Amidst my whirlwind week of craziness in my life this past week was the unexpected arrival of a big white envelope directly from Brown University. It was from Dr. Rena R. Wing, professor of psychiatry at Brown University/The Miriam Hospital and one of the co-founders of The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) documenting the long-term weight loss success of over 5,000 Americans who have been able to lose at least 30 pounds and keep it off for a minimum of one year.
Last July, I was privileged to join this distinctive group of individuals as a member of the NWCR after losing over 180 pounds and keeping it off for well over a year at the time. However, I expressed my concerns about this supposedly independent research project when I received my first questionnaire and discovered there was a seemingly very explicit bias against people who lost weight by livin’ la vida low-carb like me.
It was very evident in a copy of a magazine article they sent to me in the package with the survey that listed the four following keys to permanent weight loss and weight maintenance success:
1. Eat a reduced-calorie, low-fat, moderately high-carb diet
2. Try to eat breakfast every day
3. Check weight regularly
4. Exercise regularly
With the exception of #1, I could not agree more. But it’s that first recommendation that has people like me who are participating in the NWCR thinking Dr. Wing and the other co-founder, Dr. James O. Hill from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, don’t give a rip about those of us who have successfully maintained our weight on a low-carb diet.
Nevertheless, a new study released by the NWCR in June 2006 shows that the low-carbers participating in the NWCR are seemingly making a difference in the statistics. But those statistics are from 2003, one year before the height of the low-carb popularity reached its climax (I didn’t even START my low-carb lifestyle until 2004!). More recent information is expected to be forthcoming in the next year they say, but we’ll have to wait and see.
You will recall that I blogged about Dr. Wing’s latest study last week showing self-regulation of your weight through frequent weighing and meeting with others are some of the keys to keeping the weight off for good. But you may remember the nutritional approach used to help those who had gained weight to begin losing weight again was the low-fat diet, which was surprising since ostensibly a wide variety of weight loss plans were used by the participants for their intial weight loss. Why was it assumed by Dr. Wing that low-fat eating was the only healthy way to lose weight? Hmmmm?
Getting into the survey packet that was mailed to me last week, Dr. Wing wrote that she is thankful to have my participation in the NWCR and that providing this information is helping them determine what is working best to help people keep the weight off. She may not be as grateful to me about my participation after reading this column today.
There was an excellent fact sheet of statistics about NWCS, including:
- 80 percent are women and 20 percent are men
- The average age of the women is 45 and weighs 145 pounds
- The average of of the men is 49 and weighs 190
- Members lost an average of 66 pounds and kept it off 5.5 years
- Weight loss ranged from 30 to 300 pounds
- Members have kept the weight off for 1 through 66 years
- Varying rates of weight loss, including one that took 14 years
- 45 percent did their own diet, 55 percent followed a program
- 98 percent changed their food intake to lose weight
- 94 percent increased exercise, especially walking
All of this was noteworthy data to see, but the real eye-opening stuff was in the survey itself. Even after they insist there are changes happening with the survey participants regarding their dietary habits, it appears the NWCR is STILL insisting on assuming that people are following a low-fat diet to lose and maintain their weight and that it is the recommended method for eating healthy for weight loss and weight maintenance. ARGH!
Here’s one example of what I’m talking about:
One question asked “Have you used this strategy to maintain or lose weight during the past year and how useful has it been for you?”
The answers were either YES or NO and included “Kept few high-fat foods in your house.” Why is this relevant in the context of weight loss or weight maintenance, especially for people who are livin’ la vida low-carb? OF COURSE I KEPT HIGH-FAT FOODS IN MY HOUSE!!! It’s the macronutrient I am using to fuel my body. What a presumptuous question by the NWCR!
But that’s not all! Here’s another example:
In a section about what foods I eat, it asks about various ways that food is prepared.
“Did you eat chicken?” was one of the questions regarding my eating habits from the past year. When I answered YES there was a follow-up question that asked “How often did you take off the skin or buy skinless chicken?” Again, WHY WOULD I DO THAT? That’s the most healthy part of eating chicken!
Or how about this one–“Did you eat red meat?” When I answered YES, the follow-up question asked “How often did you trim all the visible fat?” Do you see where these questions are heading? Something tells me Dr. Wing didn’t expect ANYONE to answer NEVER, but I did as I’m sure the other low-carbers taking the survey did as well!
When they asked “Did you eat ground beef?” and I answered YES, the follow-up question again presumed low-fat was better by stating “How often did you choose extra lean (very low fat) ground beef?” UGH UGH UGH! Oh yeah, sure, there’s not a bias against low-carb living in that kind of question is there?! HA!
These types of questions went on and on regarding the use of butter, milk, cheese, dressings, and mayonaisse, among other foods. Every single one of the questions about the foods I had consumed wanted to know if I chose the extremely low-fat or fat-free versions. Um, how can I say this in a nice way…NO!
Then there was the section about “other factors influencing weight loss/maintenance” that yet again lays the groundwork assumption that controlling fat intake, calories and portions is the way to control your weight. Here are those sample statements that they asked you to mark either TRUE or FALSE:
Imagine my angst when I read the following statements which didn’t make any sense to this low-carber: “When I have eaten my quota of calories, I am usually good about not eating anymore” and “I count calories as a conscious means of controlling my weight.” What if you don’t count calories, Dr. Wing? That’s why I had to check FALSE for both of these questions.
There was a similar question that asked for varying degrees of answers ranging from “unlikely” to “very likely”–“How likely are you to shop for low calorie foods?” Hmm, let me think…can you say “unlikely?” Duh!
In yet another question a
sking “How much pleasure do you derive from the following activities?,” one of the statements read “Eating a low fat meal.” Can you understand why I would mark NONE AT ALL, Dr. Wing? Eating a low-fat meal is NOT a pleasurable experience for people eating low-carb because it is completely unnecessary for a low-carb dieter to cut back on fat intake. What’s so difficult to understand about that?
I think that’s plenty of examples (although there are many more!) that clearly make my point. Whether they want to admit it or not, the people behind the NWCR are indeed promoting, if not flaunting, a low-fat diet as the only healthy way to lose and maintain weight loss by automatically assuming people who are controlling their weight are eating this way as a lifetime commitment. Some may be doing that, but not all of us. The evidence is obvious from the skewed framework of their survey questions that they want people to make the connection between low-fat and eating healthy.
But wait, there’s more.
In this Medscape article about the NWCR, you will see the following statement made about the participation of low-carb dieters in the survey.
“Extremely few participants (<1%) consumed a very low carbohydrate diet (<24% kcal from carbohydrates, or <90 g of carbohydrates per 1500 kcal). Despite the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets, there is no evidence that such diets are effective in the long term.
All I have to say is so what if less than one percent of the NWCR participants are active low-carbers? That’s STILL about 50 of us who are showing that is CAN be done to not only lose weight but also KEEP IT OFF FOREVER! Adding in the commentary that low-carb is “not effective in the long term” is simply on someone’s opinion, not based in the reality of people just like me and others who have seen permanent weight loss success on low-carb.
In fact, my blogging friend Kent Altena, who has also lost 200 pounds on the Atkins diet and kept it off ever since and is a member of the NWCR, wrote the following at my blog last week regarding his survey.
“I had to laugh at the one-year renewal survey NWCR sent to me yesterday. I just filled my copy last night, and it was still almost entirely focused on if I cared about eating fatty foods or how many calories I was eating. Something tells me I skewed the results again.”
Yep, me too, Kent!
Another one of my readers has a theory about why low-carb participation in the NWCR is so low.
“As you mentioned before, [Dr. Wing] doesn’t have many low-carbers among the study participants–less than 1% according to what I received in her latest mailing. I’m guessing that is because of the referral phenomenon. Weight Watchers people know other Weight Watchers people, not Atkins people, so those are the ones who hear about the study by word of mouth. Plus, the latest round of Atkins dieting started only a few years ago. I don’t think there were that many low-carbers in 1993 when they got started. On the other hand, eating low-carb for life may be harder for most people than it is for us, and that may be why lots of low-carb people don’t keep the weight off in the long term.”
That’s a good point, which is why I have often encouraged successful low-carbers to sign up for the NWCR and prove to researchers like Dr. Wing and the whole world that this way of eating IS working to not only help people lose the weight, but then KEEP IT OFF for the rest of their lives. There’s no way to document this unless people who lose weight on low-carb are involved in the NWCR. So if you have lost 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year, GO SIGN UP!
Sadly, one of my readers at Low-Carb Newsline this week revealed some rather disturbing conflict of interest connections that both Dr. Wing and Dr. Hill have that may be having a profound effect on how they few the survey results that are being used to promote low-fat dieting and regular meetings as the way to maintain weight loss.
You see, Dr. Wing is a pharmaceutical consultant and is on the advisory board for Weight Watchers (ah, now we know why she’s so gung ho about having regular meetings for weight maintance–that kind of information fits the Weight Watchers philosophy like a glove!).
Meanwhile, Dr. Hill is on the advisory board for the Grain Foods Foundation and has consulting ties to PepsiCo, McDonald’s, HealtheTech, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, and Coca-Cola. He has also received speaker fees from Abbott Laboratories, Roche Laboratories, and Kraft Foods as well as research funding from M&Ms/Mars. The Sugar Association has also funded his research on the role of carbohydrates in weight management. Can you guess what he concluded about sugar’s role in weight gain?
Need I go on? What we have here are two individuals purporting to be doing legitimate scientific research on successful weight management while using this platform to promote their own self-serving special interest groups. If you ask me, there is nothing more sickening than to see research pretenders like Dr. Wing and Dr. Hill hiding their true motives in an attempt to make themselves look objective to the general public. Clearly, they are NOT and that’s a crying shame if you ask me.
While I appreciate being a part of the NWCR and will continue to share my sustained weight loss success on the low-carb lifestyle with them in the coming years through this survey, I think it is important to remember what I have written here today about what they are doing. That way the next time you read about the National Weight Control Registry in the newspaper or see a segment about it on the evening news, you’ll know why the advice given may not exactly be right for you.
The NWCR is obviously not about seeking the truth about what works for people regarding weight loss, but rather it is showing favoritism by specifically singling out one particular method–THE LOW-FAT DIET–and hailing it as the only healthy way to lose and maintain weight. That is doing a huge disservice to the tens of millions of people who are struggling to find a way to overcome their weight problem. Low-carb saved my life and has done the same for many others. Why would this amazing way of eating be blacklisted by the NWCR if it is helping so many lose weight and get healthy? It doesn’t make sense to me.
Dr. Rena Wing and Dr. James Hill should be ashamed of themselves! You can share your concerns about their tainted viewpoints regarding a healthy lifestyle by e-mailing them directly at email@example.com for Dr. Wing and CHN@uchsc.edu for Dr. Hill. They need to hear from anyone and everyone who is concerned that they are compromising the scientific integrity of the NWCR. Tell them to STOP pushing their low-fat diet propaganda and to start acknowledging that there are health benefits to a controlled-carbohydrate lifestyle.