Chiropractic + Naturopathic Doctor

The Dish on Dieting

By Ania Bogacka   

Features Nutrition Wellness

Smart food choices and activity versus the quick fix

28Weight issues lay heavily upon Canadians, literally. More than half of us are overweight, with almost a quarter classifiable as obese (23 per cent), according to data from the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS).(1)

Obesity starts when the Body Mass Index (BMI) reaches values of 30 or higher; values between 25 and 29 indicate that one is overweight, and over 40 equates with extreme obesity. By being obese or overweight, more than 15 million Canadians may be at risk of hypertension, diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, asthma, sleep apnea and other respiratory problems, as well as endometrial, breast, and colon cancer.(2)


The future does not bode well if there is truth behind research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, which predicts that as many as 80 per cent of Canadians will be overweight by 2015.(3) Alarmingly, obesity rates among children are also on the rise, increasing from three per cent (children aged 2 to 17) in 1979 to eight per cent in 2004, according to the data from CCHS.

At the same time, the incessant promotion of thinness by contemporary culture and mass media incites women of healthy weight to shed pounds.(4) An unrealistic beauty image and dissatisfaction with one’s body are reflected in the great number of Canadian women suffering from different types of eating disorders. An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 Canadian women aged 13 to 40 are afflicted with anorexia nervosa. Twice as many are bulimic. Forty per cent of nine-year-old girls report dieting.

An unrealistic beauty image and dissatisfaction with one’s body are reflected in the great number of Canadian women suffering from different types of eating disorders.

Chiropractors are often asked for advice regarding effective diet plans since many patients are interested in improving the quality of their lives. “I hear the question about nutrition on a daily basis, almost during every visit,” admits Dr. Joanne Hubley of St. Catharines.

While effective weight management includes at least two components – healthy eating choices on a daily basis and regular physical activity – most people associate weight-related issues with being on a diet. According to data from NPD Group Canada Inc., 64.1 per cent of adult females and 35.9 per cent of adult males were on a diet in 2001.(5) Although losing weight requires burning more calories than the body takes in, either by reducing caloric intake or increasing caloric expenditure – or preferably both – most simply take the diet route. This approach is steering people in the wrong direction, says Dr. Hubley: “One cannot achieve long-lasting weight loss while continuing a sedentary lifestyle.”

Unfortunately, fully 55 per cent of Canadians are considered physically inactive and at least 57 per cent of Canadian adults are considered insufficiently active for optimal health benefits.(6) To decrease these numbers, Hubley spreads the message of “get moving” to her patients. She especially encourages her female patients, for whom losing weight lowers the risk of breast and cervical cancers, to start moving.
 “Women are preoccupied with their appearance, and want to take off weight in order to be slim and look nice,” says Hubley.  “I try to persuade them that once they begin moving, weight loss will come eventually and the effect will be long-lasting.” Every last one of her patients is introduced to an individually customized exercise plan. “I have to stay in tune with my patients, and listen to their needs and habits,” notes Hubley. “If they are not used to exercising, it takes time for them to accept the importance of physical activity.”

When it comes to health issues such as weight imbalance, there are no shortcuts.  For those who need to drop some pounds, a gradual decline of one per cent of total body weight per week is the healthiest method, and many of the popular commercial diet plans promise no more than that. Unless a person’s health is seriously at risk due to complications from being overweight or obese, rapid weight loss should be avoided, since unwanted consequences may include the development of gallstones(7) as well as a speedy weight gain when the dieter goes back to normal eating patterns. Weight fluctuations, described as the yo-yo syndrome, might even pave the way for eventual heart disease.(8)

It is hypothesized that shedding just 10 per cent of body weight – for those who are simply too fat – can cut the risk of several diseases by as much as 50 per cent.(9)

With excess weight, joints are the first to suffer. “For every 10 pounds you lose, you take 40 pounds off your joints,” says Hubley. Indeed, osteoarthritis(10) and back pain(11) are reportedly the most common musculoskeletal conditions among obese individuals.

If a reduction in weight is intended to be permanent, it has to be done properly. Diet programs that incorporate food and nutrition coaching are most likely to produce the desired results. “I find all diets that are against the golden rule of eating (three meals, two snacks daily) to be bad, when the goal is to achieve weight loss,” says Hubley. “In my opinion,” she adds, “Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig seem to be successful since they teach you about the principles of proper nutrition, balancing a diet, and they encourage physical activity.”

Sadly, promises of miraculous diets or “fat-burning” pills are much more appealing than changing eating habits and taking out a gym membership. Extremes such as the recently popular low-carb diets, fasting, injections of all sorts, or radical detox systems often cause more harm than good. For example, recent findings about the Atkins diet that were published in Lancet(12) indicate that a low-carb diet tends to increase the levels of ketones in the liver, possibly resulting in ketoacidiosis, which can be a life-threatening complication.

“Forget about diets! Make good food choices instead … and get moving!” is the sensible advice dispensed in Dr. Hubley’s clinic.•

—By Ania Bogacka, a Toronto-based freelance writer
Editor’s Note: References for this article appear online at

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