly released study suggests that being overweight might actually be healthier than being of normal weight. My lord…could I have had it right all along? Is anybody else out there confused? According to Dr. William Cochran, a nutritionist and gastroenterologist for Pennsylvania's Health System, "This is going to create confusion".

Thank you Doctor.

Now I've been increasingly skeptical of these studies since the one a few years ago which suggested that "Chocolate is good for you"… I go into this a bit in my book "Big & Tall Chronicles." Of course eventually it was reported that said study was funded by the Mars Corporation…as in the Mars Candy Corporation - makers of fine chocolate bars the world over. It's yet to be known if Krispy Krème or Blimpie Subs is behind this new study - which suggests extra pounds might lead to lower risk of death. I read all I could last week on this study's findings and to be honest - found it short on substance and long on attention-getting sound bites.

Now I'm not a doctor, so I'm not in a position to completely discount this study's findings - but one thing I do know is that you can't say things like "extra weight may be healthy" to Americans. We simply take that ball and run with it in a "let's make a beeline for Ben, Jerry, and Colonel Sanders" way. With obesity - that's called running with the wrong crowd again. In 2005 our country is 65% overweight and 31% obese - call me crazy, but the Statue of Liberty is even looking bloated these days. So do we really need headlines like "Packing on the pounds is not nearly as deadly as the government thought" out there?

Just look at what we did with the advice a little known doctor made years ago about cutting carbohydrates and eating more fatty foods to help lose weight - we created Atkins Nation…where even junk food manufacturers were advertising "Only 10 net carbs!"

Heck, even I'm guilty of taking someone's suggestion and getting carried away with it.
Just ask sports medicine doc Jake Kennedy who suggested that I carbo load the weekend before I ran in the Boston Marathon last month. 45 minutes after he gave me that fateful advice I was in Boston's North End (our version of Little Italy) with Boston City Councilor John Tobin and our wives eating half a dozen rolls and a mountain of pasta my Italian Grandmother Ida could only dream about…

In the end, all these studies do is seep into the national media - create Leno and Letterman one liners - send the fast food sales in the wrong direction and confuse the public - one which is already confused and overdosed by too much conflicting information (See "Gary Weighs In" from February). A spare tire around your midriff is healthier? Here's my plan: Get rid of it first thru diet and exercise - then let the experts speculate on whether it's healthy or not!

Kirstie Alley's "Fat Actress" (Showtime Network)

Talented lady, that Kirstie Alley. First she racked up Emmy Awards for her acting in shows such as "Cheers" and Veronica's Closet. Now she's managed to turn her tabloid weight problem into a successful pitch meeting to the executives at "Showtime". With "Fat Actress" - a TV show which spoofs her own life and mirrors her battles with weight gain, Alley has even managed to turn tacos and cheesecake into a tax write off! Genius.

In the end the show seems to be more about reviving Kirsty's career than about losing weight. It may even eventually work. In the end, Kirsty may lose the weight, remind people how talented she really is and win even more fans than she ever knew she had.

The only downside I can think of is this: When you chronicle your battle of the bulge in front of millions of people they get ultra sensitive around you. I'll go as far as to say "heightened alert" when it comes to eating and food. And EVERYTHING people say comes out like an unintended pun. Kirsty will be noticing this for many years to come whether she ever gets fit or not. It's actually quite comical.

Take it from me. In the 8 months since I returned home from "The Million Calorie March" people have never used sayings around me like "why don't you weigh in on this" "Let's chew on the fat for a while" or "What's the skinny on that?" Nobody tells me "I've got too much on my plate" or "I'm spread too thin" - even if I am. Nobody tells me I'm "larger than life", or refers to the impossibility of anything as a "fat chance".

When you've lost weight in a very public way, no one will ever say "He's worth his weight in gold" or he has a "heavy heart". On the positive side they'll also stay away from negative sayings like "He's not pulling his weight" "He's too full of himself" or "He's not stepping up to the plate enough"

When I do TV talk shows for my book the directors are always afraid to ask the cameraman for a "tight shot" on me or a "wide angle", and nobody ever sings "He ain't heavy… he's just my brother" around me.

"Fat Actress" may wither away to nothing -the way Kirstie herself would like to - or have a long and spirited run on TV - but Kirstie's life, after taking her battle of the bulge public, will most likely never be the same.

But hey, what the heck do I know about losing weight in a high profile way?

Short term solutions vs. Long term solutions

First off, hats off to Martha Stewart. Newsweek's cover features Martha looking happier, healthier and slimmer than before she was convicted. Who knew prison could provide substantial weight loss, a make-over and new lease on life? Not to mention three squares a day and rent free? Could the Martha Stewart "Slammer" Weight loss Plan be far behind?

In America in 2005 - the quick fix and fad diets continue to come at us. The pills. The powders. The hypnosis tapes. One product has even named itself "Fat Assassin". Who knew? All these years I've struggled with my weight and all I needed to do is hire an assassin?

No need to get into anymore names - they're all over your radio, TV, internet and print media everyday. The problem is most of these products claim "the only thing you have to lose is the weight". The problem is that 99% of these diets fail and it's not just the money you'll lose. It's the self esteem you'll lose when yet another attempt to turn your health around fails. And that's not all: The chances of damaging your metabolism as I did are very real. When you lose weight you lose both fat and muscle. But when you gain it back you only gain the fat. Now do that over and over again by trying diet after diet and you can understand how you can scud missile your metabolism. Eventually, no matter how hard you try to eat healthy and exercise the weight loss may be tough. In short, the weight loss doesn't fit the work. Is it any wonder why after years of fad diets it took a nutritionist, a fitness trainer, a therapist, a 1200 mile walk of the east coast, a book, a pediatric obesity foundation and a weight loss documentary for me to lose 150 pounds? Damaged metabolism. Don't let it happen to you my friends.

Instead focus on the long term solutions vs. the short term solutions.. Learn about nutrition. Try eating for what the body needs versus the taste buds. Learn to love exercise again - as I've said over and over again "Hurts So Good" is not just a "John Mellancamp" song! And remember, despite all the claims being made out there, it still really is a game of calories.

These days, after four years, I'm eating roughly 1600 calories of high protein, low carbohydrate food. I try for 5 or 6 small meals vs. 3 big ones. Because of my crazy schedule I'm constantly on the run - so I grab a Slim-Fast shake as a meal replacement or a snack bar on the way out the door. On the exercise front, I'm Cardio Kickboxing two nights per week, playing power tennis two afternoons per week (my own variation of the game where my tennis pro literally runs me from one side of the court to the next for a solid hour) and walking/jogging 5 - 10 miles 6 days per week. On the weekends I load up the I-Pod and do even more miles than that.

And finally, with this "long term" change a permanent part of my world, I feel I could break the 200-pound mark this summer - for the first time since I was 17 years old.

Millions of Americans are caught in the weight loss struggle. I know that you have the power within to dig deep and fix your self. And when you do go for the long term fix!

Stomach Bypass Surgery

Anyone who knows me knows I've been on a pretty radical new diet these last four years called "Eating right and exercise." Now, I don't know if it's going to catch on here in the states, but I sure hope it does. Instead, what seems to have become the rage is stomach surgery or what's been referred to as "stomach stapling" - gastrointestinal bypass procedures or what's more commonly known as "The Surgery."

Now I'm no doctor here, but I believe it's a radical surgery involving stapling off the majority of the stomach, so that the remaining portion of the stomach holds only 1-3 ounces of food. The good news seems to be that it has changed countless thousands of lives for the better - especially those whose weight problems have reached life threatening stages. In terms of surgery related deaths the statistics are low as well…less than 3% which also is good news.

The bad news is that some people seem to be opting to have the surgery for all the wrong reasons. It's not a quick fix. And it's not for cosmetic reasons, although I seem to be meeting many people these days that did opt for the surgery for the "quick fix" of it. Let's hope the medical professionals involved in approving people for weight loss surgery are thoroughly scanning candidates to make sure they are not relying on the surgery 100% to help get the weight off. As my nutritionist Melinda points out: "the surgery is a help. You'll still have to eat right. You'll still have to exercise." So here are my thoughts: How about taking the weight off through eating right and exercising?

During last year's Million Calorie March, a very nice guy came out to walk with me in Connecticut. He had recently had the surgery and was on a 30-day liquid diet until his newly altered stomach had fully healed. A liquid diet? Call me crazy but if you have to go through that couldn't you just… go on a liquid diet? Now, while I'm venting here I should say that while I decided to be a "purist" and fix myself without bypass surgery, I have paid a high price both mentally and physically. This continues to be the battle of a lifetime for me personally. In fact I have gained and lost 8 pounds almost every month since my return last July. My doctors to this day continue to call me "an excellent candidate for the bypass surgery." Why? Because I am committed to exercising every day and eating a low calorie, low carb diet. Those two in conjunction with the surgery would be a 100% success. Alas it's just not for me - but I don't discourage it for others caught in the struggle.

In terms of the pros and cons of the surgery, two examples two examples come to mind: New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weiss (soon to be coaching Notre Dame) and Carnie Wilson (singer form Wilson-Phillips and daughter of Beach Boy Brian Wilson). In the case of Carnie, the surgery went well. She lost the weight and achieved the health, life balance and body she always wanted. Now we don't know the long-term effects of this relatively new and radical surgery, but Carnie seems to be in a good place these days. By comparison the surgery went horribly wrong for Charlie Weiss in the operating room and he almost lost his life. Weiss spent most of the 2003 football season in a motorized chair / bike on the sidelines. An ugly court case with the hospital is about to get underway, and although Charlie has lost some weight, it's unclear if he achieved the results he was looking for or has ever fully recovered from the operation. Lucky for Patriots fans, the surgery didn't affect Charlie's talents on the football field, and the Pats are Superbowl Champions again this year. Charlie Weiss - we shall miss you on that field!

There is one silver lining here to the bypass surgery. Dr. Lee Kaplan of Massachusetts General Hospital's Weight Center explained to me, just before I left for The Million Calorie March, that the surgery does seem to trigger a chemical reaction in the brain that makes people stop eating when they are full. "It's a surgery that occurs in the stomach - yet it somehow affects the brain." If we can study that chemical reaction - and one day have it available in a pill form - millions might be spared from dealing with obesity. Not a bad silver lining at all.

The Information Overdose

So it's the New Year - and how's your Resolution to get fit and healthy going? Not off to a good start you say? Not surprising, and as a lifelong dieter and food enthusiast I have a few ideas why.

You see it everywhere. On TV. In the newspapers. On posters and billboards. In magazines and on the radio. It's constantly coming at us on the internet. And when the media isn't overdosing you with information about how to lose weight, your friends, family, co-workers and collegues are. American's are overdosed with so much conflicting information on how to win the weight battle that it's actually tripping people up. It's only my opinion, but I believe that the overload of advice is adding to the country's collective weight problem. Folks who are finally ready to get healthy seem to be hitting the wall.

It's not simply my opinion - it's based on some real experiences have had of late. At every stop we made during last year's Million Calorie March, my team and I met people who seemed to be ready (after years of frustration and soul searching) and committed to lose the weight and get healthy. The good news was they were coming out to our events at health centers, YMCA's, and sponsor locations. The bad news is they were finding it impossible to navigate thru the massive amount of information (and in some cases misinformation) out there. Indeed, we are overdosed everyday by people, products, TV ads and advice about how to go about it. A typical person today is faced with these daunting situations:

"What diet is best for me?" Do I go high fat, low calorie, high protein or low carbohydrate? Fat free, sugar free, portion controlled or low cholesterol ?Do I want a diet that's heart healthy, metabolism boosting, fat burning or carb blocking? What about name brand diets? Should I try Atkins, South Beach, The Zone or the Eat Right For Your Blood Type Diet? Maybe I'll take the walk-in clinic approach? Should I go Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers or L.A. Weight loss?

When I go shopping should I look out for polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats, hydrogenated fats or Minnesota Fats? In terms of chemicals should I avoid Polysorbate 60, sodium citrate #40, yellow #3 or Mambo number #5? (Okay, that's a song - I'm just testing to make sure you're still paying attention) Do I want more iron, less sodium, more anti-oxidants or less of everything?

What sugar substitutes should I cook with? Splenda, Sweet & Low, Equal or Raw Sugar? Should I avoid Saccharin, Aspartame, Sucrose, or "I can't believe it's not fructose'? What about fiber? Do I want hi-fiber, low-fiber, fiber extract or Molly Mcfiber? In terms of breakfast cereals do I want whole wheat, whole grain, multi-grain or screw it give me the Crunch Berries? And what do you put on cereals? Milk! So do I go with 1%, 2%, Lactose Free milk or Soymilk?

What about choosing a healthy beverage? Do I go Gatorade, Crystal light, Pepsi twist or V8? What about cooking at home? Do I use olive oil, Canola oil, chicken broth or just use PAM in a spray can?

What about exercise and working out? Should I build a home gym, join a fitness club, join a walking group or hire a personal trainer? Do I want a cardio workout, weight training, high impact or low impact aerobics? On the machines do I want more weight, less reps, more reps or less weight? Better yet do I just move a fitness guru right into my home?

So what's the answer to the onslaught of information on our radios, TVs, computers and newpapers? I say go the team diet approach. A registered nutritionist to guide you on the right food choices. A certified fitness trainer on the exercise game. Unless you've got time to get a PHD in health - these may be the most important people you ever convene in your life. As I begin my fourth year of winning at the losing game I can attest to the importance of having the right support team to help you navigate thru the dizzying maze of media information. For a look at my personal team check out the "Ask The Experts" section on this site. Make 2005 the year you finally find your path to health. I know you can do it. Good luck!

The Low Carb Craze

You see it everywhere. On billboards. On menus. On TV. In the magazine aisle. Four years into the country's low carb craze, would it surprise anyone if Dairy Queen comes out with a low carb crunch coat next? And now it appears that one bread company is working on bread made entirely of pork! Well there's a slice of heaven, right?

Soon America's low carb craze may run its course. And I for one, hope the next idea the country focuses on is a low-calorie / low carbohydrate one. At nearly every stop of the Million Calorie March, folks just trying to make sense of the overdose of low carbohydrate diets and products flooding the marketplace asked me about low carb diets -. My answer was always the same - I think it's a good thing that we are recognizing that carbohydrates have had a hand in the nations obesity problem. But clearly, if the statistics are worse now than before low-carb mania hit - common sense should tell us that cutting carbohydrates isn't the end-all, be-all. In my humbled (and winded) opinion, it still a game of calories - a view many nutritionists agree with.

Low calorie/Low carb. Add in some daily exercise and you are on your way to a healing path. Occasionally a menu comes out with both. Sheraton's new menu, for instance does include some dishes (bunless burgers anyone?) that are both low calorie and low carbohydrate. Other companies such as Slimfast have begun running commercials plugging the fact that keeping calories low is still the way to lose weight safely. Let's hope we're seeing the beginning of a sensible new trend. Perhaps then, the nation can succeed.

copyright Gary Marino 2007



Gary Marino with President Bill Clinton in 2006

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