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Published: Sunday, 10/19/2003

Dr. Atkins, Dr. Phil have tough Rx for us

Dr. Atkins' book is on the nightstand. Dr. Phil's smiling face is on the TV screen. Who's on first, anyway?

People who are complimented for an obvious weight loss often say they did it the Atkins way. But, since Dr. Phil has made his seven keys to successful weight loss the focus of his TV show, it also is getting widespread attention. Dr. Phil, of course, has the advantage of a national television audience, complete with the overweight clients who are willing to share their stories. It's as good for Dr. Phil as it is for them that they are losing pounds and are wearing broad smiles on the show now, along with smaller clothes. Such visible results sell books.

I find it fascinating that Americans are always ready to endorse another plan to lose weight or to fall at the feet of a weight-management guru with renewed optimism. That Dr. Phil made his debut on Oprah hasn't lessened his public support. He seems like a nice guy with that slow drawl seasoned with dry humor and frequent sarcasm. His interaction with the clients makes for one of the better daytime TV shows. For example, he told a 300-pound woman she was a complete phony. Then she confessed that she didn't want to lose weight because she was fearful of being raped again, which would be the third time. Though Dr. Phil insists there is a deep-down, inner reason for obesity, that reason had to jar him.

The Atkins diet, it seems, works wonders for those who abide by the rules to the letter. In the newest book, followers are told that if they follow the rules, they will be welcomed permanently into the land of the slim. Carb restriction is a high hurdle for people who truly enjoy food and anticipate Thanksgiving dinner to wade into fluffy mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, and bread stuffing that are forbidden carbohydrates. Until Atkins held up the red flag, little did we realize, or even care, that the stuff Midwesterners grew up on and never tire of are carbohydrates.

The Atkins weight-loss theory is food for thought. Even if you don't subscribe fully to the idea of a high-protein, low-carbohydrate method, familiarity coaxes us to at least cut down on sweets, pastas, and starches.

Sandwiches, made with any style of bread, are as American as apple pie and ice cream. I have always enjoyed a good sandwich, certainly made with two slices of bread. Open face models are for tea parties.

Three weeks ago I gave them up and it's a tough challenge. Now that commercial bakeries add a dozen grains and chewy seeds to make bread interesting, Atkins says give it up and enjoy the bacon. But the bacon would be better with sliced tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, and mayo between two slices of rye bread. The greatest test of will was the day I bought fresh-from-the-oven sunflower seed bread from the new European bakery in town. I closed the car windows so that none of the aroma would be lost on the way home and forced my dinner guests to take the rest of the bread home.

Dr. Phil isn't telling lifelong yo-yo dieters anything we hadn't been told on other diet plans and by reading books on good nutrition.

We know that we overeat - and eat the wrong things - because food is comforting and soothes us when we are lonely, bored, or both. Food is paired with fun and companionship. It's women's way to please and win compliments. That eating is a social lubricant will be obvious over the holidays.

Dr. Phil says if you can change those established eating responses, you can get on the right track to sensible food intake, be happy and proud in your new body, and love life, not pie. “Heal the feeling” is a colloquialism he uses to convince people to confess the reason deep inside their conscious that causes them to be mindless eaters, like the obese rape victim.

But Americans are surrounded by food temptations that spark imagination and memories. When we see a bag of apples we picture the fruit in a bubbling pie. Roadside pumpkins denote grandma's pumpkin bars. Deep-fried and mayonnaise-laden foods line deli counters. In restaurants, choices of potatoes and salad dressings are included in the price and before we get the check, dessert is suggested. We are curious about the hundreds of new products on supermarket shelves.

So you see, it's not our fault that 65 percent of the adult population in the United States is overweight.



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