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Dietitian Finds Low-Carb Diets Lacking in Long Run

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Apr. 5--During a recent Saturday visit to Kroger, Linda St. Clair came across a woman offering free apple samples to shoppers in the store's produce section.

When asked if she wanted one, St. Clair, a registered dietitian, replied, "Yes, I eat apples. I'm not on the Atkins diet."

A man shopping nearby overhead St. Clair and started talking about all the eggs he had eaten while trying Atkins, a diet that shuns foods with carbohydrates, including fruits, and espouses protein rich selections.

Then the man patted his large belly.

"See how much good it did me?" The man said he lost some weight but ended up gaining it back.

The low-carbohydrate fad taking book stores and fast food chains by storm ignores some fundamental issues related to diet, nutrition and weight loss, said St. Clair, who works with cooperative extension programs at West Virginia State College.

As with other diet fads, many people view low-carb diets like Atkins and South Beach as a quick fix to lose weight fast.

"If it's not going to be successful over time, what's the point?" St. Clair asked. "If you can't live it, don't start it."

A national registry of people who have successfully lost weight supports this idea. The voluntary registry includes more than 4,000 people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept the weight off for at least a year.

Researchers found only 10 percent of the people in the registry said they lost weight by dieting alone. About 90 percent said exercise and diet together helped them take the pounds away.

People in the registry said they burned, on average, about 2,700 kilocalories a week, which works out to about an hour of physical activity a day. The most common activity was walking.

St. Clair has talked with people who say they have lost weight eating low-carb diets but many of them say the weight came back. She said it's not surprising a diet short on carbs causes quick weight loss.

Cutting out an entire food group, and the calories that come with it, explains the weight loss that many people experience. But the problem lies in the long term.

"People can cut calories in the short term," St. Clair said. "But when it comes down to the daily grind, if you don't like what you're eating, you won't stick with it."

With this idea in mind, an obesity workgroup set up in 1998 by the Kanawha Coalition for Community Health Improvement decided to focus not on weight loss but instead on encouraging people to be "healthy at any size."

St. Clair said some people who are overweight get so discouraged by the prospect of trying to lose weight they don't even attempt it.

To combat this attitude, the workgroup has been promoting by giving presentations at work sites about healthy eating, physical activity and felling good about yourself whatever your weight.

In the long run, St. Clair doesn't expect low carb-diets to stick around. She said the current rash of foods and restaurant dishes labeled "low carb" could actually contribute to the fad's demise.

People will buy these products, St. Clair said, and many won't lose weight in the long run.

"I think we went too far with the low fat diet," St. Clair said, citing the obsession with food products labeled "low fat," including junk food like cookies and chips. People didn't necessarily lose weight by eating these foods instead of others.

"Atkins is forcing the pendulum to go all the way the other way," St. Clair said. "I think there is a middle ground."


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(c) 2004, The Charleston Gazette, W.Va. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.


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