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Weight loss is a multibillion-dollar industry. It includes programs--the good, the bad, the ugly -- that worsen a weight problem, promise to change it overnight or, in the rare cases, promote healthy lifelong change. It is especially important now. A federal panel has just concluded that weight loss is as serious a national problem as smoking. In a three-part series, The Times takes a look at the impact of weight loss programs on people in San Diego County--from diet to exercise programs, from snake-oil remedies to the traumas of morbid obesity. Today's segment takes a look at the medical repercussions--psychological and physical--of "the problem that won't go away."

April 08, 1985

D r. James Ferguson, a psychiatrist and local authority on weight loss, says television can be a dieter's worst enemy, the biggest stumbling block to effective "behavior modification." Eating in front of a television is said to be one of the worst bad habits. Behavior modification experts advocate eating all meals (a "snack" is a meal, they say) at "the meal table," whether at home or in a restaurant.

Now one group has a plan that may make television a constructive medium in fighting fat. Ferguson is affiliated with the Stouffer's Food Corp., which packages the (300-calorie) Lean Cuisine frozen entrees sold in supermarkets. "Living Lean" is a food plan proffered by Stouffer's that takes the form of a videotaped soap opera. The actors who play the parts all lost weight, Ferguson said, during the 15-week taping of the series in Pittsburgh.

Episodes focus on behavior modification (how not to use television); eating lean, healthy, nutritionally safe meals; avoiding junk food and fad diets, and sidestepping the pitfalls that stress imposes on a daily regimen.

Ferguson, medical director of the La Jolla Eating Disorders Clinic and a faculty member at the UC San Diego Medical School, shows up as one of several "guest experts." He's hopeful that the series will be "revolutionary" in one vital way: "Showing people how to lose weight, rather than telling them."

Stouffer's says the tapes will be available soon --perhaps in your local supermarket.

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