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Drastic measures for drastic results: user beware!

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- Col. Michele A. Williams, 459th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander and pharmacist, has 23 years of experience in natural medicine and is an avid cyclist. She currently assists the 459th Air Refueling Wing leadership on the revised Air Force fitness program, which was implemented on July 1, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Steve Lewis)

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- Col. Michele A. Williams, 459th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander and pharmacist, has 23 years of experience in natural medicine and is an avid cyclist. She currently assists the 459th Air Refueling Wing leadership on the revised Air Force fitness program, which was implemented on July 1, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Steve Lewis)

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- There has been and continues to be a considerable amount of buzz regarding revisions to Air Force fitness testing standards this year. What will this mean to unit readiness? What will this mean to individual careers?

According to Air Force senior leaders, during the three months following the launch of the revised fitness program July 1, 2010, the service has seen the percentage of the total force passing the test increase from 77.9 percent to 82.6 percent. Additionally, the rate of Airmen scoring 90 points or greater has nearly doubled since 2009.
Although failure rates throughout the force are now beginning to stabilize, personal concerns over the possibility of failing the new fitness test persist.

With these statistics and AFI 36-2905 in the forefront of wing members' minds, some members are taking drastic and often times unsafe measures to meet the fitness standards. Most of the unsafe measures revolve around quick weight loss, which is the focus of this commentary.

Drastic Measure #1: Wrapping

Although you can pay $80-100 per session, many members are opting to use Saran® wrap at home. The wrap is supposed to aid weight loss (and abdominal inches) through the application of plastic wrap which may or may not be dipped in an herbal or mineral substance. This causes excessive sweating and theoretically the loss of inches needed to meet standards.

Dehydration can be unsafe. With this process the sweat stays on the body, thwarting the body's natural cooling process and raising the body temperature to possibly unsafe levels. Profuse sweating also leads to changes in blood chemistry, thus reducing blood volume and sending less oxygen to the cells. Excessive fluid loss can result in weakness, dizziness, confusion, coma and even death. Some members, desiring to increase their chances of losing inches through this method, use the treadmill with the plastic wrap on which increases fluid loss and the health risks associated with dehydration.

In addition to sweating, cling wrap used for wrapping the stomach is made from Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which has been described through medical and scientific research as one of the most dangerous consumer products. It leaches harmful substances which have been linked to negative effects on the liver, spleen, kidneys, bone formation and body weight. PVC is also linked to cancer.

Plastic wraps do not help you burn fat. All you lose is water weight, which comes right back when you rehydrate your body. Will you take this risk every 90 or 180 days?"

Drastic Measure #2: Detoxifying

The theory behind detox diets for weight loss is that a build up of heavy metals, food additives, and numerous other toxins in fat cells impair the liver's ability to efficiently process fat out of the body because it is too busy processing these toxins. By flushing these toxins out, you are ensuring your body is burning fat and metabolizing calories in the most efficient manner. The problem is that people see them as a one-stop solution to weight loss without considering any potential side effects.

Detox programs can be done through pharmaceuticals, herbals, fruits and vegetables, juicing, gallons of water, fads (such as the lemonade diet), laxative teas or colonics. The flushing process expels toxins along with minerals and electrolytes which are needed by the body to maintain basic nerve and muscle functions. Failure to replace these fluids, electrolytes, and minerals can lead to fatigue and irritability, gastrointestinal distress, headaches, decreased motor function, muscle spasms, convulsions, irregular heartbeat and even death in extreme cases.

While it is easy to lose several pound in the first week during the detox, more weight is gained within the 3 weeks following a detox because of the normal metabolic processes, especially if the detoxer does not make lifestyle changes. The first pounds lost are the easiest, but the more weight loss seen during the detox, the more difficult it becomes to lose more.

Rather than fighting this uphill battle, safe detox programs are effective only as the first step in a larger nutritional and exercise plan. The detox must be followed by a plan that is metabolically adaptive to ensure that the dieter is always burning calories as efficiently as possible and not fighting against their own body.

Drastic Measure #3: Herbal Supplements

In addition to the products used for detoxification, there are herbal supplements used to increase basal metabolic rate (also known as thermogenics), appetite suppressants, fat blockers, insulin potentiators, digestive aids, growth hormone releasers, lipotropics, lipogenesis inhibitors, thyroid activators, medium chain triglycerides, and sugar substitutes, just to name a few. Did I confuse you? Do you know what you are taking and why?

That's a basic problem with herbal and nutraceutical products...there's so much hype - how do you know what you are using is safe, effective, and the best product for your needs? This commentary doesn't have enough space for me to answer all your questions here.questions).

So what is the answer?

Many of you already know it - Nutrition and Exercise. I will not address exercise/fitness in this commentary, but I will leave you with a helpful challenge. A 30 day challenge that no one may have told you about which, if religiously followed, will get you started toward a lifelong healthy weight. Try it for 30 days, just 30 days, and if you don't see some positive results and feel better, then go back to your Twinkies and continue doing what you've always done while expecting to see a different result!

1. Eliminate all fast foods.
2. Eliminate all processed foods (that's the stuff that comes in a box or a bag).
3. Eliminate all wheat products (pasta, bread) with gluten and focus on gluten free products and whole grains like rice.
4. Eliminate any "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" soybean, sunflower, etc oil.
5. Eliminate all butter and added oil (that includes the "healthy" olive oil, especially in "healthy" salad dressings). Avoid fried foods all together.
6. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
7. Eat salad first, soup second to fill up, then grains.
8. Reduce fat calories to 10% of your diet, and keep sodium below 2000mg per day. How do you do that easily? Re-learn how to read nutritional labels by only looking at fat calories and sodium content (and ingredients for hidden junk that is put into packaged foods):

Click here for an example of a "bad" food

Click here for an example of a "good" food

Having been in the natural medicine field for 23 years, my experience has not seen a single panacea or quick fix that works for everyone all the time. The state of your "unhealthy" did not happen overnight, nor will your results in attempting to "fix" your health happen overnight. Fortunately, there are many tools that can get you started quickly and assist in the maintenance of good health., so get started on the 30 day challenge!

In summary, choose wisely the best methods to achieve your goals. After all, the intention of the Air Force fitness program is to maintain lifelong fitness and health. Health benefits will increase productivity, optimize health, and decrease absenteeism while maintaining a higher level of readiness.