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Lose the diets, shred the books, shed the pounds

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

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Chicago's Rob Stevens recently launched a one-man crusade against the $50-billion-a-year diet industry by shredding dozens of donated weight-loss books outside a local health club.

Not only is dieting a futile act, Stevens said as "The Ultimate Weight Loss Solution" by Dr. Phil McGraw was churned into paper strips, but diets are the very reason we're fat in the first place. Diets may promise thinness and happiness, but they mess up your metabolism, exaggerate your interest in food and diminish your confidence when they inevitably fail, Stevens said.

Even more discouraging is that although some weight-loss plans can provide short-term relief, studies have shown that dieting virtually ensures long-term weight gain.

"If the diet industry were to - poof - disappear overnight, America would get a hold on the obesity epidemic," said Stevens, who once weighed more than 300 pounds but quit dieting and dropped more than 150 pounds in 1 1/2 years.

"We were all born with everything we need to stay thin naturally," he said. "All you have to do is stop overeating."

Frustrated, chronic dieters might want to wring his now-skinny neck for that statement, given how simplistic it sounds. Most people would stop if they knew how, and scientists are still trying to nail down whether the causes of obesity are physiological, psychological, cultural or some combination of the three.

Meanwhile, there is growing federal support for the controversial idea that obesity should be classified as a disease. Medicare may even begin paying for a range of weight-loss treatments, including surgery and diets.

But Stevens, who, naturally, has written his own anti-diet book, "The Overfed Head," is on to something, at least in theory. He calls his philosophy "thintuition," which means listening to your body's cues, a difficult task these days given the barrage of advertising and easy access to cheap, low-quality foods.

People who successfully follow their thintuition eat only when they're hungry, stop when they're full, enjoy the process of eating and view food as fuel. They eat what they want and don't deprive themselves of certain foods, which only fuels a craving.

These ideas are hardly new. And Stevens, who borrowed heavily from Bob Schwartz's book "Diets Don't Work," is not medically trained. His only qualification as a weight-loss guru is his own success story.

But his struggle resonates with lifelong dieters. For most of his life, Stevens, now 41, believed certain foods had the power to make him fat or thin. He went on his first diet at age 10, and for 25 years he counted calories, carbs and fat while on every diet from Atkins to the Zone. He lost hundreds of pounds, but they always returned, and his weight continued to climb.

His body--and life--finally improved when he realized he had to change his beliefs about food, rather than the foods themselves.

If there is one common theme among those with eating disorders--whether it's anorexia or obesity--it's that they're sick of thinking about food and tired of it ruling their lives. Stevens found that liberation and wants to pass it on.

"The more I focused on diet, the more weight became a problem," said Akram Abedelal, 30, a Chicago financial consultant who, guided by Stevens, is following his own thintuition. "I'd deprive myself of food and I'd think about it even more. I'd do well all day and eat a pizza in the middle of the night."

Now, Abedelal eats a few bites of pizza, rather than the whole pie. "It's just checking in with yourself," he said. "It takes a while to kick in."

Still, it remains to be seen whether Stevens has unusual willpower or whether his idea can be translated to the masses. "Not everyone has the resolve he came to," said Laura Concannon, medical director of the bariatrics program at Illinois Masonic Medical Center, who recommends Stevens' book to overweight patients. "I think he just hit bottom, and not everyone in my practice has hit bottom. If they have, they'll do well with the approach. But they have to be ready and committed to make the change."


(Julie Deardorff writes for the Chicago Tribune. Write to her at: the Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.)


(c) 2004, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.


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