There's More Than One Way to Skim the Fat|
Washington Post - By Abigail Trafford|
Tuesday, February 20, 2001 (Washington Post) — It just wasn't working for Nathan Bayer. After two mild heart attacks and a total cholesterol level approaching the stratosphere, the Washington lawyer went on a low-fat, Type-A, establishment diet. Fat-free pretzels for snacks. Butterless pasta and meatless sauce. Exercise every day, plus cholesterol-lowering medication.
Months went by and Bayer still wasn't losing weight. His cholesterol levels were coming down, but not far enough.
So he switched to a trendy, unorthodox, high-fat, anti-carbohydrate/pro-protein diet. His skeptical cardiologist agreed to his diet rebellion with the stipulation that Bayer be monitored every three months.
Overnight, he changed into a butter-and-egg man. A meat and no-potatoes kind of guy. Go for the lamb chop. Forget carrots and cookies. Declare the house a white-bread-free zone. Sip a glass of wine, preferably red. He found the diet easy to follow, he wasn't hungry, he didn't feel deprived or overwhelmed with record-keeping.
Results: Bayer, who is 5-8, dropped about 30 pounds. His weight has now stabilized between 152 and 156 pounds. Meanwhile, his cholesterol levels plummeted from a high of 266 (200 is considered normal) to a current total level of 149.
Nathan Bayer, 56, defies conventional wisdom. A high-fat diet to lower cholesterol levels as well as body fat? Scientists are quick to point out that one anecdote doesn't prove anything. Except that the diet works well for this particular mid-life Washington lawyer.
And that was enough to convince his cardiologist to give it a try.
Ramin Oskoui, who practices in Northwest Washington and treats patients at Washington Hospital Center, and Sibley and Suburban hospitals, went on the unconventional diet a year ago. He lost 25 pounds. His cholesterol levels dropped from 235 to 135.
"I have become a convert," says Oskoui, 37. "This diet is not for everyone. But this diet has a role to play."
Before you start whipping up a ham and cheese omelet, remember that two anecdotes don't make the science right. This doctor-patient combo may be worth an invitation to the Oprah Winfrey show, but two cases do not constitute evidence of diet superiority. Certainly not in the world of dueling diets, where rhetoric and passion are far more plentiful than carefully conducted research.
Still, Bayer and Oskoui are good role models. It's not the specifics of their diet, but the elements of their dieting style. They have shifted the existential balance from "what can I do to fulfill the requirements of this diet?" to "what can this diet do to fulfill the requirements of my life?"
Call this Dieting Empowerment. It means you should be practical rather than ideological in choosing a diet. You want to find the strategy that works best for you, not the one with the most publicity or hottest biological theory. Or even the one your doctor or government or mother recommends. Whatever works for you to maintain good health and a comfortable weight is the definition of a good diet. The fact that some other diet gets more headlines or has more testimonials is irrelevant. The proof is in the poundage -- yours.
Second, there is no one miracle diet for everybody. Just as there are many different medicines for hypertension, there are many different "good" diets. Besides, diets are about more than food. There are usually psychological issues to deal with as well as recipes. Just about all diets recommend an exercise program. For most people who succeed in managing their weight and health, the diet they choose is not a one-time cure, but a way of life.
And all dieters are not equal. Some people need to lose significant amounts of weight under a doctor's supervision. Others are in the 10-to-30-pound club and want to slim down more for vanity than for health.
The depressing news about diets is that mostly they fail. Reviews of different regimens by the Institute of Medicine and more recently the Department of Agriculture suggest that few diets can keep the weight off long-term or provide lasting health benefits, such as lowered cholesterol levels. Many people regain the weight after they stop dieting.
Last month's Agriculture Department report is particularly harsh on the type of diet followed by Bayer and Oskoui. . There is no convincing research that a high-fat/low-carbohydrate diet can lower cholesterol levels, the report concluded. In fact, the evidence for cholesterol-lowering effects of dieting supports the opposite low-fat approach found in more traditional plans of Weight Watchers and the American Heart Association.
Can both diets be right?
The practical, unscientific, answer is yes -- depending on the person.
Dieting is more like dating than behavior therapy. To find Diet Right involves trial and error and more trial. Science can help provide information and choices. But in the end -- in the kitchen or out at a party where the whipped cream meets the lips -- the decision to eat or not to eat is very individual. Bayer had been through the dieting mill before he met the regimen outlined in the popular "Sugar Busters!" diet book. He still exercises every day, still takes his medications. The diet, he says, fits his body type, his metabolism, his tastes and his lifestyle. His wife agrees. "He's not hungry. He's not grumpy," says LeslieMaddin Bayer, an executive headhunter and gourmet cook.
This is Diet Liberation. Out-of-the-box eating. Doing it your way at dinner. "Don't feel guilty. Don't be fearful," advises Oskoui. In other words, find your own diet, and then damn the torpedoes.
Bayer and Oskoui have not necessarily given us the right diet to follow. But they've given us the right message about dieting. And they've given us hope that dieting can work.