A Whole New Luther
R&B Powerhouse Powerless Over Food
ABC News Downtown 20/20 (Monday, June 25, 2001) — Though Luther Vandross is best known for his Grammy-winning R&B hits, he says his career is not his crowning achievement.
"I am more proud of my weight loss," says Vandross, who is also well known for his lifelong, public struggle with his weight. "I'm most proud of my health improvement."
Vandross — who has lost more than 100 pounds 13 other times — says he's finally figured out the secret to losing 100 pounds and keeping it off.
"I've never been more healthy than I am now," he says. "I wish I was this healthy when I was 25."
A Cruel Cycle
Vandross began his career as a backup singer in the '70s. One of his early jobs was singing on a David Bowie album. It was actually Bowie who encouraged Vandross to go solo.
Vandross' career took off in 1981 when his first album, Never Too Much, went platinum. Twelve more platinum albums followed, but though he enjoyed success after success in his professional life, he was beset by personal struggles with his weight — the cruel cycle of gaining and losing 100 pounds dominated his life.
"It's the most awful, dark feeling in the world," he says of the times when he put back on 100 pounds. "It feels like you're wearing an 80-pound hat and a coat that weighs 300 pounds … You feel like it's always dark and gloomy."
While many people struggle with significant weight fluctuations, Vandross' yo-yo relationship with food was displayed before millions of fans.
"It makes it very hard," he says. "You wear it externally so the minute you walk through the door, everybody knows 'Luther's not winning his battle with his demon.'"
In 1998, Vandross weighed 340 pounds. He also had high blood pressure and diabetes, a problem that has plagued his whole family. He calls his relationship with food an addiction: "The food had its clutches on me strong enough that it sort of demanded that I ignore reason."
Reaching His Target Weight
In his recent dieting success, Vandross says he has discovered the secret to weight loss. Using a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, he shed 120 pounds. "I deleted carbohydrates, I deleted starches … no bread, no rice, no pasta, no potatoes," he explains.
Breakfast, for example, is usually Egg Beaters or a turkey burger. "A turkey burger with the right seasonings, with sage and all of that stuff, really tastes like sausage," he says. And dinner, he says, consists of "vegetables, fish, chicken and fruit — that's it."
Asked if now that he's reached his target weight he can incorporate bread or pasta into his diet, he responds, "An alcoholic can't have half a martini, and you know, I can't have bread. This experience has taught me this."
Though Vandross has stayed trim for nearly three years now, it can still be a struggle for him to stick to his diet. Just weeks ago, he suffered food poisoning and decided to settle his stomach with some carbs. "I ordered a bagel that morning," he says. "Do you know that by the end of that day I had eaten five bagels … That's how much of a drug carbohydrate serves to be with me."
Storing the Carbs
Adele Puhn, a clinical nutritionist who was written extensively about high-protein diets, says of Vandross: "His body does not function the way it was meant to function. He's storing fat every time he's eating a healthy piece of bread."
Puhn believes there are many people like Vandross whose bodies do not process carbohydrates the way they should.
Other health experts and dietitians, however, believe such high-protein diets are unhealthy. Limiting the intake of carbohydrates to such a dramatically low level starves the body of needed nutrients and causes an artificial metabolic state, according to some nutritionists.
Along with his diet, Vandross is working out three or four times a week, often with his band members. Now, at 6 feet 3 inches and 220 pounds, Vandross has gone from a 52-inch waist to a 34.
"I feel like the best part of my life is about to happen," says Vandross, who has come out with a new CD after a three-year hiatus. "I can't have sugar and I can't have carbohydrates … but I can sing the mess out of a ballad."