Stopping the Pendulum

March 23, 2011 in Diabetes, Diabetes Management, Mediterranean, Nutrition, Nutritionism, Weight Management by Mary Ireland

As I read Dr. Grandma’s post Moderation and A Wildly Thrown Ball, the image of a wildly swinging pendulum came to mind regarding the “diets” of a lot of Americans. It seems that the moderation Dr. Grandma talks about is missing in our culture. We want to put it on fast and take it off faster, with as little effort as possible. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say not put weight on at all; just continue our poor eating habits with no effect on our weight or our health. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.

Recently a friend asked me what I thought about the HCG diet. My initial reaction was one of plain, common sense: using hormones obtained from pregnant women –are you crazy? Hormones are very powerful chemicals that are released by a cell or a gland in one part of the body that sends out messages that affect cells in other parts of the organism. A potential side effect of HCG injections is aggravation of pre-existing , probably unknown, ovarian cancer. Another dangerous side effect of HCG injections is a condition known as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. This can be a life threatening condition that causes severe pain in the pelvis, swelling of the feet and hands, pain and swelling in the abdomen, and shortness of breath.

It is not uncommon for drugs that have gone through clinical trials for treating specific diseases or symptoms to be recalled because dangerous side effects are discovered only after the drug has been put into use in the general population. One such prescription drug for weight loss, fenfluramine/phentermine (known as fen-phen), was discovered to cause potentially fatal pulmonary hypertension and irreversible heart value problems. So I am at a loss to understand why someone would risk using HCG to lose weight when it hasn’t been specifically tested as weight-loss application.

When I look at the HCG diet, I find it ludicrous. It requires that you eat only 500 calories a day. It is impossible to get necessary nutrients from that amount of calories. Somewhere along the line, the American public has bought into the idea that we can starve ourselves or eat nutritionally deficient fude and get nutrients from supplements. This type of thinking is not only false, it is dangerous as documented by a number of studies referenced in blogs on this site; three of my favorites are:

Rescuing Food from the Evil Grasp of Nutritionism
Collecting Coffin Nails
Watching Out for the Flim-Flam Vitamin Salesman

One of the big draws of the HCG diet is that you don’t have hunger pangs. News flash: after a few of days, starving people don’t feel hunger. Either people on this diet feel hunger for the first few days, the HCG works as a placebo or it may be the power of suggestion – similar to Dumbo’s magic feather -- that gets someone to the point in starvation at which there are no longer feelings of hunger. And please note that if you eat only 500 calories a day, you are starving yourself.

Unfortunately HCG is not the worst of the methods that people use to lose weight. In a crack down on diet aids in 2009, the FDA found 72 products that were potentially dangerous. An FDA analysis of the ingredients in these products found undeclared active pharmaceutical ingredients, including sibutramine, an appetite suppressant legally sold as the prescription drug Meridia; rimonabant, a drug not approved in the United States; phenytoin, an antiseizure medication; phenolphthalein, a suspected cancer-causing agent; and the diuretic bumetanide. Some potential side effects of these drugs include:

  • serious and significant fluid and electrolyte loss
  • increased risk of hypotension (low blood pressure), fainting, and resultant injury in people with normal blood pressure
  • adverse gastrointestinal such as fecal incontinence, rectal discharge and defecation urgency
  • malabsorption of nutrients and vitamin deficiency
  • depletion of vitamin E, vitamin D, and beta-carotene.
  • development of gallstones and kidney stones.
  • heart attacks
  • strokes

You can get more information about weight loss pills at Questions and Answers about FDA’s Initiative Against Contaminated Weight Loss Products.

Not only are people putting their health at risk, they are spending a lot of money doing it. According to Nutrition Business Journal consumers spent $1.7 billion on weight-loss pills in 2007. That’s just on weight loss pills. Americans spend an estimated $40 billion a year on weight-loss programs and products. An analysis of dieting plans found losing 10 pounds on the various plans would cost:

  • Weight Watchers: Roughly $107.70. (6-month membership, regular grocery bill not included).
  • Jenny Craig: Anywhere from $500 to $1,000(prices vary depending on how much weight you have to lose).
  • The Zone: About $2,240(assuming 1.25 pounds of fat lost per week).
  • Nutrisystems: Ten pounds costs about $706on the standard plan, if you can lose the weight in a reasonable two-month period.
  • The Slim-Fast 3•2•1 Plan is a free (as in, zero dollars) online resource where you can plan meals, contact dieticians, and find yourself a dieting Buddy. Since everyone will deploy the various Slim-Fast products differently, it is difficult to give a price for shakes and bars.
  • E-diets The support-only plan costs $18 a month (minimum three months), and with meal delivery, and you’re investing another $1,556.

One of the main reasons people give for not eating healthy is cost. If you look at the cost of eating cheap food and then the money spent on diet aids and plans, not to mention the health cost and other factors that is detailed in Full, or True Cost Accounting, Part 1, eating healthy food is economical. Most money spent on dieting is, to a large extent, wasted money. According to a 2006 study reported in The New England Journal of Medicine, most people who participate in weight-loss programs “regain about one-third of the weight lost during the next year and are typically back to baseline in three to five years.”

Rebecca Reisner sums up the issue nicely, “Food tastes good, so we eat lots of it. Here’s why we gain weight: We take in more calories than we burn off. Here’s the only way to maintain weight loss: Eat less and exercise more for the rest of your life.” The reason dieting fails long term is that most people don’t make the necessary lifestyle changes, i.e., eat less and exercise more. If you frequently read this blog, you know that Dr. Grandma’s advocates the Mediterranean style of eating. It is a reasonable eating plan that you can live with the rest of your life.

Using the Mediterranean style of eating, not only will you be able to attain and maintain your weight-loss goals, you will reap important health benefits. According to a study comparing diets published in the New England Journal of Medicine, diabetic participants in the Mediterranean-diet group had a decrease in fasting plasma glucose levels, compared with an increase in plasma glucose levels among participants with diabetes in the low-fat group. No significant changes in fasting plasma glucose was found in participants on a low-carbohydrate diet. The study also found that women tended to lose more weight on the Mediterranean diet than the low-carbohydrate or low-fat diets.

You can lose weight by starving yourself, but we don't recommend this. Stop the wildly swinging pendulum by choosing a reasonable eating plan that works for you and your body – a plan that you can live with for the rest of your life. Start by checking out Dr. Grandma’s Mediterranean-style recipes for a tasty way to incorporate healthy meals into your lifestyle. Dr. Grandma’s Pancake and Waffle Mix and Dr. Grandma's Muffins Your Way Mix are a convenient and yummy way to satisfy your hunger and provide your body with necessary nutrients.

The Chilies and Veggie Frittata is a delicious breakfast that you make the day before. The next morning you just pop it into the oven and you have a delicious hot, healthy breakfast for your guests or family.

Chilies and Veggie Frittata


2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup chopped onion
1 small clove garlic, chopped
1 cup shredded kale or spinanch
3/4 cup broccoli cut into small pieces
3/4 cup red bell pepper
1 - 4 oz can diced green chilies
3 white corn tortillas
1/2 cup Feta cheese

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until onion is translucent. Add kale and broccoli. Saute until tender. Add the bell pepper and saute until tender.

Spray 9" glass pyrex pie plate with non-stick spray. Distribute 1/2 can of green chilies on bottom of pan. Cut 1-1/2 tortillas into 1" pieces and distribute over chilies. Spread 1/2 veggie mixture over tortillas. Spread 1/4 cup of feta over veggies. Repeat layers - green chilies, tortillas, veggies, cheese.

Egg mixture:

With whisk mix:
* 4 large eggs
* 1/3 cup skim milk
* 1/4 teaspoon each: pepper, ground cumin, salt.

Pour egg mixture evenly over pie. Sprinkle lightly with paprika. Cover dish with foil and refrigerate overnight. Bake uncovered in 350 degree oven for 40 minutes until set and lightly brown.

Let set about 10 minutes before serving.

Chop onion and garlic.

Chop veggies.

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil.

Add kale and broccoli.

Add bell pepper and cook until soft.

Spread chilies in pie pan.

Cut tortillas. Place 1/2 on top of chilies

Spread 1/2 veggies and 1/2 Feta cheese over tortillas.

Repeat layers - chilies, tortillas, veggies and cheese.

Crack four eggs into a bowl.

Add 1/3 cup skim milk.

Add spices and whip with wire whisk.

Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Bake and serve.