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Even in the right hands, the wrong book can be dangerous. Especially a diet book that encourages fanatical extremes. For example, when The Last Chance Diet made the bestseller list in the early 1970's praising
the benefits of liquid protein, at least 100,000 Americans adopted the diet. Sadly, while fad diets don't usually jeopardize the health of their followers, more than 60 deaths occurred as a result of prolonged
adherence to the liquid protein diet (LPD) and an "I'm-dying-to-be-thin" mind-set.
Years later a newly fattened public, having forgotten or forgiven the fatalities of the LPD, watched Dolly Parton describe her diet on "Oprah." Parton proudly explained to the hostess, Oprah Winfrey, that her striking weight loss took place on an LPD. Winfrey was so impressed with Parton's transformation, she later announced that she, too, would use an LPD until her bridal gown fit her.
More than a year later, Winfrey, although hardly svelte, has shed enough bodyfat to convince TV viewers and those attending her "beautification" conventions that her LPD is both safe and effective. Nonetheless, many critics charge that Winfrey's endorsement of the diet is a commercial example of dietary rumpwash. Regardless of the issues awaiting her aggressive mediation, nothing is ever said about the perils of the LPD.
Unfortunately, what Winfrey's devotees don't know can hurt them - in spite of a doctor's supervision-as half of the LPD's first victims had continuous medical supervision and many died following hospital admission.
As a rule, fad diets arrive fast and depart slowly (Stillman's Drinking Man's diet, grapefruit, high-fiber, Cambridge, Herbalife, which is currently doing legal battle with the State of California), but the LPD has already come and gone, and now it's back. Deemed "dangerous" by dietary authorities, its track record is that only 3 percent of its followers have maintained any of their weight loss (even Oprah's bodyweight is on the rise). In fact, in light of the medical complications it often presents, many nutritionists are surprised that such a "nutritionally unsound" diet could ever become fashionable again.
According to Jack Yetiv, M.D., Ph.D., whose column in Family Circle magazine cracks down on nutritional and medical quackery, a "positive nitrogen balance" can be achieved by the ingestion of egg albumen or milk protein, but many popular LPD formulas "utilize a notoriously poor-quality protein made from collagen and gelatin derived from cowhides and other sources of connective tissue." At least one autopsy performed on an LPD victim showed a decrease in both the size and protein content of the heart, an anomaly Yetiv believes might explain the cause of the sudden death of other victims.
Meanwhile, LPD followers are told that by ingesting protein alone they will maintain both muscle size and protein content while their fat storage shrinks. Unfortunately, observes Yetiv, even if the highest quality protein and nutrients are ingested, no studies exist to support the claims made by proponents of all-protein dieting.
Current studies do show "significant decreases in muscle glycogen and endurance" occurring in subjects on a carb-free, hypocaloric diet.
Further, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a carb-containing, hypocaloric diet will indeed improve nitrogen levels. Tests conducted on subjects ingesting only water also showed increased nitrogen levels.
Yetiv agrees that the fat-burning state of ketosis, which any hypocaloric diet can induce, suppresses the dieter's appetite and imparts sensations of euphoria. The speed of the weight loss during ketosis thus "enhances compliance" with the diet. Yetiv argues, however, that by "drinking food," dieters aren't taught how to make the transition to sensible eating, much less cope with the return of either their appetites or original bodyweight when solid food is reintroduced.
Still, for a majority of Americans, of whom 80 million are overweight and 45 million are classified as "obese," having to eat less is more difficult than eating nothing at all. But when little or no solid food is eaten and ketosis begins, insists biochemist Dr. Ragnar Berg, the body needs large amounts of alkaline fluids-like fruit and vegetable juices-to neutralize excessive acidity and "flush out" toxic impurities.
As with traditional fasting, autolysis (self-digestion) and ketosis (fat metabolism) begin within the first 72 hours of the LPD. But because body tissues are comprised of amino acids, these acids are released into the bloodstream once tissue breakdown occurs. Adding the amino acids of protein into the flood of old acids can only exacerbate potential problems for the dieter, according to anti-LPD educators. Dieters rushing their metabolisms to burn fat by lowering their calories to the extreme while using protein to accelerate the combustion and emptying of old fat stores aren't made aware of how intensely their bodies must work to "detoxify" their bloodstreams. "The physiological effects of ketosis," said Allen Cott, M.D. (Fasting: The Ultimate Diet), "can be similar to slow poisoning."
Dr. Alberto Cormillot, director of the Cormillot Clinic in Buenos Aires, Argentina, reports that fasting- total foodlessness-is "better tolerated than a one-food diet," particularly if resultant wastes are removed by the ingestion of mineral water. (Cormillot's international clientele drink Perrier water during their supervised fasts.)
Once an obese comedian, political activist Dick Gregory lost 205 pounds using a variety of fasts and diets before developing a vitamin-fortified drink for the "Bahamanian Diet," which he says can be used to replace one meal a day. Recently, the well-touted supplement manufacturer Twinlab created its version of a liquid meal, a low-calorie vitaminized "milkshake" available in three popular flavors.
If supplements like Twinlab's are used to fill in for a missed meal, or as a substitute for no more than one meal a day, they'll be a plus to the dieter. Weight will come off slower yet in a much safer manner. Use your head when dieting and be patient. Your health should be your number-one concern, not weight loss in record time.