Diets compared

Donna Gould is a diet guru's dream. She'll buy anything, try anything. In the last 35 years, the Matawan, New Jersey, woman has starved herself, taken appetite suppressants and vinegar pills, followed liquid diets and single-food diets, had her ears stapled, sent away for patches and acupuncture gadgets, and tried most major weight-loss programs. Gould is also a book publicist who has read and promoted hundreds of diet titles. Yet she still struggles with her weight, now carrying 167 pounds on her 5'3" frame. "I don't eat because I'm hungry. I eat to reduce stress, to get away from something, for instant gratification," says the 55-year-old woman, who would love to weigh 145 pounds. "It's not the diet — it's the emotional aspect of eating that has made me fail so many times."

Gould isn't alone in her quest for the perfect diet. About 60 percent of American adults are overweight, according to the US Surgeon General's 2001 report, "The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity." And the American Institute for Cancer Research reports that as many as 25 percent of men and 40 percent of women are on diets at any given time. Though few will have any long-term success without permanent lifestyle changes, a diet can jump-start weight loss.

"Sometimes a diet really is necessary. Sometimes it can even be life-saving," says Jana Klauer, MD, a weight-reduction specialist in New York City who works with patients who need to lose weight quickly before surgery or because of high blood pressure. "There's a psychological benefit as well as a physical one to losing weight in the early stages," says Klauer. "People are encouraged because they sec improvements in their appearances, or because they feel lighter and maybe are more comfortable exercising."

Still, Klauer, like other nutritionists, says a diet is just the first step. "To keep the weight off, you need a healthy eating style," she says.

While it's true that very few diets have a maintenance component, the trendy new South Beach Diet does. Despite the use of the word "diet" in the title, developer Arthur Agatston, MD, doesn't consider his approach a quick fix. The diet consists of three phases, with the third phase being a life-long healthful eating plan. Nothing about the South Beach Diet is particularly difficult. No starvation rations. No calorie counting. No diet exchanges. The approach is clear, "mainly because I didn't see any scientific arguments not to make it simple, and it worked," Agatston says.

Kevin Dunn knows a thing or two about developing a life-long plan. The 45-year-old chef instructor at the New England Culinary Institute in Essex, Vermont, was told 10 years ago that he'd be lucky to see his 40th birthday. Dunn had played college tennis, but years in the culinary business had caught up with him. By the time Dunn was 35, he was diagnosed with diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. At just 5'8", he weighed 230 pounds. "People think yon eat well if you're a chef, but it's just the opposite — you cat horribly; you nibble all day, and then you drive home at night and realize you haven't eaten a balanced meal," he says.

Heart disease runs in his family — Dunn's father, grandfather and great-grandfather all died at age 52-so his health scare made him sit up and take notice. Dunn started reading books by cardiologist and Vegetarian Times advisory board member Dean Ornish, MD, who promotes a no-fat or low-fat vegetarian diet, and he started a conscientious exercise routine that includes yoga and walking. But Dunn took it a step further, creating a vegan diet for his family. Today, Dunn is down to 182 pounds — he thinks 172 is ideal — and he hasn't taken medications in 3 years. "My doctor tells me I'm testimony to changing your health by changing your lifestyle."

PHOTO (COLOR): Whatever scale you use to judge a diet plan, long-term health should weigh heavily in your decision.

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By Christina Le Beau

Diet Data

With the abundance of diet plans, diet products and other assorted paraphernalia available on the market today, weight-consious consumers face a sometimes daunting challenge. Low carb? Low fat? Calorie counting? What really works?

With that in mind, here's a look at some of the most popular current diet plans available at health food and natural products stores across the country. These basics should give you an idea of how each plan works and help get you started. Ask your retailer for more information.

Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution

History: Introduced in 1972 with the groundbreaking book, Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution. The book was re-released in 1992 as Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution.

Focus: Consume foods high in protein and fat and low in carbohydrates. According to the diet, limiting carbohydrate intake spurs the body into using fat as its main energy source and producing less insulin, which contributes to feelings of hunger. Most of the day's calories come from pure proteins such as eggs, butter, oil and mayonnaise.
Dr. Dean Ornish's Life Choice Diet

History: Dean Ornish, MD. founded the California Preventive Medicine Research institute: in 1984 to treat heart disease patients. He was the first physician to show that dietary changes can reverse heart disease.
Focus: Get less than 10 percent of your daily calories from fat. Eat beans, legumes, fruits, whole grains and vegetables. Avoid all oils, sugar, simple sugar derivatives and alcohol. Have processed foods low in sugar and non-fat dairy products only in moderation.

Eating in Equilibrium: The Zone

History: Barry Sears, MD, introduced the diet in 1995 with his book, Enter the Zone.
Focus: Balance a daily intake of 40 percent proteins, 30 percent carbohydrates and 30 percent fats to keep the body's hormones and other chemicals in total equilibrium. Key elements of the program include the Zone Diet, use of monounsaturated fats and exercise. Sears' subsequent book, The Soy Zone, recommends reliance on soy products for the protein component of the diet.

The South Beach Diet

History: After yean of prescribing failed diets for his patients, Miami cardiologist Arthur Agatston, MD, began prescribing an eating plan focused on eliminating "forbidden" foods such as processed carbohydrates, saturated fats, hydrogenated oils and trans fats.

Focus: this diet has three phases. Phase I limits most carbohydrates and eliminates processed food). Phase 2 slowly re-introduces healthful carbs to the diet Phase 3 is a life-long healthful eating plan that stresses eating the good carbohydrates and good fats.

History: Described in a forthcoming (April 2004) book of the same title by Jordan S. Rubin, NMD.
Focus: Based on the authors understanding that "ancient people of the Bible who followed Cod's dietary and lifestyle prescription were the healthiest people in history." Phased in over 40 days and 40 nights "that will change your life forever," with specific health goals in each of three 2-week phases. Includes hygiene, detox, snacks, supplements and various spiritual exercises/prayers.

The Fat Flush Plan

History: Based on an eponymous 2001 book by Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, who bills herself as "the first lady of nutrition."

Focus: Three phases, initially allowing 1,100 calories per day, increasing to 1,500, designed to accelerate fat loss. The core of the plan "is commitment to ... a balanced lifestyle [and] simple healthy habits." Emphasis on essential fats, protein (8 oz./day), fruits/vegetables, spices, diuretic beverages, exercise. An accompanying exercise book, The Fat Flush Fitness Plan, is also available.

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The Starch Blocker Diet

History: Steven Rosenblatt, MD, wrote The Starch Blocker Diet in 2003 as a result of weight-loss successes he says he's had among multiple patients.

Focus: This three-step process consists of: 1) Redistributing calories to the starchy foods component of the diet; 2) Taking emotional control over food; 3) Exercise. Starch blocken essentially neutralize starch, preventing caloric release. Rosenblatt's book includes multiple menu plans, plus dietary supplement recommendations.

Weight Watchers' Points to Weight Loss

History: Jean Nidetch began Weight Watchers in Queens, New York, in the early 1960s with a group of friends who met at her home to exchange ideas on how to lose weight.

Focus: All foods are assigned POINTS values based on their fat, calorie and fiber content. At day's end, foods must be within dieter's allotted POINTS range. Eating correct portion sizes is essential. Different foods are assigned different POINTS values. Weekly group meetings help dieters support each other.

Blood Type Diet

History: Peter D'Adamo, ND, introduced this diet in 1996 with his book Eat Right For Your Type.
Focus: D'Amamo believes that different human blood types developed over time, and that people are genetically predisposed to be healthier if they follow diets that correspond to their Wood type and, presumably, their body's nutritional needs. For instance, he asserts dot prehistoric hunters possessed blood type O; hence, he deduces that people with that blood type should eat meats and fete. (This diet has attracted considerable scientific criticism.)

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