UC Berkeley News


Eat smart, get fit
The Tang Center offers an alternative to low-carb diets

| 04 February 2004

Every few years, a new diet guru rolls out the ultimate formula for weight loss. You don’t have to be a nutritionist to know that the logic of most fad diets is shot through with holes like a piece of low-fat Swiss cheese.

Low-carbohydrate/high-protein (LCHP) diets are the diets du jour, with the Atkins and the Zone (or Sugar Busters) regimens being the best known of the bunch.
Anyone who has cut back on carbohydrates and beefed up their protein intake knows that the initial results can be gratifying. The daily caloric intake on LCHP diets averages between 800 and 1,000, so weight reduction — albeit primarily from water loss — is practically assured.

The risk factors
The problems with such diets, according to Helen Pak, a registered dietitian at the Tang Center, are numerous.

“Carbohydrates are the brain’s preferred source of fuel,” says Pak. And with too few carbohydrates, she says, people may eventually experience confusion, agitation, headache, depression, and mood swings, among other symptoms.

LCHP diets, says Pak, typically prescribe three to four times the recommended daily allowance for protein, a nutrient that doesn’t contain much water. The resulting dehydration, she says, can be detected in a host of symptoms: constipation, urinary tract infections, lightheadedness, decreased metabolism, and cold sensitivity.

If the short-term effects aren’t enough to put you off these fad diets, the severity of the long-term risks may do so. Low caloric intake can starve muscles and organs, reports Pak. Excess protein may stress kidneys, leading to kidney stones and possible kidney failure down the road. Because carbohydrates provide an important source of vitamins and minerals, deficiencies can result, leading to a compromised immune system as well as potential cardiac, bone, and liver abnormalities.

Is it worth the risks to achieve a slim physique? Apparently not, reports Pak, since there’s “a rebound effect whereby, on average, people gain 10 to 15 pounds more than their pre-diet weight.”

The sensible, time-tested approach
To combat the lose-weight-get-thin-quick approach, Health*Matters, the campus wellness program, has teamed up with Pak and Kristl Buluran, a health educator and Health/Fitness Instructor, to offer “Eat Smart, Get Fit,” a six-week, eight-session class. Six sessions will cover key nutrition topics, while the other two meetings will be focused on fitness.

The class begins on Feb. 17 with the first of six Tuesday sessions focused on creating and maintaining a healthy, balanced approach to nutrition. During the class, Pak plans to address emotional versus physical hunger, caloric needs, meal planning, grocery shopping, how to meet both your children’s and your own needs at meals, and how to make low-fat, healthy meals.

“My goal is to help people achieve a healthier lifestyle,” says Pak, “with weight loss as one of the side effects.”

The two fitness sessions will take place on successive Thursdays, Feb. 19 and 26, from 12:10 to 1 p.m.. with an emphasis on how to make exercise a habit. All class meetings will be held in the Tang Center. A $60 registration fee is required; enrollment is available through the Interactive Course Enrollment System (ICE), hrweb.berkeley.edu/ice/home/.