TV ads seesaw from food to diet: How do you resist?

If you watch television without using a DVR to skip the ads, you'll notice a lot of spots plugging high-fat foods.

And nearly as many touting weight-loss plans.

Is this crazy, or what? One minute we're salivating over images of crispy, golden fried chicken (with biscuits, mashed potatoes and gravy) and the next we're being told to blast off the pounds with the latest and greatest fat-destroying plan, pill or gadget.

Over and over, our poor brains seesaw between being tempted by decadent treats and feeling guilty that we've overindulged in them.

It's little wonder that numerous studies prove that the more TV you watch, the more you tend to weigh.

If you think you're the one that's crazy, relax. It isn't you. There's something wrong with the messages you're getting. It takes a wise person not to be misled by such solicitations.

For one thing, none of this food looks as good in reality as it does on TV. If you Google "food vs. reality," you'll come across plenty of websites with side-by-side pictures of well-known products (such as the Burger King Whopper) as they appear on their advertisements and when bought at retail. The comparisons will amaze you.

Want that TV glamour? Here's a "recipe'' on the site revealing how to make roast chicken look camera-ready: "Wash the chicken with plenty of detergent to clean off any fat from the surface. Turn the chicken over and pull the skin tight. Sew up with a needle and thread. ... Stuff the bird tightly with wet paper towels. This keeps the bird plump and creates steam.

"Tie the legs securely with thread. Roast the chicken until the skin gets bumpy and dry. ... Brush or spray the bird evenly with coloring mixture (red and brown food coloring or molasses mixed with water, oil and a drop of soap) until it reaches the perfect brown color but is still plump and juicy looking.

"Need more color? Use a blowtorch to brown ... any parts that may still be pale. (Don't try this at home!) Finally, spoon on a clump of stuffing to cover up the paper towels inside. Still hungry?"

Yet our brains still imagine that this paper towel-stuffed bird is delicious. We even react physically: Saliva starts flowing and the cravings push us toward the refrigerator.

So we fix a plate, sitting down just in time for a dieting ad.

Countless people experience this psychological dilemma every day. How can we make ourselves less susceptible to these deceptive pitches?

The first step is to become better informed. The more you know about nutrition, the less impact food commercials will have on you.

Consider that colorful fruits and vegetables have the most nutrition. Then notice that almost all ads for fast food products have little color beyond the packaging.

Also, the more you know about unhealthy fats and their negative effects on your body, the faster you'll recognize that the luscious-looking stack of pancakes with gobs of butter and syrup, fried eggs, bacon, sausage and fried potatoes is little more than a heart attack on a plate.

On the other side of the ledger, the sooner you figure out that fad diet programs don't produce lasting weight loss, that the dieting industry makes most of its money from return business, and that most claims are misleading, the more skeptical you will be. Instead of letting big losers' air-brushed "after" photos make you beat yourself up, you'll wonder just how much camera magic those images took.

You'll want to focus on gradual but permanent lifestyle changes that will end the old cycle of defeat. Let's be clear: There are no "get thin quick" tricks, no matter how many TV pitches you see to the contrary.

Advertisements are created to stretch the truth to make you buy. You're responsible for becoming a savvy consumer.

So let's not let misleading ads fool us, control us or make us feel badly about ourselves. Fast-forward through those ads, and shut off the TV unless there's something on that you really want to see.

Or become skilled at spotting what's wrong with the ads. Make it into a game -- you might call it, "Huh! Nice Try."

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service

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