desire to change one’s body image is very prevalent in today’s society;
and in most cases what people want to change is their weight.
Companies who market diet programs and miracle diet drugs are very much
aware of this commonality among consumers and take advantage of the
susceptible nature of those who want to lose the weight and lose it fast.
Among the multitude of pills, programs and promises that are offered as
cures to the unhappiness of being fat, one new concept has emerged that
stretches the boundaries of logic: the catabolic diet.
IS THE CATABOLIC DIET?
catabolic diet is based on the concept that a person can eat “catabolic”
foods that actually have a negative calorie effect.
These are foods that supposedly take a person more calories to digest
them than the food itself actually contains.
Simply put, they are foods that burn fat instead of creating it. (http://www.rarebooks.net/beck/cataboli.htm)
FOUND ON THE NET
creators of the catabolic diet have used the Internet as their primary
marketing tool; therefore, there are many sites about the diet. Some are blatant advertisements and others pose as being
informative and factual. The
bottom line: all the sites found on the catabolic diet are looking to make a
profit and want the browser to buy into a program.
claims that the catabolic diet is so effective that, “[It] works three times
faster than starvation.” Yet,
after making this statement the site also says that the “Catabolic Diet is a
medically created diet. . .” Needless
to say there is no medical doctor’s endorsement found anywhere on the page
because no doctor would recommend a diet that in effect kills you.
The site also gives an explanation on how the diet works.
In order to digest food, your body must use several organs like
muscles, intestines, digestive juices, blood cells, liver, pancreas, etc.
By using these organs during the digestive process, your body burns
calories. Eating a 300-calorie
piece of cake may only require fifty calories to be lost in the digestive
process, therefore you retain 250 calories.
But, if you were to eat a twenty-five calorie catabolic food, it may
take 100 calories to digest it, thus you have lost 75 calories from your fat
deposit. After this “factual
information” the site gives the necessary testimonial. Apparently while on
the catabolic diet, “ . . .one lady went from 395 pounds to 156 pounds in a
matter of months. The site also
claims that this miraculous weight loss of 239 pounds is documented in the
Journal of the American Medical Association.
But wait, what about the list of catabolic foods? Well, to be privy to
that information, one must pay $23.70 for the diet program book.
Looking for something a little more informative on the catabolic diet,
like the history of the diet and its creator? If you go to http://www.rarebooks.net/beck.cataboli.htm,
you will come across a thirteen page detailed explanation of the diet from it’s
debut in 1935 to the present. According
to this website, the catabolic diet was created by Dr. Victor Lindlahr, who
started a local radio program in Chicago about health and nutrition.
It was on this radio station that Dr. Lindlahr introduced his diet to
the world. After giving some
brief biographical information on Dr. Lindlahr, the site goes on to tell how
he discovered the diet. One day a 240-pound woman came to his sanitarium complaining
that she wanted to lose thirty pounds in the next month before her wedding.
Dr. Lindlahr’s solution: “a carefully supervised fast.”
After seven days the woman had only lost four pounds, so Dr. Lindlahr
had to do a bit of brainstorming. Being
the ingenious health nutritionist that he was, he remembered a very effective
diet that was low in carbohydrates and decided to put the woman on the “L.C.”(low
carbohydrate) diet. Consequently
the woman lost thirty-four pounds. Dr.
Lindlahr made some adjustments to the L.C. diet and named it the catabolic
giving a similar explanation on how the diet works as the site www.blackbeard.com/newlook/,
this site tells of the benefits of catabolic foods, like the fact that they
are very high in vitamins and minerals and provide alkaline ash that is “very
useful in offsetting the acid residue of fat destruction in the body.”
officially test the effectiveness of the diet Dr. Lindlahr asked 1000
listeners of his radio station to go on the diet.
Within a month 936 listeners had reported that their average weight
loss was one pound a day for ten days. To
prove that this test actually occurred, the site lists several testimonials of
people proclaiming the miraculous results.
However, the quotations are cited from “-a man in Manhattan,”
“–a woman in Philadelphia.”
the site provides a list of catabolic foods.
The foods are categorized under Fruits, Vegetables and Meats.
Under Fruits are apples, kumquats, apricots, strawberries, limes,
tangerines, blackberries, nectarines, currents, peaches, watermelon,
cantaloupe, mangoes, and about twenty other fruits.
Listed as vegetables are asparagus, green beans, cucumbers, peas,
string beans, dandelion greens, celery, dill pickles, beets, carrots, leaks,
lettuce, mushrooms, and almost every other common vegetable.
The meat list is very sparse because, “most meats are not on the
catabolic food list because they are not catabolic.”
However a dieter is allowed to eat sea bass, crabs, oysters, buffalo
flounder, frog legs, cod steaks, mussels and terrapin.
site, http://www.catabolic.com is very
similar to www.blackbeard.com.
In fact much of the wording and examples are exactly the same.
They too give the example of the 395-pound woman who dropped 239 pounds
in a couple months. This site has
actual pictures of people who have lost weight on the catabolic diet.
It shows one woman, Melissa from Los Angeles who looks like a swimsuit
model after being on the diet. At
the bottom of the picture the site gave the browser the option of seeing “more”
pictures. Yet, instead of
providing more pictures, an order form came up.
In order for the catabolic diet to work, the human
digestive system would have to be drastically altered.
No living animal’s digestive system is formatted to give off a
reverse thermo result; if so, the species would not survive. When a person eats something, his/her body immediately begins
to break the food down and turn it into energy to be used or stored. The
first process of the digestive system begins with the actual chewing and
tearing of the food. The salivary
glands provide moisture in order for the food to be tasted, but they also
produce an enzyme in the saliva that begins to digest starch.
After the food is swallowed, it is passed through the pharynx and
esophagus. Peristalsis allows the
food to travel through the digestive system through a series of “rhythmic”
muscle contractions. This same
process blends the semi-digested food with the gastric juices of the stomach.
The stomach absorbs little nutrients; rather it is simply a place where
the food is broken down into a format in which the small intestine can absorb
it. Because the food at this
point is very acidic, the pancreas has to secrete acid-reducing enzymes so the
small intestine can process the material.
Protein and starch digestion are completed in the small intestine, but
fat must be broken down by bile salts produced in the liver.
Therefore, fat is absorbed in the “middle one-third” of the small
intestine. The absorption of water by the small intestine is also
coupled by the absorption of vitamins and electrolytes.
Digestion is furthered by the large intestine in which more water is
absorbed and inhabited bacteria create several vitamins.
Whatever remains after this process is the “leftover” or feces.
Feces mainly consist of undigested fiber, inorganic material, water and
bacteria (Brannon and Feist, 440-442).
creators of the catabolic diet claim that this process burns more calories
when digesting certain types of food, but it is obvious simply by
understanding how the digestive system works that this concept is impossible.
According to Arne Astrup, Director and Professor of the Research
Department of Human Nutrition at The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural
University in Denmark (Holly 1999, p. 109), “There is no evidence to
support that the differences in dietary composition exert clinically important
effects on energy absorption and energy expenditure, so the main mechanism of
weight reduction diets is to reduce total energy intake.”
WHAT IS THERMOGENESIS
Cornell University News defines thermogenesis as “
burning energy through a metabolic process.”(http://news.cornell.edu/releases/Nov98/thermogenesis.hrs.html)
According to JAMA, “Body weight is dependent on the balance between
energy intake in the form of food and drink and energy expenditure.
Daily energy expenditure consists of resting energy expenditure, the
energy required to metabolize food (thermic effect of food), and energy
expended as a result of activity. Basically,
when energy expenditure and energy intake are in balance a person’s weight
does not fluctuate, whereas when the energy intake is greater than the
expenditure weight gain will result. (http://jama.ama-assn.org/issues/v282n16/rfull/jct90019.html)
Advances in Basic Obesity Research
Figure 1. Daily Energy Expenditure
Because every scientist knows that researching foods
that take more calories to digest them than they actually contain is both
stupid and a waste of time, there have been no studies done on the
effectiveness of the diet alone. There
have, however, been studies done on Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR),
thermogenesis, and the thermic effect of food.
A study found in the American Journal of Clinical
Nutrition performed in April of 1983 tried to predict the RMR of 154 women and
48 men before the beginning of a weight reduction program. This study basically shows what determines the amount of
calories people need. In both
sexes there were definite connections between RMR and fat-free body mass, body
fat, weight, fat cell weight, and fat cell number.
Multiple regression analysis showed that fat-free mass and fat cell
weight and number were significant in the prediction of RMR.
The study concluded that the main reason for the differing RMR between
men and women is the fact that men have a higher proportion of fat-free mass (
Berstein RS; Thornton JC; Yang MU; Wang J; Redmond AM; Pierson RN Jr; Pi-Sunyer
FX; Van Itallie TB, 1983).
Another study shows the relationship between a
diet-induced thermogenesis and satiety during high protein/carbohydrate and
high fat diets. The study was
performed in the respiration chambers at the department of Human Biology at
Maastricht University on eight females ages 23-33 with body mass indexes of
23+/-3kg/m2. The subjects were
fed “in energy balance” with protein/ carbohydrate/fat. Thermogenesis that resulted due to the diet was
considered as part of the energy expenditure.
The results showed that the energy balance was almost complete.
On the high protein/carbohydrate diet the DIT (diet induced
thermogenesis) was 14.6+/-2.9%, and 10.5+/-3.8% on the high fat diet.
The study concludes that in lean women, satiety and DIT were higher
with a high protein/carbohydrate diet than with a high fat diet (Westerterp-Plantenga
MS; Rolland V; Wilson SA; Westerterp KR).
Cornell Nutritional Biochemist T. Colin Campbell
experimented on lab rats with a high plant-based fiber diet that was low
animal based protein/fat. He
concluded that rats fed diets with less protein consumed more energy but
gained slightly less weight and underwent increased thermogenesis due to “enhanced
metabolic body heat and to diet-driven physical activity.
According to the site, http://www.news.cornell.edu/releases/Nov98/thermogenesis.hrs.html,
details of this experiment are to be published in the American Journal of
Although these studies do not correlate directly with
the catabolic diet, they do destroy its validity.
Each study shows that by ingesting food, whether high in carbohydrates,
low in fat, high in fat, or high in fiber, energy is taken in by the body.
Never once was there a documented “reverse caloric effect” where
the body actual expended energy by digesting the food rather than gained
energy from it. Therefore, it is
logical to think that the catabolic diet is a complete farce.
If someone were to lose weight on the catabolic diet it would be
because the foods they were eating were very low in calories and fat, not
because they were consuming “negative calorie foods.”
Sorry Dr. Lindlahr, but your diet is a no go.
Arne. “Dietary Approaches to Reducing Body Weight.”
Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
Ed. Jeff P. Holly. New
York: AMA 1999. 109-120.
RS; Thornton JC; Yang MU; Wang J; Redmond AM; Pierson RN Jr; Pi-Sunyer FX; Van
Itallie TB. (1983a).
Prediction of the Resting Metabolic Rate in obese patients.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1983 Apr, 37(4):
Linda and Jess Feist. Health
Psychology: An Introduction to Behavior and Health.
Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2000.
MS; Rolland V; Wilson SA; Westerterp KR.
(1999a). Satiety related
to 24 h diet-induced thermogenesis during high protein/carbohydrate vs high
fat diets measured in a respiration chamber.
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1999 June; 53(6): 495-503.
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