Recently Oprah Winfrey announced that she was tipping the scales at over 200 pounds and she was ashamed. To help combat her weight she has assembled her “star studded” group of individuals to offer guidance about why she has gained the weight and what she can do to lose the weight and keep that weight off.
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Oprah admits that this is her fault, that with all her accomplishments this is the one thing she has been unable to accomplish, and for this she offers us some clues as to why she gained the weight. Before we go through the “stars” and what they can or cannot offer, let’s see the reasons she lists for her weight, and take the skeptic Doc’s eye to those reasons.
She tells us that she was “listless” and has discovered that she has a hypo-active thyroid. Sounds reasonable. But what is the evidence that having a hypoactive thryoid leads to weight gain. For years we have known that an over-active thyroid can lead to weight loss, and a very underactive thryoid can be linked to weight gain.
Recently a review of over 2400 men and women in the Framingham study were examined for their thryoid function and found that some individauls who had “normal” levels of thryoid function but on the low side, had some weight gain. In examining this over 3.5 years, they found that lower functioning thryoid patients had an average weight gain of about five pounds. Not the 40 pounds. In men, these increases were even less. However, at this low level they could not say that thryoid hormone treatment would be warranted.
Oprah’s thyroid problem, according to her website has stabilized, and she is no longer taking thyroid medication. So was it her thyroid? Being a skeptic, I don’t think so. Oprah also blamed her “food addiction.”
What is a food addiction? Since we need food, is it an addiction? I don’t think so. She states that she doesn’t have a weight problem, she has a “self-care” problem that manifests it through weight.
The answer is simpler — Oprah ate too much. It wasn’t her thryoid, it wasn’t her spiritual core, it was her weight. As a weight loss physician, the first step to losing weight isn’t medication, it isn’t psychology, there isn’t an “addiction” to food — it is accountability. I can place a laparoscopic adjustable band in almost anyone, but if they are unwilling to admit that it is what they eat, and how much they eat, as the root cause of their excess weight, then their chance of losing weight and keeping it off is small.
This brings us back to her “star studded” panel of weight loss experts. The question a good skeptic would ask is this — what is the evidence? Here is the experiment: take the panel of stars, give them an assignment, and see how well they do. Over the last number of years Oprah has had Bob Greene, now Dr. Oz, and a few dozen spiritual and psychological advisors. The experiment is we give you this panel — don’t have to buy the book, and they tell you what to do. You get someone to cook your meals, and all the supplements that the think you need. What is the result of the experiment? — Oh, she gained 40 pounds (that she admits to).
Oprah is known for having a number of quacks on her show. She advocates homeopathy, that has no evidence based medicine to back it up, as well as accupunture — as well as Chi-gong. Any evidence in medicine these work? None. More about those on future episodes of skepticdoc.
The bottom line for the skeptic doc is this. Weight gain comes from eating. There is no “food addiction,” there are cravings. It isn’t stress, it isn’t menopause, it isn’t from spiritual depravation (whatever that is). It is from eating too much.
Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.