The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
—Alan Kay, computer genius/visionary
In writing this book, I have discovered that the greatest gift I can give my readers is permission to eat healthy and delicious food. This might seem strange considering this book is about weight loss, because traditional concepts of weight loss are all about not eating—nevertheless, it is a fact.
Statistics regarding obesity and excess weight are alarming. The International Obesity Task Force, which is advising the European Union, had estimated in 2003 that about 200 million of the 350 million adults living in what is now the European Union may be overweight or obese. The U.S. Census Bureau’s Census 2000 stated that nearly two-thirds of adults in the United States were overweight, and 30.5 percent were obese.
However, a closer evaluation of the figures in the latest analysis indicated that may be an underestimate.
We Americans (children and adults) are more confused than ever about what constitutes a healthy diet. According to statistics from the National Institutes of Health, the prevalence of obesity in the United States has almost doubled since 1980.
And for good reason. For the past several decades, we have been bombarded with all kinds of misinformation about what we should and should not eat or drink. As soon as one scientific study hits the newswires, another one with equally convincing yet contradictory data springs up. From books to videos we are assailed with confusing and opposing points of view from all kinds of experts and pseudo experts. Consequently, figuring out what to eat and what to avoid has become increasingly difficult.
The Perricone Weight-Loss Diet cuts through the confusion and provides a simple, foolproof eating plan that will improve your health, help to fight the signs of aging, help you to lose weight, and prevent new weight gain. It all begins with learning which foods make this possible and which foods defeat our purpose.
BUT FIRST, SOME HISTORY
Back in the 1960s, the then-young baby boomers began a dietary “back to the land” revolution in protest of the post-World War II introduction of processed foods. In typical backlash fashion, everything this generation embraced had to be “whole,” “natural,” “fresh,” “unprocessed,” and grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers. This was the beginning of the health food movement, which is stronger and more powerful than ever, and finally after more than four decades, is becoming increasingly mainstream.
That was the good news. The bad news is that this was the last positive dietary trend we have seen. Ever since then, we have had one dangerous and poorly-thoughtout plan after another. In addition, fast food has now become a ubiquitous part of our landscape. According to Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, on any given day one out of four Americans has a meal from a fast-food restaurant.
The 1970s saw the introduction of the Atkins low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet. At first glance, the concept made sense; however, there were a number of serious and dangerous flaws (some since amended), among them an overabundance of saturated fats. The ’90s reintroduced this craze, slightly modified.
Perhaps the worst dietary craze belongs to the 1980s, which heralded the age of the no-fat diet. Supermarket shelves were flooded with high-glycemic carbohydrate foods, offering little in the way of nutrients, but plenty in the way of empty calories. These foods became dietary mainstays for many people, especially women, who found themselves indulging in snack foods such as reduced-fat “baked” potato and corn chips, and fat-free rice and corn cakes, cookies, pretzels, and crackers. Suddenly millions of Americans were placing themselves in a chronic inflammatory condition. Why? Because eating these foods provokes a pro-inflammatory rapid rise in blood sugar, resulting in elevated insulin levels.
Insulin is an important hormone that helps the body utilize blood sugar for energy or store it as glycogen or fat. But if the insulin is released too quickly, it has a pro-inflammatory effect (explored further in Chapter 2). After a rapid rise, there will be a precipitous drop in blood sugar, resulting in feelings of hunger, which can lead to a vicious cycle of overeating. This is why a diet centered on breads, baked goods, snack foods, sweets, and other sugary, starchy foods results in unwanted weight gain and great difficulty in losing weight. Ironically, in this instance, it is not the caloric value of the foods causing the weight gain. In fact, a rice cake only has around 40 calories. However, because it is rapidly converted to sugar in the bloodstream, resulting in the insulin release, it will cause you to store body fat. An insulin release can result in the storage of body fat.
Our goal in the Perricone Weight-Loss Diet is to learn how to recognize and avoid sugary and starchy foods, so that we maintain even levels of blood sugar and insulin. Recognize? Yes, because many foods that look healthful can contain added sugars, dangerous trans fats (more about these later), and an ingredient called high fructose corn syrup, which will defeat weight-loss goals and have a negative impact on overall health. By following the Perricone Weight-Loss Diet, you will be able to control your appetite, prevent overeating, stop cravings, and burn excess fat for energy.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
Some scientists and researchers believe that many of the health problems of today are caused by our departure from the hunter-gatherer diet, which consisted of nuts, seeds, berries, wild greens, roots, fruits, fish, fowl, and game. This is a fascinating theory and I do agree with the premise that natural, unprocessed foods are always the best choices. To be healthy and maintain normal weight we need all of the food groups—but not those that come from the laboratory. Our protein source needs to be pure, fresh (when possible) wild fish and other seafood, and free range chicken and turkey that are hormone and antibiotic free. Our carbohydrates need to be fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably organic. And we need good fats, such as those found in salmon, sardines and other cold-water fish, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, and açaí (a Brazilian berry whose fatty-acid ratio resembles that of olive oil). These “good” fats will help us absorb nutrients from our vegetables and fruits, keep our cells supple, our skin glowing and wrinkle-free, our brains sharp, and our mood upbeat. We also need dietary fat to burn fat.
By upsetting the delicate balance with extreme fad diets and ridiculous concepts, whether it is no-carb or no-fat or whatever, we create ongoing physical and mental health problems, including obesity, accelerated aging, and wrinkling, sagging skin. It is no coincidence that the rise of antidepressants such as Prozac occurred during the nonfat food craze of the 1980s—after all, our brains are comprised mainly of fat, and when we starve our brains of valuable nutrients, we become depressed. Salmon, with its rich complement of essential fatty acids, has been shown to be an excellent treatment for depression. Some studies have shown that it is more effective than powerful drugs in treating depression—without the side effects (moderate regular exercise is also great for depression—especially when combined with the salmon-rich anti-inflammatory diet).
Our goal is to strive for balance, and to use common sense when planning a meal.
Ava’s transformation (see Ava’s story on the following page) was, to say the least, impressive. If you follow the Perricone Weight-Loss Diet, you too can have impressive results.
But how does it all really work? The next several chapters will explain the science behind my revolutionary concepts, and how you can make them work for you.
One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea,
never regains its original dimensions.
—Oliver Wendell Holmes
As many readers of my earlier books know, the original anti-inflammatory diet is both a powerful antiaging, disease-fighting tool and the secret to clear, wrinkle-free skin. It was not specifically designed for weight loss. However, once I realized that people who needed to lose weight were rapidly losing it on this eating plan, I recognized a whole new world of potential for the overweight man or woman—whether he or she needed to shed a mere 10 pounds or was morbidly obese.
I altered and adapted the original anti-inflammatory diet to focus on the specific foods and supplements that were proven to accelerate healthy weight loss while maintaining muscle mass. In fact, the anti-inflammatory weight-loss diet in this book closely parallels the very diet that I follow on a daily basis. The recommended foods will not only enable you to quickly drop excess weight, you will find increased energy, and an increased sense of mental well-being. When we realize that most dieters are subject to chronic crankiness, this is good news indeed.
In this book, you are going to learn some surprising facts—facts that actually startled the scientific community when they were first discovered. You are going to learn that excess body fat is a living, breathing, multiplying endocrine organ—and that fact alone ensures that the fatter you are, the fatter you will get. This book is going to change your ideas about weight gain and weight loss. It is not about your daily intake of fat—and it is not about cutting out the carbs. It is about something no other book has ever explained: the connection between inflammation and body fat (and the fact that one is never present without the other). You will learn what foods cause this inflammation, and how to decrease and prevent it, thereby permanently eliminating all weight problems.
Let’s take a look at what I mean by inflammation. Inflammation, which is the response of the body’s immune system to infection or irritation, exists in a very wide spectrum. At the extreme end it causes visible redness and swelling, such as in sunburn or an injured finger. On the low end of the spectrum, the inflammation is invisible; we can’t see it and we can’t feel it. But it does exist, and it causes a host of health-related problems. The bright red and painful sunburn that exists at the extreme high end is usually only present for a short period of time. Physicians refer to this type of inflammation as “acute inflammation.” The invisible inflammation that exists at the low end of the spectrum is usually present for longer periods of time and is termed “chronic inflammation.”
The question you may be asking is, “If it is invisible, and we can’t feel it, then how do we know that this low-grade inflammation exists?” The answer is simple: some of this inflammation can be detected under the microscope. However, low-grade inflammation can also be invisible even with a microscope because it exists on a molecular level, but it can be detected through chemical tests using special instruments.
Research indicates that the effects of this chronic, low-grade, invisible inflammation is at the basis of aging and age-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain forms of cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune diseases—and even wrinkled, sagging skin.
However, it doesn’t stop there. I am now categorically stating that this same chronic, low-grade, invisible inflammation is at the very basis of excess body fat, out-of-control appetites, food cravings, food addictions, diabetes, and the inability to lose excess body weight.
If that is the case, you may be thinking, “Why don’t I just go ahead and take an ibuprofen tablet and get thin?” Unfortunately it is not that simple—especially when you consider this inflammation is not just a one-time event reacting to a one-time cause. Our bodies are under a constant barrage, a continual assault of physical insults resulting in this inflammation—beginning with that bag of potato chips and ending with the creation of a veritable factory in our body whose one job is to grow more fat cells and produce more inflammatory chemicals.
The answer lies in learning to recognize and avoid the factors that are creating the inflammation in the first place, and then, through natural means, reducing the existing inflammation to successfully lose the excess body fat. By embracing the anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle, you will not only lose the weight, you will dramatically alter your quality of life—and increase your life expectancy.
The effect of this low-grade, invisible inflammation (also referred to as “subclinical” inflammation) has been at the cutting edge of medical science for the last decade, and it has been the focal point of my own research for the past two decades. After years of either being ignored or relegated to a “by-product” of the disease process, cellular inflammation is finally coming to the attention of the mainstream media, and in fact, was the topic of a cover story in Time magazine.
THE DANGERS OF INFLAMMATION
Acute inflammation is a protective response of tissue to irritation, injury, or infection, and is characterized by pain, redness, swelling, and sometimes loss of function. It is, under normal circumstances, beneficial, and helps the body repair the effects of trauma or infection. However, prolonged, excess, or chronic inflammation becomes harmful.
When low-grade invisible inflammation occurs in the very cells that comprise our organ systems, a concept I introduced in my first book, The Wrinkle Cure (2000), we are placed at great risk for a host of degenerative, age-related diseases. This is because cells that are attacked by self-generated inflammation will not function properly (meaning that we did something to precipitate a pro-inflammatory response in our cells, thus causing malfunction and sometimes complete breakdown).
In other words, cells respond to the way we treat them. If we keep them healthy and free of injury, if we give them the proper nourishment, they keep us alive and running at top form. If we don’t, if we expose them to too much sun, to environmental toxins, to extended periods of stress, or to high-glycemic sugars and starches, the cells will react by producing inflammatory chemicals as a deviation of the normal defense mechanism. And if we mistreat our cells in this way on a regular basis, we can end up with organ system failure, and diseases like the ones listed, including metabolic syndrome, that can lead to diabetes and obesity.
This hidden inflammation is a novel and previously unrecognized “missing link” in our obesity epidemic. The goal of the Perricone Weight-Loss Diet is to show you how to decrease this inflammation and prevent future inflammatory responses, thereby eliminating the problem of unwanted weight gain and its serious threat to your overall health, self-esteem, and well-being.
THE ROAD TO DISCOVERY
As a dermatologist, I have had the unique opportunity to actually see the very negative effects of this subclinical inflammation on my patients because, unlike the heart or the liver, the skin is a visible organ. The skin is also an excellent barometer or measurement of our internal health and clearly reflects what is going on inside. This can be something as subtle as a change in ruddiness, or an increased pallor—in fact, physicians can look at the skin and make a diagnosis of internal diseases very accurately.
Many of us think of the skin as simply a cosmetic cover for our body. We pretty much ignore it unless or until something goes wrong, such as a breakout of acne right before a big date.