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"Cops' Protein Phenomenon"

[Dr. Michael Breen, medical editor at WBBM-Channel 2]

(05-03-2000: CHICAGO, IL)     One hundred of "Chicago's Finest" have launched a crackdown on a culprit that has given the police force trouble for years: flab.

Since Jan. 1, the 100 police officers have lost more than 1,000 pounds using the high-protein Atkins Diet, created by New York cardiologist and author Robert C. Atkins.

For years, the heft of many Chicago cops has attracted attention. In 1991, Ald. William M. Beavers (7th) even suggested the motto of the police force should be "We serve and protect . . . and chow down."

Dr. Hilton Gordon of Weiss Memorial Hospital began trying to change that after the Police Department asked him to help slim down its members.

The weight-loss expert found cops were a particular challenge.

"They're always on the run, so they don't have much time to stop off and enjoy a nice meal and be careful about what they eat," Gordon said.

The Atkins Diet is controversial but don't tell that to the cops.

Officer Mike Mitchell's experience is typical. Working at a desk job in a lock-up, the 30-year cop had seen his weight balloon to more than 240 pounds. When he sought help, he couldn't believe his new diet: a cheese and bacon omelet in the morning, julienne salad for lunch, and a steak or barbecue ribs for dinner. And the best part of all is that he could eat as much of the high-calorie foods as he wanted. The result? In two months, Mitchell lost 17 pounds.

"I find it amazing," he said. "To be able to eat not only as much as you wanted but the food that you liked. You eat what you like and you're losing the weight."

Gordon knew a high-protein diet was controversial, but he felt he had no choice. Because cops are surrounded by rich restaurant foods, Gordon knew asking them to restrict their calories was hopeless. A high-protein diet let them eat as much meat and other high-calorie foods as they wanted. But would a diet too good to be true really work? Gordon now is convinced that it has.

"The stats I have found are phenomenal with the protein diet and the Police Department," he said. The average cop has lost more than 10 pounds, and so far the weight has stayed off.

Those impressive stats include a surprising decline in the officers' cholesterol levels. Mitchell, for instance, recently had a quadruple heart bypass. When his wife heard he'd be eating nothing but steaks and other fatty foods, he said, she couldn't believe it.

"She was concerned," he said. "She double-checked with other doctors about this diet just to make sure I'm not hurting myself."

He wasn't. His cholesterol plummeted from 250 to 196. Gordon found that result was typical.

"As long as you are eating fats and proteins and you do not mix it with the carbohydrates, you will get a reduction in cholesterol," he said.

Just why a high-protein, high-fat diet has that paradoxical effect is unclear. But researchers say most cholesterol in our blood doesn't come from our diets; it's produced by our livers. They suspect a low-carbohydrate diet slows down that production.

Gordon said cops now are such believers, many drag their spouses and overweight teens to his weight-control center at Weiss. They want their entire family on the diet.

Gordon said the diet's not for everybody, but he thinks it's the best chance for quick weight loss for people who eat on the run and often eat out.

Once officers achieve that loss, the next step is to slowly allow them to eat more carbohydrates, Gordon said. He said he believes he can move the officers to a more normal diet without regaining the weight, but he acknowledged that when it comes to diets, even the experts are learning as they go.

"It's not a perfect world; it's not a perfect science, but the police are ecstatic," he said. "They cannot believe it."

That includes Mike Mitchell. His goal now: to lose another 20 pounds. "I want to get down to 200 pounds by this July," he said, "and I'm going to do it."