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Making Sense of the Diet Circus

The only diet that works is the one that works for you


Jean Feeney is a loser. Finally.

After years on the diet roller coaster--Weight Watchers, Optifast, an all-vegetarian diet--Feeney lost 40 pounds following the high-protein, low-carbohydrate eating plan described in Barry Sears' best-selling diet book "The Zone: A Dietary Road Map" (HarperCollins/ReganBooks, 1995). Best of all, Feeney, a stockbroker who lives in Hermosa Beach, has kept the weight off.

"I tried Weight Watchers," Feeney says, "but I didn't like the meal plans. I lost 30 pounds on Optifast, the one Oprah went on, but I gained it right back. When I tried a vegetarian diet, I gained. I'm a grazer."

Counting and balancing grams of protein and carbohydrates on the Zone keeps her honest, she says. And it fits her nature; she likes working with numbers. If Feeney has a craving for ice cream (a carbohydrate), she eats some and balances it with a little cottage cheese (protein). She enjoys a piece of chocolate but follows that with a little tuna.

Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 21, 1997 Home Edition Food Part H Page 2 Food Desk 2 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
The American Heart Assn. Dietary Guidelines were incorrect in "Making Sense of the Diet Circus" (May 14). The dietary guidelines recommended by the American Heart Assn. and the American Dietetic Assn. for healthy adults are 50% to 60% carbohydrates, 30% or less fat and 20% protein.

"I don't feel like I'm on a diet," Feeney says. "I don't cook much but eat in lots of restaurants. Once you understand how to balance protein and carbohydrates, you can play with it. Sears is pretty strict, but I can live with this diet."

Judy Halpert thought she was a loser too.

Over the years, she tried the Stillman and Beverly Hills diets; she counted fat grams, then calories; she fasted, ate vegan and went on liquid diets. In the '80s, like many others, she ate a mostly low-fat/high-complex carbohydrate diet. Nothing worked.

Finally, the 42-year-old talent agent from Sherman Oaks started adding more protein and--yes--fat to her meals, along with high-fiber, non-starchy vegetables, after attending a lecture in Los Angeles last summer by physicians Michael and Mary Eades, the authors of "Protein Power" (Bantam, 1996). Twenty pounds fell away, and Halpert thought she'd finally found the perfect diet.

The high-protein diet, she said, provided clear limits, no fussy recipes, specific authorized foods and no guesswork with portions. For the first time, Halpert says, she felt a sense of control.

"I love bread, but high-carb diets didn't work for me," Halpert said a few months ago when her weight was at its lowest. "Unless I really got into exercise, jogging and aerobic classes, I just couldn't lose weight. When you're told to eat pasta and bread, the boundaries go."

The strict boundaries of the Eades plan, however, turned out to be a problem for Halpert. Three weeks ago she reported that she's regained the weight she lost. As many have found before her, no diet is perfect if you can't stick to it.

"I couldn't live with the diet," Halpert says. "I missed fruit and pasta. The diet didn't work with my lifestyle. It was anti-social."

The lesson here isn't that the Zone works and the Eades plan doesn't. Not everyone who follows the Zone loses weight, and there are plenty of "Protein Power" success stories. What's more, the general idea behind both eating plans--more protein and fewer carbohydrates--is similar.

Rather, to an outsider looking in, the difference is that Feeney found a diet that fit her lifestyle while Halpert is still searching for hers.

Certainly, there are plenty out there for her to try. Each year new diets are introduced, new nutritional gurus are anointed and conventional wisdom gets turned on its head.

Through the years, Americans have embraced the Grapefruit Diet, the Drinking Man's Diet, the Air Force Diet, the Mayo Clinic Diet, the Scarsdale Diet. Some emphasize eating certain foods and avoiding others; others just specify the kinds and amounts of foods to eat. Should it be more protein and fewer complex carbohydrates or more carbohydrates and less protein? How much fat?

In the '70s, researcher Nathan Pritikin preached a diet high in complex carbohydrates and fiber and low in fat and protein to fend off cardiovascular disease. Eyebrows were raised when he whittled fat and protein each to 10%. Pritikin followers would stuff themselves, add regular exercise and watch their weight and cholesterol levels drop. But heart disease prevention, not weight loss, was Pritikin's primary mission.

Over time, a modified version of Pritikin was accepted by many nutritionists. And during what some are now calling the fat-phobic '80s, we were told to eat foods that were low in fat and high in carbohydrates. Many adapted the diet of marathon runners and triathletes, even if the most exercise they got was walking from the front door to the car door each morning.

Now the hot diet advice is to cut out carbohydrates, add more protein and don't worry so much about eating fatty foods.

The appeal of the current high-protein diets is fast weight loss. When carbohydrates are restricted, stored water is liberated and weight loss in the beginning is often dramatic.

"Why [the diets] work is nothing revolutionary," says Dr. Michael Bush, an endocrinologist and director of Cedars-Sinai Weight Control Program. "Calories are restricted."

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