`Never mind' lays waste to years of good habits

February 14, 2006|By SUSAN REIMER

News arrived last week that a low-fat diet does not reduce a woman's risk of getting cancer or heart disease, and my girlfriends and I feel bitterly betrayed.

A federal study that cost $415 million and included 50,000 women found no health benefits for those who spent eight years on a low-fat diet. (Apparently, the women didn't lose any weight either. I could have told the scientists that for $1.98.)

The way my friends and I figure it, the medical community owes us an apology and a huge pizza party. And Ben & Jerry's ice cream for life.

We believed them when they told us to cut the fat out of our diets, and now they tell us it doesn't matter. We're just as likely to die of breast cancer, heart attack, stroke or colon cancer as all the women who have been eating Boardwalk fries for the last eight years.

We are angry and bitter. And we are just cynical enough to wonder what else doesn't matter. I mean, is there a multimillion-dollar study of tens of thousands of women out there right now, waiting to spring upon us the fact that flossing does not prevent plaque build-up on your teeth?

Are they going to tell us that exfoliation doesn't matter, either? And you don't really have to change the oil in your car every 3,000 miles?

I can hear it now. My manicurist will come out with a study that says women who file their nails the wrong way are not any more likely to get hangnails. And rubbing your cuticles with cream and gently pushing them back doesn't do anything either.

I predict that we will soon learn that calcium does not prevent osteoporosis and reading to your children at night does not make them readers. We will find out that Pap smears are a waste of everybody's time, mostly because your diet is going to kill you anyway, and treating spots before you launder doesn't do any good either.

Among the preventive measures that I predict will also be discredited: sunscreen, fish oil, baby aspirin for heart attacks, hormones for hot flashes, 64 ounces of water a day and breath mints.

I am waiting for the day when my hairdresser tells me that there is no point covering the gray because the rest of me betrays my age and my yoga teacher tells me that stretching before exercising is highly overrated and, as a matter of fact, exercise isn't all that important either.

I foresee the time when they tell us that making time for your spouse isn't any more likely to save your marriage, that writing a thank-you note is no longer necessary because no one expects to get one, and that the economy has rendered IRAs and 401(k)s wholly inadequate as hedges against the bankruptcy of Social Security.

Soon, some social scientist somewhere will report that we don't really need to "give back" to the community because, if everyone did, there wouldn't be anyone left to do anything for and what would be the point of selflessness then?

Not only are we going to find out that the things we make time to do will not add a single minute to our lives, but the things that we felt guilty about not doing have actually shortened our time here on earth and poisoned it with guilt.

Nonetheless, my mind keeps coming back to the 29,000 women who struggled - unsuccessfully, it was reported - for eight years to reduce the fat content of their diets to 20 percent. Apparently, they were regularly prodded by the researchers to stick to the diet, and they received intense counseling.

Pity the guy who had to tell those women that it didn't matter.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

To hear audio clips of selected Susan Reimer columns, go to baltimoresun.com/reimer.

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