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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

W hat does a local dietician say about weight loss? "In this area," says Kara Walker of Scripps Clinic, "exercise and fitness play a big part in everyone's life. The problem is, a lot of people get into programs thinking exercise is the way to lose weight. They're often misled. You don't burn a lot just exercising. There is certain evidence of an increase in basal metabolic rate. But it's something you do over the long haul.

"We eat way too much fat in the American diet. Right now, the typical diet yields 42% fat. I encourage people to get that down to 30% or less. Try to get more from complex carbohydrates--whole-grain breads, dried beans, fresh vegetables and fruit. Right now, the typical diet is 45% carbohydrates. It should be at least 60%. The body is simply more efficient on carbo fuel. It's more likely used as an energy source than stored as fat. Fat is almost always stored as fat.

"Fat is really insidious, almost evil in its insidiousness."

She laughed. "We in California like avocados, nuts, cheeses, and all of those are maybe 80% fat. In some cases, 80 to 90%. Olives also are high in fat.

"A lot of people want to hear something magic about food and losing weight, but the truth is, there is no magic. It's all pretty basic and easy to understand. We have a lot of fat-free alternatives: We can dilute whole milk, then go with low-fat or maybe non-fat. If recipes call for cheddar cheese, which is very high in fat and cholesterol, we can go to mozzarella, which is low in fat. Colby and jack cheeses are also high-fat. Feta and Swiss are medium-fat cheeses.

"Fried foods are best eliminated. Period. Especially in restaurants."

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