By Alan Koenigsberg, M.D.

A few months ago, several of my friends from my shul went to our biannual Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs (FJMC) convention in Philadelphia, mostly to support and share one of our friends’ receiving a national service award. The camaraderie was terrific and I plan to attend future conventions.

There were some 450 men who registered and we shared many small meetings, some large ones and many meals together. Over the four days, one thing caught my attention more than any other: the pervasiveness of obesity present.

This is nothing new. I believe my surprise is simply that I have not been around so many people for several years and this convention was the first time I fully realized how many of these men were obese.

Not just overweight, mind you, but seriously obese. From what I have read in my medical journals, one-third of our adult population is overweight and an additional one-third is obese.

A few days ago, several of us from that convention had a Zoom meeting. Mostly physicians, but also a dentist, a pharmacist and an educator. We are putting together a group among us who will work toward encouraging health in general in our membership and healthy weight in this particular situation.

Our first meeting was more of a get-to-know-each-other and to plan our meetings and strategy. As of our first meeting, we have agreed to meet again next month and start working on concrete plans we can implement in our individual shuls.

There was much excellent discussion among the 10 of us and we seem to get along well, with minimal confrontation or argument about our ideas and thoughts.

Getting to a healthy weight and staying there is an epidemic in our country, with no clear explanations and no clear solutions. We have all heard and read about diets, exercise, counting calories, counting carbs and so on.

I vividly remember the Atkins regime, South Beach diet, paleo diet, intermittent fasting, keto diets and others.

We have used various stimulants in the past to help facilitate weight loss and they have worked for some people.

It’s my impression we have so many opinions because few of them are sustainable or work for most people.

And, more recently, we have had various injections made available to us, mostly for people with diabetes, used off-label, to curb appetite, slow stomach release of food and have us lose weight medically. They generally do work, have some side effects, need to be injected weekly and are extremely expensive if not covered by medical insurance.

And then there is the counterpoint about “fat shaming.” I wish to be clear that I am facing this situation as a physician, striving to help people prevent obesity-related medical complications, not at all from a cosmetic or judgmental place.

As we progress in our FJMC group, I will continue to share our thoughts and recommendations. My intent is to provide relevant, science-based, useful and practical information and recommendations to help those who wish to move forward with their health.

Sooner rather than later, I plan to initiate some programs at our local shul and have them open them to the public. We may include walking, weight training, what to eat and any other ideas and concepts that have been shown to work for most people long-term.

Any and all suggestions are welcome.

It is no coincidence that this group is forming as we prepare for our High Holidays. I would like to wish to all a happy and healthy upcoming New Year.

Alan Koenigsberg, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at UTSW Medical School in Dallas. He can be reached at akoenigsberg@mac.com.

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