What works for you? Denver man has kept 100 pounds off for 30 years; local doctors ‘weigh-in’ on current diet trends

By on May 9, 2012

By: STEVEN N. CZETLI Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

David McGarvey sits on his bike outside his Denver home, 100 pounds lighter after a dieting program he's used for years. (Photo by Steven N. Czetli)

With beach weather approaching, A Denver reader contacted the paper to recall his success with a an eating plan called the Cambridge Diet.

Though some readers will be too young to remember this liquid Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD), it heralded in a slew of others that led to the Medifast Diet that today promises the safe loss of up to two and a half pounds a week under medical supervision. These liquid diets not only tout rapid weight loss, but as nutritional science has advanced, adjustments in nutritional content and improvements in the quality of food used to make them improve the chances of getting a balance of high quality nutrients, despite the low caloric intake.

For instance, according to cardiologist and bariatric licensed physician Scott Deron, D.O., turned bariatric physician at Lancaster General Health, early liquid diets used horse’s hooves for their protein which lacked an essential amino acid. Contents have since improved.

The reader who contacted the paper was David McGarvey, a 61-year-old electrician who 30 years ago lost more than 100 pounds without surgery (not an available procedure at the time) and remains a fan of The Cambridge Diet. He has apparently suffered no ill-effects, despite its starvation-level restriction of about 400 calories a day. (Current bariatric standards prohibit calorie restriction of more than 800 calories, according to Dr. Deron.) Of course McGarvey’s overall health is not completely known since he rarely gets tested.

To a layman he looks fine, says he has plenty of energy, does not and did not crave starchy, oily or sweet carbohydrates during the weight-loss period of the diet and looks forward to another six or so years of strenuous work at his taxing trade.

What he knows and is willing to share about his health is that he has a slow (60 beats per minute) heart rate but a healthy blood pressure (120/70). However, he is not a fan of blood tests, so fasting lipid panels — which measure the fats and heart-damaging contents of the blood stream — have not been frequently tracked.

He undertook his plunge into the Cambridge Diet at the urging of his sister in 1982 without consulting his doctor. One positive aspect of this was that chewing tobacco and cigars quickly started to make him sick so he quit — he says without much struggle — and replaced them with plenty of water, which the diet requires. He now sells the diet and counsels his customers. Some customers find the diet too restrictive or unpalatable, but others do just fine. For lay reviews, visit topdiets.com and don’t be put off by the name since not all reviewers are fans of the Cambridge Diet.

Quick results tend to motivate and McGarvey’s results certainly demonstrate that. In 1982 he weighed 320 pounds and wore size 44 trousers.

"When I went on the diet I lost weight quickly," he says. "Within seven weeks I had lost 70 pounds. I was down to 250 pounds." This continued until he reached his ideal weight of 185. He has climbed from that to a little over 200 from time to time, at which point he reverts to the strict weight-loss form of the diet until he gets back to a comfortable weight. He’s at one of those points now.

And that would be the story, except weight loss is complex, controversial and contradictory. Some diets (Atkins) severely restrict carbohydrates while Vegan diets pretty much much depend on them. The mechanism for how the body regulates fat varies among well-credentialed doctors, dietitians, nutritionists and journalists as do theories of how best to shed fat. The damage different fat regulation mechanisms do to the body is growing with new additions which seem to be growing and now include cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Even children are contracting Type 2 diabetes, once referred to as "Old-age Onset Diabetes." And the connection between heart disease and obesity has long been known.

In fact, Dr. Deron, formerly focused his practice on cardiology until deciding 18 months ago to become a licensed bariatric physician to try and catch the damage obesity causes the body sooner. He recently passed the certification for bariatric medicine and sees himself moving his practice downstream to catch the damage earlier or avoid it altogether.

"I’ve been in the cath lab for 25 years now fixing sick arteries. I feel a little bit like Lucy ("I Love Lucy" — a long-running situation comedy of the 1950s where in one classic scene, "Lucy in the The Candy Factory," she falls hopelessly further and further behind wrapping candy on a conveyor belt.), said Deron, who sees obesity and heart disease in a similar way. "Sixty-six percent of the country is either considered obese or overweight," he said, and the situation is getting worse.

Blame lands on a broad front, including fast food, sedentary lifestyles, sugary drinks, genetics, over-eating, refined carbohydrates, too much of the wrong kinds of oil, sluggish metabolism, true addiction to fattening foods, evolution and a host of other eating habits and genetic predispositions.

So desperate are we to find a solution to our bulging waistline that surgical procedures that reduce the size of the stomach to roughly the size of an egg are being perfected, despite dangers. (Mortality has decreased from 0.8 percent in 1998 to 0.1 percent in 2008, according to Joni Schmidt, RN, BSN, CBN, bariatric nurse coordinator at the Weight Loss Clinic of the Ephrata Community Hospital, who underwent the procedure and lost 115 pounds. After seven and a half years she can pretty much eat anything she wants, but at first was limited to clear liquids, other liquids, baby food and other light fare. She still called it the "gold standard" in weight loss treatment. And while obese people who have exhausted the other solutions to weight loss and find their weight life-threatening, this is probably their best option.

The important point is that weight loss is a very individual undertaking, with one of many singular solutions probably best approach. For those who want to tackle understanding how the body regulates fat, Dr. Deron recommends a book by Gary Taubes: "Why We Get Fat and What We Can Do About It." Written for the layman, it still requires some patience and is not a quick read. Still, it does not condescend to the reader as so many diet books do.

For those with just a few pounds to lose, some common sense tips may do the trick. Dietitian Fran Hadley, RD, LDN, CDE at the Weight Loss Clinic of the Ephrata Community Hospital had these suggestions:

? Plan to lose the weight gradually, with a set goal for each week.

? Set a goal of changing behavior, not a number on the scale.

? Eat healthier snacks and reduce portions.

? Recognize that everyone loses weight at a different weight.

? Prepared food plans can be expensive, but if you don’t like to plan, this may be your bet option.

? Chose a diet that has some science behind it, like Weight Watchers.

? Record your intake in a food diary.

? Put exercise into your plan — even if your job is sedentary, plan ways to work some activity into your day.

? For snacks, chose whole grains, things that have at least three grams of dietary fiber per serving.

? As to caloric restriction, for men 1,500 calories a day seems to be where you want to be and for women not less than 1,200.

? Before starting any diet, talk to your health care provider to be sure that it is something that they would approve. More DIETS, page A10

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