Tuesday, June 21, 2011

ME on a diet

At the library, idly paging through a new diet book, the following paragraph caught my eye.

...the physiological biofeedback/signaling molecule that triggers the release of two of the most powerful fat-burning hormones: testosterone and HGH (human growth hormone).  The entire "hormonal soup" (adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol, with testosterone and HGH) is what drives the EPOC effect.   These hormones are the key to the ME Diet because their combined action is responsible for the caloric afterburn....and they ensure that the calories that are burned come from fat.  The key metabolic messengers that begin the EPOC effect...cause the body to switch to high-octane sugar usage...Only high-intensity exercise creates the hormonal burst...This is the reason sprinters have less fat and are more muscular than marathon runners.

It sounded like horse shit.  I couldn't wait to get started.  The book quoted above is The Metabolic Effect Diet by Jade and Keoni Teta who are brothers.  (I know!  I thought they were girls too!)  I began to follow their plan because I was failing at trying to lose weight without guidance.  But then the book was due back at the library and I couldn't renew it because someone had placed a hold on it.  I had lost a couple of pounds but was also backsliding.  The ME Diet, another variation of the low carb diet, has you determine your metabolic type and then allows you a certain number of bites of approved starches at each meal.  I, as a "mixed burner" am allowed 5-10 bites of starchy vegetable or whole grain per meal.  I soon found out that you can consume an entire piece of Mellow Mushroom pizza in ten bites.  The book includes an exercise plan, attractively (and deceptively) labeled "rest-based training."

I returned the book to the library and began to investigate the other diet books in the stacks.  I used to be thin, genuinely thin, but when I started nursing school my weight began to creep up and I gained more weight working as a nurse--despite literally running my legs off all day long--because of the atrocious eating habits that come with stress, self-loathing, working nights, and twelve hour shifts.  I'm  not overweight, by official standards, but I hate how I look in my clothes and I have gained a shocking twenty pounds over the last four years.

There are many diet books at the public library.  I soon became bewildered.  Did I want The Five Day Miracle Diet or the Three Hour Diet?  The rich women's diet or the French women's diet?    I decided to read them all and find one that made sense and then present my findings in a hilarious blog post!

YOU on a Diet:  The Owner's Manual for Waist Management (2006)  Michael F. Roiszen, MD and Mehmet C. Oz MD.

Concept:  Focus on your waist measurement rather than your weight.  According to this book, the ideal waist measurement for women is 32 inches and 35 inches for men.

The Diet:  Meal plans are standard old-school diet fare:  whole grain cereal or toast with peanut butter for breakfast, salads, soups, vegetarian burgers for lunch, and dinner dishes like "Asian Salmon with brown rice pilaf" or "Spicy Chili."  Snacks are raw vegetables, fruits, yogurt, cottage cheese.  A one-week plan is included but after that you are on your own as far as making food choices.  There are recipes for YOU drinks,  YOU dinners, and YOU get the idea.  Some of the recipes, such as the banana/pineapple smoothie seem too sugary.  The exercise plan is a mix of stretching, strength training and cardio.  The last chapters encourage the use of prescription weight loss drugs, anti-depressants, plastic surgery, liposuction, and gastric bypass.

Analysis:  This book is all over the place with incomprehensible cartoons, "factoid" sidebars, "YOU-eraka" moments, "myth busters," excessive wordiness, bad writing (at one point, the body is called the "corporeal vehicle") and 240 pages of preaching before you get to the actual diet.  It's curious that the cartoon figure they chose to represent YOU  is not human, but an elf, clad in footed tights, a jaunty cap and with obvious pointed ears.  The arbitrary ideal waist measurements are ridiculous.  The amount of weight I would have to GAIN to achieve a 32" waist would make me overweight.

Summary:  The diet book for schizophrenics, by schizophrenics.

Extra Lean (2010) by Mario Lopez

Concept:  Balanced intake of protein, carbs, and fat. Portion control.  Eat frequently throughout the day.

The Diet:  By page 41, we've already arrived at the diet, which includes a daily meal plan for seven full weeks.  The plan for day one, week one: breakfast-berry/yogurt smoothie, morning snack-10 almonds, lunch-spinach salad with grapes and grilled chicken, afternoon snack #1-banana, afternoon snack #2-6 whole wheat crackers and 1 string cheese, dinner-salmon, baked sweet potato, steamed broccoli, bedtime snack-air-popped popcorn.  Nothing very original here, but it's nice that you are given forty-nine days worth of meal plans.  Some people need that.  The food is nicely presented, with a full-color pages of photographs of Mario preparing the food which seems more appealing than most diet recipes. Each day is summed up with the total number of calories consumed (about 1200) and the breakdown of protein, carbs and fats. There is no outlined exercise plan.  I'd like to try some of the recipes, particularly the guacamole salad with chicken and the fish tacos with black bean salsa.

Analysis:  This book is pretty basic and padded with information that shouldn't be a surprise to most dieters.  A little box lists "sources of dairy" as milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.  We're told to avoid pop-tarts for breakfast.  Granola bars, many of which are loaded with sugar, are listed as an example of a healthy morning snack.  I'm not convinced that eating frequently (especially a bedtime snack!) is the path to weight loss.  You will need to add protein powder to the smoothies if they're going to keep you satisfied.

Summary:  Airheaded, but Mario Lopez is kind of hot.

The 3-Hour Diet: How Low-Carb Diets Make You Fat and Timing Makes You Thin (2005) by Jorge Cruise.

Concept: Eating something every three hours will make you thin.

The Diet:  Essentially, this diet takes a daily allowance of about 1500 calories and spreads it over three meals and three snacks.  You are supposed to eat breakfast within one hour of arising--let's say 07:00, then a snack at 10:00, lunch at 1:00pm, snack at 4:00, dinner at 7:00, with a fifty calorie evening treat. There are supposedly no forbidden foods, but clearly you will have to exercise some portion control for this diet to work.  A suggested treat is twelve M&M's.  I'm sure many of you dieters will agree with me that it's easier to eat no M&M's than it is to stop at twelve.  The "three hour plate" is supposed to contain a large serving of vegetables, smaller portions of protein and starch, and a small bit of fat.  Sound familiar?  The recipes are uninspired, particularly an appalling "mock danish" that is pineapple and cottage cheese, put on a piece of bread and broiled.

Analysis:  Cruise claims that if you go more than three hours without eating, your body decides you are starving and turns cannibal by burning your own lean muscle.  I call bullshit!  What a curiously American concept that three hours without food=starvation.  Tell that to someone who lives in Somalia. It's true that skipping meals is not healthy and will lead to over-eating, (although I have found that skipping dinner--and only dinner- can aid weight-loss) but don't try to tell me that eating three healthy meals a day and abstaining from snacks will make us fat.  I think we are snacking ourselves to death and I know from bitter experience that once you start to snack, it is hard to stop.  Better not to start at all.

Summary:  Get fat by eating something every three hours.

The 5-Day Miracle Diet (1996) by Adele Puhn

Concept: Crunch your way to thinness!

The Diet: Be "in good blood sugar" by eating specific foods at specific times at specific intervals.  The foods are standard diet fare:  whole grain, lean meat, vegetables, etc.  No recipes, just generic meal suggestions: "1 broiled lamb chop, steamed zucchini, mixed green salad."  A key part of this diet is eating two "hard chew" snacks between breakfast and lunch.  Crunch those carrots!  Attack them with your teeth!  She is fond of making "shocking" pronouncements:  What!!  You mean pasta, bagels, and bananas aren't great diet foods?  I do like her for maligning the banana, which is surely nature's most disgusting plant food.  Even watching someone else eat a banana makes me gag a little.  Potassium schmotassium.  You can get potassium from other foods.

Analysis:   Where to start?  The abysmal organization? The many cheesy anecdotes about "Don, an advertising executive" and a host of other characters?   The "science"?  Adele says, "In the Northeast, where the soil's selenium depletion is a known fact, cancer rates are quite high."  Her need to put her own name within the text, over and over:  ADELE PUHN'S STEP 1: EAT WITHIN ONE-HALF HOUR OF WAKING UP, ADELE PUHN'S STEP TWO (and 3,4,5)...PUHN-ATTUNED HEALTH MUSTS...THE ADELE PUHN TWO-STEP PROGRAM...ADELE EXCEL STEP 1 (and 2,3,4,5) ADELE PUHN'S FOUR RULES OF SELECTIVITY.  I suspect that Adele Puhn is not really a diet expert, but is, in fact, a real estate agent.

Summary:  The five-day WTF.

The Sonoma Diet: Trimmer waist, better health in just 10 days! ( 2005) by "Dr. Connie Guttersen, R.D., PhD."

Concept:  Californians are cooler than you.

The Diet:  Divided into three "waves."  In "wave one" fruit is banned.  You eat vegetables, lean meat, fat-free dairy, and whole grains, although you may not eat any grains at lunch and they comprise  20-25% of your other two meals.  Fruit is added to waves 2 and 3.  The diet claims you can "eat anything" but it looks like if you follow this plan, you are banned from sugar and white flour for the rest of your life.  I fully understand how detrimental sugar and refined carbs are to a diet, but sometimes you have to have a treat.  Fruit is sweet, fruit is nice, but it doesn't replace a moist slab of chocolate cake.  One thing I do like about this diet it its relaxed attitude toward snacks.  If you must snack, fine, but if you prefer to stick to three squares a day, that's OK too. This diet allows, practically encourages, nightly wine.  There are two paragraphs devoted to exercise:  as long as you follow the diet you'll get to your target weight whether you exercise or not but if you want to exercise, well, go ahead.

Analysis:  The smugness is irritating:  "There's such a thing as an...overweight individual in Sonoma."  Really?  Why isn't he banished to Nebraska?  On allowing yourself treats in wave 3:  "Don't force down a doughnut you don't really want.  But now you can be a good sport and try the birthday cake at a friend's party...you don't have to be better than the rest of the world 365/24/7.  Just something close to that."  Imagine how grateful your friends will be that you are a "good sport" and choke down some of the dessert they prepared!  I know someone who claims that her yearly indulgence is a single Oreo.  If you want to restrict your treats to one cookie per year, that's your business, but if you tell people about it, they will make fun of you behind your back.

Summary: The Smugoma Diet.

Eat More, Weigh Less (1993) by Dean Ornish, M.D.

Concept:  You can eat a lot more food at each meal if you cut the fat content down to 10%.

The Diet: Vegetarian, extremely low-fat.  Fish, chicken, nuts, seeds--all foods we gobble today because they're healthy--are banned.  Dr. Ornish lectures sternly about how all oils are bad and not to believe any nonsense you hear that olive oil is healthy.  Nearly half the book is recipes.  There's a one-week meal plan that is heartbreaking to read.  Lunch and dinner are vegetables, vegetables and more vegetables.  I don't know how anyone could stick to this diet without going mad.

Analysis:  I know this book is old school and out of date but I included it because I suffered through the fat free craze.  Back in those days I was trying to make weight for crew and I lived on dry grape nuts and coffee with skim milk.  I was riding my bike 16 miles round trip to the rowing club and running and lifting weights, and doing calisthenics, not to mention rowing.  My periods stopped.   I was starving but on this all-carb, no-fat diet, I found it hard to keep my weight down. I probably put sugar in my coffee, but sugar is fat free, so it's OK, right?  Now we know better.  We know that the right fats are essential for health and that eating lots of bulk with no fat is not satisfying.  We know that fat free cookies and snacks--which this diet allows--add empty calories and sugar and make people just as fat as full fat versions of the same snacks do.

Summary:  You will never be happy again.

The Rice Diet Renewal (2010) by Kitty Gurkin Rosati

Concept:  1,000 calories a day plus one hour of daily exercise, wrapped in a thick package of psychobabble.

The Diet:  Avoid processed food, most meat and sodium.  Eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables.  No snacks.  1,000 calories per day.  One day a week, you eat the "Basic" Rice diet which is 800 calories.

Analysis:  Who wouldn't lose weight on 1,000 calories and an hour of exercise a day?  Rosati constantly refers to her program as the "dieta" which makes me want to hit her.  There are many, many pages devoted to healing yourself through music, poetry, digging into your psyche and discovering the root cause of why you overeat.  This isn't just a diet!  You will learn to "heal your heart," "empower your mind," "connect with your spirit," and "consciously consume" to achieve "amazing, miraculous, and extraordinary healing."  A sample of her writing:

When we truly comprehend the research that shows that the heart's magnetic field is approximately five thousand times stronger than the field produced by the brain, we further appreciate the techniques that move head knowlege to our hearts.  As HeartMath practitioners' and many quantum physicists', neurophysiologists', and neuropsychologists' research now shows, when a thought becomes a feeling, it can shift our belief system and then allow our desired results to manifest.  One day I led a group of Ricers into a meditation as I played the song "I Believe I Can Fly."  Such commanding, echoing, and crescendoing words, with an equally compelling melody, can often inspire the most defeated of souls into opening up to their truth. (p.89)


Summary: Apparently,  this diet has nothing to do with eating rice. Also, where can I apply for one of those "neurophysiologist" jobs?

The Good Mood Diet (2007) by Susan Kleiner

Concept:  Fish oils are good for the brain so eating fish five times a week will cure depression.

The Diet:  You choose between a 1600, 1800 or 2200 calorie-a-day plans.  Use the "good mood template" to consume the correct balance of carbs, fat, and protein. Fish five times a week--canned fish OK.  Two weeks worth of meal plans that are exactly like all the meal plans in all the other diet books. Includes list of "feel good" foods like unsweetened cocoa powder, flaxseed, turkey.

Analysis:  I like fish, but not enough to eat it five times a week.  Canned tuna is one of my diet staples, but you get tired of it fast.  Canned salmon is gross and if you bring a can of sardines to your work lunch room, everybody says, "EWWW! What is that?"  Quality fresh fish is prohibitively expensive.  I am not convinced.

Summary:  Can't I just take cod liver oil?

French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure (2005) by Mireille Guiliano

Concept:  Vive la France!

The Diet: Enjoy food and gradually learn to eat less at each meal.  Begin by keeping a three week food diary.  Do  a weekend leek broth fast, then three months of "recasting" in which you gradually eat less by studying your food diary and learning where you can cut back.  Do not snack.

Analysis:  Making gradual changes to your diet is probably more effective than following a restrictive plan although it won't produce the quick weight-loss results that most people want.  The emphasis is clearly on portion control and Guiliano reasons that the first three bites of any dish are the most satisfying, so eat just a bit and move on.  This sounds good, but it is easier said than done. Then again, why are Europeans thinner than Americans?  When we lived in Rome--OK, it was only for two weeks but we did rent a house and try to live like Italians--I lost weight.  I lost weight despite popping out for a gelato every afternoon, consuming pounds of nutella, eating bread, pasta, pizza, and sweetened espresso--there is no Splenda in Italy.  Was it because we didn't have a car and walked everywhere?  I walk many places now, and when we were in Rome, I didn't do any of my usual workouts like running or lifting weights.  Was it because I had to carry home every bite we ate?  I wasn't about to waste space in my grocery bags with bulky bags of chips, although they don't really have chips in Italy anyway.  Was it because the variety of food was less?  Oh, the menus and farmers markets, cheese shops and bakeries were loaded with tantalizing items, but the supermarket had much less food than an American one, and mostly sold basic ingredients with which to cook and not very much prepared food, snacks, or junk food.

Summary:  Baby steps, baby.

How the Rich Get Thin (2006) by Jana Klauer, M.D.

Concept:  Slim down with calcium.

The Diet: There's a 3-day "jump start" with a very low calorie plan, followed by two phases: the "Get it done" phase and the unnamed "phase two."  It's a standard, "shun the bread, eat low-fat protein" diet, with lots of yogurt and other low-fat dairy added.  Apparently there was a study that showed that dieters who consumed more calcium lost more weight.

Analysis:  The book starts with an irritating section about the "Park Avenue Mind-Set."  This is defined as having long work-hours, hectic schedules, social obligations, travel, and personal commitments.  Because we regular people can't relate to any of that at all.  It's all just ditch digging and Dorito scarfing among the masses!  I admit, I'm tempted to try out her calcium theory.

Summary:  The rich get thin the same way everybody else gets thin.

Conclusion:  Every single diet book says the same things, that "other diets" fail, that their particular diet isn't really a diet at all, but a lifestyle.  You won't be dieting, you'll be "making healthy choices" and the weight will fall off "effortlessly."  This is BULLSHIT.

 Since I started writing this post, weeks ago, I also read Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata, a science writer for the New York Times.  It's an interesting book, if somewhat depressing.  She follows people participating in a University of Pennsylvania study that put some people on a low calorie diet and others on a low carb diet to see which was the most effective.  (Neither.  Both groups lost weight at first and gained it back.)  Kolata questions whether there is actually an obesity epidemic at all, points out that the ideal physique for women was far heavier in the past than it is now, and gives compelling evidence that everybody has a set weight range--say about 20 pounds--which they can maintain without effort.  Experiments in which thin people were put on very high-calorie diets, in order to achieve obesity, failed. Yes, the participants gained weight, but as soon as the study ended, they all lost it again and maintained their former thin weights without effort.

And it seems like for me, no matter how much I eat, I stay at the weight I'm at now.  On the other hand, my metabolism has reset itself a couple of times.  Back when I was constantly pregnant--I was literally pregnant or breastfeeding without a single break for 12 years--I lived at a higher range.  When I weaned Seamus, I lost about ten pounds without effort, and kept it off.

Right now, compared to how I was when I started writing this, I am feeling fairly unmotivated.  Diets seem silly and ineffective.  The books seduce you with their early promise, but real life interrupts.  If I ever discover the magic secret to weight loss, I will share it here.


  1. You have done a great service. I look forward to the secret because I am certain the secret will come to you alone so you can provide it to us in a delightful future blog post.

  2. I disagree about snacking or "grazing" - you're right, it is a privileged American concept, food available at all times, but that's no reason not to do it.

    I eat all throughout the day & it has several benefits - I choose healthier "snacks" compared to when faced with an entire meal of choices; it keeps my blood sugar even throughout the day so that I don't go on binges & feeding frenzies, eating whatever is available (as it sounds like you end up doing in the hospital); and when I do want a treat it's therefore of the smaller portion variety (1 or 2 cookies rather than half a box when I'm starved). Oh, it also de-emphasizes dinner because I tend to eat more of my calories earlier in the day and often end up not eating dinner at all... You have to get into a different mindset that says, even if you're making food for kids, you don't have to eat it yourself - or the mindset that it's o.k. for everyone to fend for themselves or eat different things for dinner.

    Anyway, I lost 20 lbs. over the course of a year (I'm 5'8" and have gone from 170 down to 150) by cutting out cheese (and that means no cheese- or cream-based meals for the family, no casseroles, no pizza night! We have sushi night instead) and other animal fats, and really paying attention to whole foods. I eat high protein cereal or yogurt for breakfast or toast with peanut butter or eggs. I eat carrots and nuts (I'm not afraid of nut fat - I eat nuts ALL THE TIME) and whole grain bread and fruit unlimited throughout the day. Sometimes I eat breakfast at 8 and I eat turkey sandwiches (no cheese) or canned beans by 10, and we grill chicken & fish & unlimited veggies several times per week to have on hand for lunches, dinners, leftovers.

    I know you know all of this, I'm just putting in a plug for eating several times throughout the day and sort of abandoning the idea of "meals" - it has worked for me - I don't feel hungry or deprived that way.

    It sounds like you've already identified your problem as related to your work schedule and stress. You don't need a fancy book to tell you to take healthier foods with you to the hospital. You could keep a cooler, maybe, of fruit & of high-protein foods like turkey, hummus & crackers, pre-prepared peanut butter sandwiches.
    Also, absolutely no sodas. I get my caffeine the no-sugar way with straight up black coffee :)

  3. of course, you may not have time to stop & snack during your hospital shifts, but eating high-protein foods should get you through the longer hours :)

    I used to crave sugar & carbs for breakfast (who doesn't love donuts or pancakes?), but I'd be STARVING and crashing a few hours later... for me, it's about keeping blood sugar levels even and eating protein first thing in the a.m.

    Ok, I'll stop now :)

  4. I'm dubious of any diet "developed" by Mario Lopez. Or any other C-list Hollywood actor, for that matter.

    Thanks for research with the amusing and biting commentary.

  5. This post was even more enjoyable than the lemon cupcake I ate for lunch.

  6. I feel you! I an in the same boat since our nursing school experience! I'm currently subscribing to the "work out every day I don't work on the elliptical and pray it does some good" plan. Obviously, being a nurse is bad for your health.

  7. My husband discovered how to lose weight and keep it off, but it requires a practically OCD level of dedication and in-depth knowledge of the glycemic index. Oh, and regular exercise. On the other hand, he's not diabetic by now and is pretty svelte, so something's working.

    It mostly boils down to caloric percentages of 30-30-40 (fat, protein, carbs) and only eating complex carbs which take longer to break down. He doesn't eat simple starches/sugar and avoids cheese and pork (for other reasons). No potatoes, no corn, no white rice/refined grains. And he needs non-carby proteins due to his hypoglycemia, so meat & eggs are his friends, along with nuts. He grazes. Three small meals and three sizable snacks. More if he feels woozy.

    He modified the Couch25k program for the elliptical. And he practices yoga. Back when he first started, he just walked for exercise (30-45 min at his target heartrate) and it made an immediate improvement given his extremely sedentary lifestyle. Now he has to do more to keep his metabolism revved.

    I can't do it. I get bored. I'm already free of the bulk of the American diet due to food allergies. Cutting out potatoes makes me cry. In the Mad Max world that will be coming when Charlbemarle runs out of water, I will survive on my blubber reserves and his nice, lean muscle.

  8. I'm with Jocelyn. My diet is so clean as a rule of thumb that there is nothing for me to cut out. I need to vastly increase my exercise, and it sucks.

  9. So what would you call my "Strive for Five" diet plan? I strive to eat at least 5 helpings of fruit/veg every day. Those other self-help books? Freak me out.