May 20, 1996 in Features

Change In Plans Stop Dieting! By Taking Little Steps You Can Radically Change The Way You Eat Over Time

By The Spokesman-Review
 

When it comes to the effectiveness of quick-fix diets, there are just two words for you to consider:

Tommy Lasorda.

Not to pick on the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but Lasorda was one of several high-profile sports types featured a couple of years ago in a series of magazine and television ads. The promotion involved one of those high-protein diets that helped them to shed weight, in some cases more than 100 pounds.

They all looked so pleased with themselves, standing inside pants that were now several sizes too big.

Pretty effective image advertising.

Too bad it was a load of fettuccine al bologna.

To realize the truth of that, all you have to do is tune into ESPN any night the Dodgers are playing. Whenever the TV camera focuses in on Lasorda, you’ll see that he’s gained back every pound.

And then some.

Carol Wirth can tell you why and how it happened.

The graduate of Pullman High School and Washington State University is co-author (with her husband, Eric Witt) of “Bodystat: How to Reset Your Fat Thermostat Permanently” (Viking, 386 pages, $22.95). Now a high school biology/ chemistry teacher in Oakland, Calif., she was in Spokane recently, publicizing the book.

She doesn’t need to work very hard. The trim, 32-year-old author-teacher is the book’s own best publicity gimmick.

Except that’s exactly the point: “Bodystat” doesn’t offer any gimmicks; instead, it exposes them.

The concept behind “Bodystat” is simple. As the book says, “Your body has a certain amount of fat that it wants to keep” - Wirth and Witt, a Ph.D. research biologist at the University of California, call this your “set point” - “and it’s not happy unless you’re carrying around that amount of fat.” This fat regulator dates back 10,000 years, the book says, to when humans needed extra fat as a protection against sudden famine.

But today’s sense of style causes us to regard any extra weight with displeasure. Even disgust.

And so we take what seems to be the common-sense path. We cut back on our calories. We begin a diet.

The problem is it doesn’t work.

“When you diet,” Wirth says, “you’ve lost fat below what your setting is, and your body is trying to get it back. (So) you usually reach a plateau, you stop losing weight and then you gain it all back.”

Some people, through sheer willpower, can keep unwanted weight off for years, Wirth says. But unless they actually manage to change their set point, the weight eventually will creep back on.

Here’s the good news: Your set point can be changed.

Here’s the bad news: It’s up to you to change it.

“Any kind of permanent change in your body has to reflect a permanent change in your lifestyle,” Wirth says. “You can’t go on some radical diet and expect that to last. If you aren’t willing to make a change in your life, you’re not going to see it reflected in your body and your health.”

There are two basic steps to such a change. One, you need to exercise more. Two, you need to lower the amount of fat in your daily diet.

Now, to some people, exercise is a dirty word. That’s why Wirth stresses what she calls “opportunistic exercise.”

“Any kind of muscular movement is exercise,” she says. “If you just take the stairs instead of the elevator, that increases your activity level and lowers your set point.”

As for cutting down on fat, well, she has a strategy for doing that, too. “Make one little change at a time,” Wirth says. “Start eating five fruits and vegetables a day. That’s not such a huge thing, and it’s actually adding something to your diet rather than depriving yourself.”

Or, she says, “On a work break, take a 10-minute walk.”

Once you’ve taken those small steps, then you can begin adding more. Maybe you can stop adding “pure fat to your food. Stop buttering bread in the morning when you have toast. Or stop using pure fat mayonnaise.”

What happens over time, Wirth says, is that the changes add up. And before you know it, “You’ve radically changed the way you eat over a period of six months or a year. And you’ve done it in a way that can be accommodated.”

OK, so far so good. But some people are just naturally skeptical. They might wonder how Wirth knows such advice actually works.

Because, she’ll answer, it worked for her. Up until she was 20, Wirth herself rode the diet roller coaster. For a while, she was even bulimic.

“Here’s what would happen,” she says. “I would diet and lose fat, and then I would get completely obsessed with food. I would think about it all the time. I couldn’t stand it, and eventually I would go off the diet. Then I would gain the weight back and still be upset.”

By slowly turning to low-fat foods and snacks - nonfat milk, fruit, pretzels, licorice, bagels, etc. - Wirth says she actually began losing the desire to binge on junk food.

“I got those cravings when I let myself get real hungry,” she says. “I found as I allowed myself to eat more frequently that I stopped feeling guilty about snacking.”

About 4-1/2 years ago, she and Witt began presenting workshops about the dangers of dieting, to educate people about set points and how to effectively deal with their desire to lose weight. From those workshops they developed a workbook, which they submitted as an unsolicited book proposal to Viking Penguin Books.

Viking bit and, with 10,000 copies of the resulting book now in print, Wirth and Witt are crossing the country, sharing their message with whomever will listen.

For her part, Wirth ends an interview by stressing two points.

“You can lose fat without hunger,” she says. “You don’t have to be starving and obsessed. That’s what people find hard to believe, but it’s true.”

And, she quickly adds, “Quick fixes don’t work.”

Just ask Tommy Lasorda.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo Staff illustration by Molly Quinn


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