It's not hard to understand why the majority turn to diet pills, hoping for an easier way out.

Losing weight is both simple and complex. We know that it's a matter of calories in vs. calories out. That seems simple enough. But, considering there are 61 million obese Americans, it's obvious we have not learned how to gauge how much is going in vs. coming out - or how to control it, anyway. And while it's reported that more and more people understand the importance of regular exercise and a healthful diet, and that a greater number of individuals are turning to fitness centers to help them, beginning and sticking to such a lifestyle is much more complex. So, it's not hard to understand why the majority turn to diet pills, hoping for an easier way out.

Last week, I received a survey in the mail from a major health organization, of which the name escapes me. I'm not sure how I got on their mailing list, but I did answer the survey. It asked questions like, "How many times a week do you exercise?" and "What do you believe are the major health hazards you need to worry about?" (One of the answers was obesity.) The last question was interesting, though. It asked something to the effect of, "Do you think that a major breakthrough for a diet pill will occur in the next 10 years?" To which I answered "no." But a few days later, as I was reading the paper, I suddenly wished I hadn't been so quick to return my survey. On the front page, it was reported that an FDA advisory panel voted 11-to-3 in favor of making Xenical available without a prescription under the trade name Alli. Xenical reportedly "acts by keeping about 25 percent of the fat a person consumes from being absorbed; this fat is passed from the body in stools that can be loose or oily."

And, while the manufacturers of this over-the-counter diet pill recommend combining it with a regular program of exercise, it's still a diet pill. The majority of individuals who turn to this drug to help them lose weight will use it as their only weight-loss method; exercise will play no role. It's the easy way out.

That is, if it works. During trials, "obese people who took Xenical for six months lost an average 5.3 pounds to 6.2 pounds more than those who were given a placebo, according to the FDA. However, they gained the weight back once they stopped taking the drug." Aha! Back to the complex. In this issue, authors Irene Lewis-McCormick and Kenny Lewis outline in their article, Becoming Food Label Savvy, how you can help your members understand how to read the labels on food packages, and thus, make healthier food choices. They provide a breakdown of the labeling language, what the labels mean, and even go into an explanation of fats, cholesterol and sodium. In addition, they explain what the nutrient content claims really mean as governed by the FDA.

Also in this issue, Amy Scanlin describes how you can profit from smoothies and juice bars. Smoothies and juice drinks, as well as the various food items you can sell, are healthy alternatives to what members may choose outside the fitness center. You can set up a smoothie/juice bar on your own, or you can choose to go the way of a franchise. However you decide, it can be a healthy choice for both your facility and your members.

As a fitness facility owner, manager and/or instructor/trainer, you are not just in the fitness business; you're in the lifestyle business. That means helping your members lead an active lifestyle, but also a nutritious lifestyle. This information can help to make your members' healthy lifestyle pursuits less complex and much easier - without a magic, easy-way-out diet pill.

Controversial Weight-Loss Drug May Go Over-the-Counter. www.Forbes.com. Downloaded Jan. 24, 2006.