The day after Labor Day (six days from today) our new book comes out, and our publisher finally gave us permission to excerpt it. I’m going to post the entire introduction so you’ll know why we came to write this particular book.
The story you will read will be true and the names won’t be changed to protect the ‘innocent.’ Until the events transpired that you will soon be reading about, I was not especially a proponent of fast weight loss. I mean a low-carb diet will make people lose weight quickly, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the people who used to come into my office saying, “I’ve got my high school reunion in a month. How much weight can I lose by then?’ I always considered these as fairly ludicrous requests because the requesters clearly weren’t concerned about health issues, but simply about how they would look in the short run, without an eye to maintaining their lifestyle.
As a consequence of dealing with so many of these patients, I really developed an aversion to the notion of quick weight loss to meet some sort of deadline where appearance counted. But, as with so many things in life, it’s easy to pontificate until you find yourself in the same position as the people to whom you’re pontificating.
Go ahead and read this excerpt so you can see what I’m talking about, and we’ll pick up this conversation after. This excerpt is from the manuscript version and not from the actual book so there may be slight differences, if you’re comparing the two. I used the manuscript version because I could paste it in – had I used the actual book version I would have had to type it in.
Bob Hope famously quipped that middle age is when your age starts to show around your middle, and the audience always obliged him with a hearty laugh. But for millions of adults the sad irony of the middle-aged middle is anything but funny. Except for a select few metabolically-gifted individuals, crossing the threshold into middle age heralds the beginning of a battle of the bulge that seemingly never ends. Granted some reach that threshold sooner than others; some acquiesce to the larger belt and the broader silhouette with some degree of aplomb, while others rail against time and fate. They take up and discard first one diet and exercise program and then the next in a frustrating quest to recapture the slender waist they can still recall, but no longer see in the mirror.
We’ve spent the majority of our medical careers helping people of every description with just this battle, combating overweight and weight-related health issues. Although some were in their teens and twenties and some were in their seventies and eighties, the vast bulk of the many thousands of patients we guided to better health and lower weights were in middle age. What we learned from these many years in the diet trenches is that middle-aged weight is stubborn; it’s different to deal with; it doesn’t respond readily to modest dietary changes or the incremental increases in exercise usually recommended by the purveyors of received medical and nutritional wisdom. The factors driving middle-aged weight gain—which really does go straight to the middle—are like a perfect storm, metabolically speaking. A confluence of changes in hormones, stress, lack of sleep, alcohol intake, medications, fat and cholesterol phobias, and a mountain of other nutritional misinformation combines to create a mid-life tsunami that seems to swamp the metabolism and fill every nook and cranny of the middle of the body with fat.
For more than twenty years we have researched this area of science, refining the tools to deal with it effectively, writing about it, lecturing on it, so you’d think that our expertise would make protect us from the tsunami, if it came our way. But it didn’t. Like everyone else, when the middle-age wave hit, we found ourselves floundering in the tide, paddling as fast as we could, and still not making much headway. At least not until we dug back into the medical bag of tricks we had used with success in our middle-aged patients and applied them to ourselves. Here’s how it all began.
Our wake up call came the morning we walked onto the set to film the pilot for our TV cooking show. Years before, I had gained a tremendous amount of weight while pursuing my career as a busy, practicing physician, then lost it on a diet I cobbled together from information I got rereading my old medical school texts and delving into the medical literature. My weight loss did not go unnoticed by my patients, and soon many were clamoring for me to put them on the same diet I had developed for myself. I did so with great success. In short order my practice changed. My wife, Mary Dan, left her busy family practice and joined me in what became a huge bariatric (the treatment of obesity) practice. We refined the original diet and wrote about our methods in Protein Power, a book that sold nearly 4 million copies. During the never-ending promotion of the book, we met a producer who proposed that we star in a TV cooking show designed around the precepts of our diet and a cookbook we had written. We said “Let’s do it.” He put the deal together and set the shooting schedule for the pilot.
We walked onto the set in sunny Southern California one morning filled with both enthusiasm and apprehension. As we wandered through the semi-organized chaos that is a film studio, stepping over giant cables, ducking under the scaffolding for the overhead cameras, and dodging production assistants darting here and there, we began to wonder what we had gotten ourselves into. The whirlwind of activity and the 30 or so people on the set were intimidating to say the least. We had done countless live and taped television and radio interviews in the previous years, but never a project in which we were the sole actors on the stage, the ones who had to carry the entire show on our own shoulders. A young man recognized us and directed us to the Green Room, telling us the director would be in to talk with us shortly.
The director, a total stickler for every aspect of the production, didn’t mince words when he joined us in the Green Room. “We’re going to have to do something,” he said, “you guys are too fat to be starring in this kind of a cooking show.”
We were stunned. I was a much lesser version of my former fat self and thought of myself as pretty slender. Mary Dan had gained a little weight in the ten years since the publication of Protein Power, but certainly wouldn’t have been considered fat by anyone’s estimation. People we met at lectures, book signings, and other appearances uniformly commented on how thin and healthy we looked and always added that we were good advertisements for our diet.
“Yeah, well, it doesn’t work that way on TV,” said the producer. “If you’re the stars of a show on healthy eating, you’ve got to be thin. Granted, you look better than the average Joes and Janes out there, but they don’t have their own health show. TV is a youth-driven medium. You’ve got to look young to make it on TV and young means thin, especially around the middle. It’s like the golfer, Lee Trevino, says, the young guys are the ‘flat bellies.’ You’ve got to have a flat belly if you want to make it in this biz. The camera is going to put 10 pounds on you and you’ve both got bellies starting out. Imagine 10 pounds added to that.”
“When you do lectures you’re dressed up, right? You wear suits, don’t you?”
“At book signings you sit behind a desk, shake a few hands and sign books. It doesn’t work that way on TV. You’re going to be moving around, bending over, putting stuff in the oven; you’re going to be seen from all angles. If we try to hide the fact that you’ve got a little extra weight around the middle, which will be hard since the camera will magnify it, the viewers will know. Putting you in baggy sweaters or loose clothing will just make them think you’re fat and trying to disguise it, and the show will lose all credibility.”
In a flash, Mary Dan and I had both gone from being confident in our own 50-plus-year-old bodies to being aware of the small paunches that had suddenly seemed to materialize out of nowhere. What before had seemed nothing more than a little tightening of the waistband now suddenly assumed Falstaffian proportions.
“What can we do?” we asked. “If we try to hide it, they’ll think were fat; if we don’t, they’ll know for sure. It’s a Catch-22. We can’t win.”
Our director said, “I haven’t worked in this biz for over 40 years and not learned a trick or two. Here’s how we’re going to make this work. Since you, Mary Dan, are going to be the main cook, we’ll keep you standing behind the counter. You’re short enough that with the height of the counter and a little work with wardrobe we can keep you covered without appearing to do so. Mike, we’ll have you do all the moving and bending, so you’re going to have to take the bullet.”
“Take the bullet? What do you mean?”
He reached into his large canvas bag and pulled out what appeared to be a giant piece of black foam rubber. “Before you go to wardrobe, let me help you put this on under your t-shirt.”The giant piece of foam rubber turned out to be a device called an abdominal censure; in other words, a giant girdle.
“I can’t wear that…” I said.
“Hey, don’t think you’re the Lone Ranger,” he replied, “why do you think I have this? I didn’t buy it just for you. A surprising number of the people you see on TV daily are wearing one of these. Lift up your shirt.”
“Who?” I asked.
“I’m not going to tell anyone about you and I’m not going to tell you about anyone else. Lift your shirt.”
I lifted my t-shirt; he wrapped the thing around my abdomen and put his knee in the middle of my back to cinch me in. Feeling a little like the male equivalent of Scarlett O’Hara in the corset scene, I dropped my t-shirt down and looked in the mirror. I had to admit, I looked better.
I wore the girdle and Mary Dan stayed behind the counter for the two days it took to film the pilot. (Now we shoot two shows per day, but then we were raw beginners.) Our show got picked up by PBS and we scheduled to start shooting about three months later. Fortunately, the pilot was only shown to others in the industry, and now the show with me squeezed into neoprene and Mary Dan cloistered behind the counter has been relegated to the never-to-be-shown file. What we took away from that day was the certainty that something had to be done and quickly…but what?
Not long after returning home from this experience we attended a large charity event at which we were seated at a table with several middle-aged women. One was significantly overweight, but the others would be considered within or close to their normal weight range. The discussion turned to weight loss. The constant thread through the conversation was how much easier it was to lose weight overall, compared to the difficulty of losing it in the waist. All the women bemoaned their stubborn middles.
Meanwhile, still stinging from our recent brush with abdominal truth, we had begun looking at the mid-sections of non-obese middle aged men and it quickly became clear that they all had paunches of various sizes. It appeared that there were no (or damned few) middle-aged flat bellies out there of either gender. Young people who were a little overweight didn’t seem to have protuberant guts; they carried their excess weight all over. But in middle age, it went straight to the middle. Even young people with guts don’t look the same as middle-aged people with big bellies; there is a difference, easily recognized. We realized that our director had been right; it’s not just normal body weight, but a flat belly that is the real sign of youth, so we set out to get one, too. . Drawing on two decades of experience in clinical practice, helping thousands of patients of all ages, we dusted off and examined every weight loss trick in our armamentarium. We did the same thing we had done years before when we did our research for Protein Power, combing the worldwide medical literature for insight and scientific substance, but instead of concentrating on weight-loss in general, we focused our search on abdominal weight loss, more specifically abdominal fat loss. We discovered that, although spot reducing is impossible, the diameter of the mid-section can be reduced quickly with the right nutritional tools. Fortunately, many of those tools dovetailed perfectly with those we’d used successfully over the years with patients in our clinical practice. After a couple of weeks of intense effort, we put together a flat-belly program for ourselves that combined a reworking of our old Thin So Fast and Protein Power diets that we had used in many thousands of patients, a number of nutritional supplements we had learned about from our wide-ranging medical research in the intervening years, and a unique, but simple, abdominal exercise plan, based on the laws of physics.
We had exactly 6 weeks before our next shoot, so we launched into the program with full vigor, with the goals of avoiding the dreaded cinch and the safety of the counter. The regimen vastly exceeded our expectations. The greatest changes occurred in the first two weeks with smaller, but still significant, changes taking place over the course of the next 4. We appeared for the shoot with flat bellies, much to the delight of our director. and were able to move from refrigerator to sink to counter, showing full physique and with nary a trace of neoprene. We no longer had to suck it in every time we changed positions for fear that the camera might catch our mid-sections at an unfavorable angle. The regimen had been a slam dunk.
It’s been a little over two years (and 26 episodes of our show) since we developed and took The 6-Week Cure ourselves, but our success has inspired countless readers, viewers, relatives, patients, friends, and friends of friends to want to know exactly how we did it. This book provides those answers. In it, you will discover not only what happens in middle age that drives fat into your middle body, but more importantly, what you can do, physically and nutritionally, to harness the metabolic forces at work and turn the tide. With a little hard work over a very short stretch, you, too, can regain a more youthful silhouette. When you do, we’re sure you’ll agree with what we discovered: there’s nothing that restores youth like curing your middle-aged middle.
MD and I have been on a low-carb diet (sometimes stringently; sometimes not so stringently) for about the last 25 years, so some may take this story to be a repudiation of such diets, but it isn’t. Our diet wasn’t really at fault; it was the inexorable creep of time that caused the problem.
As we age, things change. What worked 25 years ago, doesn’t work exactly as well now. Especially when we get a little sloppy with it. One of the problems with carb restriction is that people who do it for a while, get good at it. They become experts at both abiding by the carb restriction yet consuming a lot of calories and tending to overlook small carb indiscretions—a small piece of bread at dinner, just a bite or two of dessert, an extra glass or two of wine or beer—that they would have scrupulously avoided during the first heady days of low-carbing. We were certainly experts on low-carb diets and we fell into those traps. And time marched on making us even more susceptible to little indiscretions and to carb creep.
Now, we never came close to Orson Welles or Mamma Cass proportions – in fact most people would have described us a slim – but we had picked up little middle-aged middles. So we set out to lose them. Fast. To do so, we relied upon our 25 years in clinical practice, pulling out every tool we had learned to help solve stubborn cases of middle- aged overweight.
As we describe in the book, the kind of fat people pack on around their middles in middle age is different than fat packed on earlier in life, which is both good news and bad. Middle-aged fat is, by and large, visceral fat, the kind that accumulates within the abdominal wall and around the organs. The bad news is that it is a dangerous kind of fat – the good news is that it’s relatively easy to lose. Especially if you do it the right way. Which is why you can make enormous strides in only six weeks even if you have a lot to lose.
Although it does contain plenty of information you’re not likely to have read before, this book isn’t intended as a giant treatise on everything known about health and weight loss. It’s, quite simply, a primer on how to get rid of middle-aged abdominal fat fast and safely. We solved our own problem. I hope those of you who grab a copy and give it a try achieve the success that we did. And I hope you give us your feedback so that we can improve future editions.