Sam Bauman: Diet and exercise still needed, even if pills



With the holidays fast closing in and the extra food we will be tasting, the news of an FDA-approved diet pill is good news. Not that it ends the need for diet control and continued exercise, but it’s an OTC version of another drug.

At the same time, the Mayo Clinic Health letter issued a special report on weight loss. I suspect that many will jump for the new pill but will not know about the Mayo report, which is not as good news as the diet pill. The critical thing about the new pill and the Mayo report is that both come with the standard requirements — diet restrictions and continued exercise. Doctors and diet advisers have been for years holding that diet control and continuing exercise are the critical requirements for weight control.

Here’s the news about the new diet pill — now that it’s really new, but that it’s an OTC version of an earlier pill:

“The Food and Drug Administration has, for the first time, approved an over-the-counter diet pill that will be available to anyone without a prescription.

“The drug, called Alli, is intended for people over 18 and represents a reduced-strength version of the prescription diet drug Xenical.” Alli reportedly said that it needs to be used along with proper dieting and regular exercise or it will have no effect on weight.

Trials showed that for every 5 pounds people lost through diet and exercise, those using Alli lost an additional 2 to 3 pounds. It is supposed to be taken with meals and block the absorption of about one-quarter of any fat consumed. This means that around 150-200 calories can be passed out through stool that way. The drug, however, has gastrointestinal side effects that appeared in over 5 percent of people who had used it.

Those using blood thinners should not try Alli without checking with their doctors, So Alli will be good news for many trying to lose weight, but it is not a complete fat burner. You still have to be mindful of your diet and you must have an exercise program.

I have for years followed an exercise program of about 90 minutes a day. It’s a program that has grown over the years. I began the program chiefly so that as I aged I could continue to enjoy the ski slopes.

But I’m confident that the program has played a major role in keeping my weight at a steady 150 pounds for years. Added to that is my diet. I cook most of my meals myself, sometimes when pressed for time using a Weight Watcher’s frozen dinner but always with a fresh green salad with fruit and jalapeños included. Without the exercise program, I doubt that I would be tuning my skis already.

The Mayo report notes that to embark on a weight loss program means that you must evaluate your motive to change your dining and exercise life. Almost all of us over 65 know how important exercise and diet control are. We my not be motivated by the knowledge that being overweight and easily eating uncritically can shorten our lives. But that can be brushed aside.

Your weight loss goal — how much do you want to weigh — can be basically holding your own or a specific loss of pounds.

OK, so you’re going to lose weight. You started out with a program and have enjoyed a steady but slow loss of pounds. But then you get stuck, even though you’re doing the same right things. You’ve hit the dreaded “weight loss plateau.” This happens to almost all of us trying to lose weight. Early on you’re losing weight because natural glycogen storage is made of a lot water. That means you start out fast because the glycogen stores aren’t being replaced. You are also reducing your muscle mass, by exercise, and muscle weighs more than fat.

As you continue your program fighting to get off the plateau, you build muscle and the scale just won’t go down. Continuing on your program and you will again start losing — slowly perhaps, but an accomplishment. And sometimes plateaus are the result of slipping back to old pre-program levels.

Goals vary with all of us. But you don’t have to become a bodybuilder to be a success. “Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight won’t come from some magic miracle drug or the latest fad. It will come from a lifelong approach that combines a healthy diet, regular exercise and behavior change. (Take that, Alli!) This will take preserving, but the benefits you’ll reap for your health and happiness are, will worth the effort.” So writes the Mayo report.

More on this next week.

Sam Bauman writes about senior issues for the Nevada Appeal. Check out his blog at


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