April 1, 2003

Fletcher '74 Speaks on Weight Control, Health

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Janet Liao

Fletcher lecture

Students, faculty and community members filled Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium last night to hear Anne Fletcher ’74, a health and medical journalist, dispel misconceptions about weight control in a lecture entitled “Winning at Weight Control: What We Can Learn from Maintainers.”

“You don’t have to be thin to be healthy and fit,” Fletcher said, challenging myths about weight control, addressing not only overweight people but also audience members with scholarly interests and people wanting to prevent weight gain and those battling eating disorders.

Fletcher addressed weight-loss myths, including the impossibility of weight loss for people over 40, people overweight since childhood and yo-yo dieters.

She also bridged the gap between the media’s conveyance of unrealistic body images and messages about the hopelessness of permanent weight control by showing findings from her studies and writings about people who have overcome lifestyle problems.

Fletcher said that a report in Time Magazine found that each year, an estimated 80 million Americans go on a diet, “but no matter how much weight they lose, 95 percent gain it back within five years.”

However, Fletcher noted that the odds of losing weight permanently are greater than what people believe. The statistics from the report are based on national university weight-loss programs and “tend to attract the toughest cases of people trying to lose weight,” she said. People who lose weight on their own through Weight Watchers or exercise usually are not included in these statistics.

“The success rate for permanent weight loss is four to five times greater than we believe,” Fletcher said, citing a nationwide random telephone survey of 500 adults over 18 on weight loss and prevention.

“Even if the odds are only 5 percent, why don’t we pay more attention to these people?” Fletcher said, emphasizing the importance of learning from people who have succeeded in losing a significant amount of weight and have kept the weight off for six or more years.

“Psychologists tell us one of the best ways to tackle a problem is to learn from other people who have been there,” she added.

Fletcher’s emphasis on the behavioral change required for permanent weight loss differentiates her approach from the methods of many dietitians today that focus mainly on the calculation of fat grams and calories for weight control.

“If we don’t understand behavior change, we can’t help people change their habits,” she said, explaining the motivational strategies observed in her study’s control group.

Fletcher said that celebrity and guru dieting fail for most dieters because those diets are based on one individual’s experience. Instead, she emphasized the importance of achieving a “comfortable body weight,” which she defines as the weight where one “feels pretty good,” experiences no weight-related medical problems and does not have to starve and exercise fanatically.

“Losing weight is much more than counting fat grams and calories,” Fletcher said, quoting Linda T, a woman in her study who was able to lose and keep off a significant amount of weight. “It involves dealing with the entire person. Before you can work on the exterior body, you have to work on the mind.”

Audience members responded positively to Fletcher’s methodologies.

“Fletcher’s research and approach give a really positive message about how some people can succeed in achieving a lifelong healthy weight without deprivation or going to extremes,” said Myra Berkowitz, nutritionist at Gannett: Cornell University Health Services.

Chinyelum Morah ’04 said that what she gathered from the lecture was “encouraging and made [her] excited about making changes [in her lifestyle].”

“I think these changes will be less painful than what I am doing at the moment,” she said, referring to her current approach for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

“[Fletcher] is the leading expert on post-diet weight control in the U.S.,” said Barry Le Vine ’04, Cornell Fitness Center’s outreach coordinator and coordinator of Fletcher’s lecture.

“Weight loss is a subject relevant to many people and her individualized message can really change lives,” he added.

Fletcher is the author of the national bestseller Thin for Life: 10 Keys to Success from People Who Have Lost Weight and Kept it Off, one among her four diet and health books that address lifestyle problems.

Fletcher said that this was her first time addressing the entire community at Cornell and that she feels privileged to participate in the campus’s health mission.

Fletcher’s lecture was the first out of six events for “Spring Into Good Health,” a six-day event series designed to promote exercise, wellness and healthy living on campus. Other events in the series include a silent auction on Ho Plaza, a fitness fundraiser and a benefit concert. Proceeds for the week’s events will go toward the “Have a Heart” campaign for the American Heart Association.

Archived article by Janet Liao

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