Your Fat Is Not Your Fault
When I first met Lilly, she was thirty-five years old, a respected editor at a national news magazine--and more than fifty pounds overweight. On the medical history form that I give to all my new patients, she had summarized her primary health concern: "Can't lose weight."
"All my life it's been this way," she told me in one brief phrase with tears in her eyes. "Sometimes I can lose for a little while, taking off ten or even twenty pounds. But I have to starve myself to make that happen, and even then, it doesn't last."
Lilly's frustration was all the greater because she'd been following one diet or another ever since high school. In college, she'd supplemented her severely restrictive diet with a vigorous exercise routine. "But even when I dropped a few pounds, I always put them back again--and then some," she explained. "I don't know why I can't lose weight. Even when I'm good, I don't lose much. And if I slip for even a single day, I go up five pounds."
By the time Lilly came to see me, she weighed 214 pounds. Yet as I reviewed her diet and exercise plan, I could see that she was indeed making an effort. Every morning, she worked out for forty minutes--"even on Sundays and holidays," she insisted--and she'd gotten her daily intake down to 1,200 calories or less, mostly in the form of low-fat protein bars, chicken breasts, cottage cheese, and green salads. It was hard to see how she could exercise any more or eat any less. Yet the pounds clung stubbornly to her hips, thighs, and belly.
"Okay, doctor," she concluded with a sigh. "Tell me what else to cut out. At this point, I'll try anything."
"Frankly," I told her, "I don't want you to eat less. The problem isn't what you're eating--it's what you're not eating. So from this day forward, I want you to eat more."
Meet the Real Culprit: Leptin Resistance
Like so many other overweight Americans, Lilly was suffering from a condition she'd never heard of--a chemical imbalance that I believe is at the root of our nation's struggle with excess weight. The name of this syndrome is leptin resistance--a hormonal dysfunction that disrupts the body's natural ability to regulate appetite and metabolism. Unfortunately, most doctors are not yet aware of this condition. But my decades of clinical practice as an M.D., my success in treating patients with nutritional medicine, and my in-depth exploration of the latest scientific research have convinced me that if you--like Lilly--can't lose your excess weight, then you, too, are probably suffering from leptin resistance.
I believe that the discovery of leptin resistance is the key to freeing millions of overweight Americans from the tyranny of yo-yo dieting, food cravings, and a continual struggle with their weight. Have you ever had the feeling, as you looked at the bathroom scale or tried to button your jeans, that there was something wrong with your body, some stubborn disorder that simply refused to let you shed your excess weight? Well, I'm here to tell you, you were right. If you've tried in vain to lose weight, if you've fallen off every diet you've ever begun, if you've found your healthy intentions sabotaged by sugar cravings and starch binges, you haven't simply been failing or indulging yourself. You're not deficient in willpower or discipline. You're not weak or helpless or out of control. You're simply suffering from a chemical imbalance, a chemical imbalance you can correct by cutting out the wrong foods and beginning to eat the right ones.
Our bodies are designed to maintain a healthy weight, without any extra effort on our part. When our bodies are working properly, we eat what we want, and if we inadvertently gain a few pounds, the leptin in our system works to suppress our appetite, increase our metabolism, and reestablish our original weight. This is the mechanism that enables people to stay slim--the natural ability of our bodies to regulate themselves.
The problem comes when this natural ability is disrupted, most often by a condition known as inflammation. You may have heard of this syndrome, which has received a lot of attention in the media in recent years. Inflammation contributes to conditions like arthritis, asthma, allergies, and colitis. Many scientists also suspect that it plays a key role in heart disease, atherosclerosis, and cancer. But there's another condition that some scientists now realize is caused by inflammation--obesity. This is because inflammation triggers leptin resistance, which in turn contributes to a sluggish metabolism, unchecked cravings, and, eventually, unwanted pounds.
Inflammation is part of your body's response to many different types of stress, including infection and injury. Sometimes inflammation creates visible signs and symptoms: redness, swelling, heat, and pain. Sometimes it's visible only on a cellular level, so that you--and your doctor--may not even be aware that you have it. But it's present more often than you might suspect; in fact, recent research has found two new causes of inflammation--the type of food you eat and excess weight itself.
So, I told Lilly, your body can get caught in a vicious circle. Inflammation disrupts your body's natural weight regulation system. As a result, you gain weight. Then the excess fat creates more inflammation, making the extra weight unusually difficult to lose. That's why, once begun, weight gain often continues. The weight itself is worsening the condition that caused you to put on weight in the first place.
If you've been a lifelong dieter, you've probably noticed this pattern yourself, without realizing what was causing it. Most people don't stabilize at a single unhealthy weight. Unless, like Lilly, they diet and exercise strenuously, they find that their weight has a tendency to increase. Sometimes they succeed in losing a few pounds--but they usually gain back more than they lost.
I'll explain leptin resistance and the link between inflammation and weight gain more fully in Chapter 2. For now, understand this: your weight problem is not a matter of will or discipline, but a chemical imbalance that, once corrected, holds the key to permanent weight loss. The good news is that this imbalance can be fairly easy to correct, simply by changing the foods you eat.
Once you make this change--adding the right fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and protein sources, and cutting back on sugar and unhealthy fats--you'll notice a remarkable change. Not only will you feel better and look better and find the pounds dropping almost effortlessly, but you'll also stop craving unhealthy foods. Most diets are based on what you can't have. In contrast the Fat Resistance Diet is based on a philosophy of fulfillment, providing your palate with all the tasty, delicious, and satisfying food you could ever want. True, burgers and fries are not on the Fat Resistance Diet, but once your taste buds are reawakened and your body reenergized, "fulfillment" takes on a new meaning. You won't feel hungry, and you won't even feel as if you're on a diet. I know, because I myself eat this way, and it's very satisfying. I'm able to say those magic words that everyone wishes were true: I eat whatever I want, and I never gain weight. If you follow the Fat Resistance Diet, within a few weeks, you'll be saying them, too.
Restoring Your Body's Natural Balance
Lilly was skeptical. But she agreed to give the Fat Resistance Diet a try. I explained to her the basic principles behind the diet: inflammation can be set off by eating certain foods, which she needed to avoid. But inflammation can also be cured by eating other types of foods, so she actually needed to eat more of those. Unfortunately, most American diets are rich in inflammatory ingredients and sadly lacking in anti-inflammatory nutrients. Red meat, white flour, sugar, and hydrogenated fats all inflame your body; so do French fries. On the other hand, berries and cherries, walnuts and almonds, whole grains, and fish help to heal inflammation, as do cabbage, broccoli, garlic, and flaxseeds. In the following chart, you'll find a list of the Top 40 Superfoods that will fast-track your cure for inflammation and enable you to lose weight.
When Lilly heard that I actually wanted her to eat more, she couldn't believe it. "You don't lose weight by eating more," she kept insisting. But I assured her that the Fat Resistance Diet was based strictly on mainstream science: cutting-edge research conducted by scientists at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Rockefeller universities, published in respected medical journals such as JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. I'd prescribed versions of this diet to hundreds of patients, each of whom had gone on to lose substantial amounts of weight. Following my diet, they had achieved their ideal weight and avoided regaining the weight they'd lost.
Lilly agreed to follow an early version of the Fat Resistance Diet. To her joy, she soon began to lose weight at the rate of five pounds a month. (If you follow the plan laid out in this book, you can lose weight even more quickly--ten pounds in the first month, and five to ten pounds a month thereafter.)
Half a year later and thirty pounds lighter, Lilly was able to fit into her high school prom dress. But she didn't stop there. Sticking to the Fat Resistance Diet enabled Lilly to lose an additional four or five pounds a month, even though she was eating more food--and more types of food--than she had throughout her years of dieting.
By the time she'd been on the Fat Resistance Diet for one year, Lilly's weight had dropped to 150 pounds--the lightest she'd been since the age of fifteen. "I feel better than I've ever felt," she said in amazement. "Everyone tells me I look terrific--and not just because of the weight. My skin, my hair, even my fingernails all feel healthier. I'm calmer, I have more stamina, and I'm sleeping better than I have in years."
Yes, I told her, those were all the effects of curing her inflammation. Obesity is only one result of a condition with many side effects, including skin problems, thinning or lackluster hair, indigestion, gas, bloating, sleep problems, irritability, and depression. Curing the underlying inflammation had not only healed Lilly's weight problem but resolved her other symptoms as well--symptoms she hadn't even realized were linked to her obesity.
Best of all, she concluded, was her newfound trust in herself and her eating choices. "Before, I felt I was always on the verge of losing control," she told me. "Now, I can indulge my love of food and enjoy eating. I'm at peace with what I eat and at peace with my body. I never thought I could feel this way--and I feel this way all the time."
Discovering the Fat Resistance Diet
By now, you may be ready to turn to Part Three and start following the Fat Resistance Diet--and if that's how you feel, go right ahead. The three stages of this eating plan have been carefully designed so that you can simply follow the recipes and meal suggestions without having to think further about what you eat.
But if you, like Lilly, want to know more, read on. I will tell you how I discovered the Fat Resistance Diet, and why I am so certain that it will bring you a lifelong healthy weight.
The story begins almost twenty-five years ago, soon after I started practicing as an internist. I had always been a problem solver--someone who enjoyed looking at a situation and figuring out how to make it better. So when patients began coming to me with problems that other doctors hadn't been able to resolve, I started looking for new solutions.
As I explained in my first book, Superimmunity for Kids, I soon realized that many of the problems I was seeing--from arthritis to asthma--were related to a faulty immune system, which had in turn been impaired by a deficiency of essential fats in the American diet. Most doctors at the time had no knowledge of essential fats, largely because the groundbreaking research on fish oils had not been popularized.
Fortunately, I was aware of these new scientific breakthroughs for two simple reasons: I had an interest in nutrition and I kept up with the scientific literature. But I'd had a very challenging professor in medical school--one who had insisted that we learn not only how to treat patients but also how to interpret the science that had produced new treatments. In fact, he taught us, the generally accepted interpretations of cutting-edge research are often incorrect. Many medical protocols are too simplistic or represent a misunderstanding of what the research means. If we were to be effective physicians, we would have to keep up with the research ourselves. Only then could we be sure that our patients were benefiting from the most current scientific knowledge.
I put his teachings to good use as I began to review the latest scientific research on the biochemistry of inflammation and its relationship to a wide variety of immune disorders, including asthma, allergies, arthritis, joint pain, fatigue, and colitis. I soon realized that a lack of omega-3 oils and other essential fatty acids was at the root of many of my patients' problems, and that their conditions could be healed with proper nutrition.
In the course of prescribing the seeds, nuts, fish, and oils that contained the healing fats my patients needed, I began to notice something interesting. Not only would my patients show improvement in their "presenting condition"--the asthma, arthritis, or colitis that they had come to me to heal--but they would also feel better generally, more energetic, relaxed, and clear-headed. Many of them told me they no longer struggled with depression, that they had resolved long-standing sleep problems, or that they were getting compliments on their hair and skin. And many of them, without even trying, had begun to lose weight.
Of course, many of my patients were trying to lose weight. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, I had numerous patients who were following Pritikin, and similar low-fat diets that were popular at the time. The ten years that followed were marked by Dr. Robert Atkins and the low-carb eating plan. As time went on, I began to notice that both approaches, while not particularly successful at long-term weight loss, were leaving my patients with a disturbing set of side effects: fatigue, constipation, bloating, gassiness, skin problems, menstrual problems, joint pains, dry hair, brittle nails, irritability, sleep problems, and depression. It became clear that these symptoms were the result of nutritional deficiencies. While the low-fat diets tended to be deficient in essential fats, low-carb dieters were lacking in the fiber and plant-based nutrients that their immune systems needed to function. As a result, their bodies were struggling to overcome inflammation and its related symptoms--but they didn't have the nutrients they needed to accomplish this essential task.
To make matters worse, my patients were unable to lose weight permanently with these other diets. Even when they were following the diets, they reported constant cravings for starches, sweets, or other forbidden foods. And as soon as they ended the most restrictive portion of the diets--particularly on low-carb regimens--they found themselves not only regaining their lost weight but often adding a few more pounds as well.
From the Hardcover edition.