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VAMCs offer dietary wisdom.

If you are one of the estimated 39% of U.S. adults trying to lose weight or 36% trying to maintain the same weight, dieticians are your allies in a very winnable war.

Surveys show that Americans spend nearly $3.4 million annually for weight loss products and services. With some private insurance companies not covering dietary services, individuals often pay the entire cost.

Fortunately, free nutrition counseling is available to eligible veterans at most VA medical centers.

Countless health-related studies cite a need for balancing a steady diet with a regular exercise program. Unfortunately, a disability can limit or even eliminate the possibilities of meaningful cardiovascular exercise. That's when the role of dieting takes center stage, according to Karen Arnold, chief of Nutrition and Food Service at the San Francisco VA Medical Center (VAMC).

"For those who are disabled and cannot exercise as much, dieting and nutrition becomes increasingly important," Ms. Arnold said.

Most VAMCs and outpatient clinics offer free dietary education and services, including information, testing, and plans of action for health-conscious disabled veterans.

While several factors, including family history and general health history, play major roles in the prevention of diseases such as diabetes and cancer, dieting can also be an excellent way to prevent major illnesses before medical intervention is necessary.

With all of the seemingly contradictory dietary information available today, it's hard to pick a plan of action suitable to your dietary needs. Among a variety of services, VA dieticians can provide a sensible and sustained dietary plan to help take weight off and keep it off.

"Quick fixes" are prevalent on the dieting landscape these days, Ms. Arnold said, but VA dieticians don't recommended so-called crash diets as a healthy way to lose weight or maintain weight loss. These diets often do little to eliminate fat and lower cholesterol, and worse still, often decrease lean muscle mass.

The "roller-coaster" effect is also prevalent in fad diets.

"These diets tend to be very restrictive, and once you go back to your regular eating habits the weight comes right back," Ms. Arnold said. "You gained the weight gradually, that's how you should lose it."

Losing weight can mean more for a dieter than shedding pounds. Studies show dieting can add years of life.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 16 million Americans are afflicted by diabetes, a predominantly diet-related disease. The prevalence of the disease "increased dramatically" during the 1990s.

A recent CDC study found that lifestyle changes in diet and exercise can prevent or delay the disease. What's more, recent analysis of 29 weight loss studies completed by the University of Kentucky found that up to five years after dieting, dieters were able to keep off an average of seven pounds they originally lost. Considering the average person gains three to 13 pounds over a five-year period, the maintenance of this weight loss was estimated by researchers to be as good as maintaining a body weight up to 20 pounds lighter than the dieter would have weighed without weight loss from dieting.

Sustaining this weight loss takes a combination of dedication and education, both of which can be provided by VA dietitians.

Like a good mechanic, a VA dietician can help you keep your engine running smoothly for years to come.

"Your body is like a car--Take good care of it, fill it with the best gas and oil, and provide it what it needs and it will perform well,"Ms. Arnold said. "The bottom line is that you want your body to last and perform."

For more information about free dietary education and services, contact your nearest VAMC or visit the Veterans Health Administration Nutrition Website at

Editor's Note: The VA Office of Food and Nutrition contributed to this article
COPYRIGHT 2002 Disabled American Veterans
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:VA Medical Center
Author:Lewis, Rob
Publication:DAV Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
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