Sunday, October 08, 2006

Atkins Disciple Berkowitz Still An Ardent Believer In Low-Carb Living

Berkowitz using her experience working with Dr. Atkins to change lives

I am going to introduce you to someone today that you have probably never heard of, but she has very likely played a role in your education about the low-carb lifestyle. Her name is Valerie Berkowitz and I am so excited to share an exclusive interview with this woman who worked alongside the late Dr. Robert C. Atkins at The Atkins Center for Complementary Medicine (ACCM).

Today she is continuing the work she did with ACCM at The Center For Balanced Health to help people deal with obesity, diabetes, and other related diseases. She has a B.S. in Nutrition from the University of Rhode Island and an M.S. in Nutrition from New York University.

Absorb what this woman has to share about livin' la vida low-carb.

1. As much flack as I give dietitians at my blog for their distorted views regarding good nutrition, I am pleased to introduced to you today a real live dietitian who actually SUPPORTS livin' la vida low-carb. Gee, imagine that?! Her name is Valerie J. Berkowitz M.S., R.D., C.D.N., C.D.E. and she is also a certified diabetes educator and certified lifestyle counselor. For well over a decade now she had devoted herself to the subject of nutritional science so she can help people overcome their obesity and the associated diseases that come with being overweight. Welcome Valerie! Tell us what got you interested in the subject of complementary nutritional science in the first place.

As a young adult I believed nutrients from foods would protect against disease and promote longevity and youthfulness. I needed to satisfy my curiosity and understand how nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, fiber, phytochemicals etc. work similar to conventional medicine. Little did I know that my career would change my life and my philosophy on healthcare and weight management.

2. You also were privileged to have worked as a nutritionist at The Atkins Center for Complementary Medicine (ACCM) with the late Dr. Robert C. Atkins. Your work there must have given you so much practical insight about health and nutrition as you worked directly with patients, students, health leaders and even consumers as you sought to educate people regarding the benefits of the low-carb nutritional approach. Could you share a memorable story from your time at ACCM that you recall as the most rewarding experience you had there?

Yes, it was a privilege to work alongside Dr. Atkins. We made dramatic improvements in people's lives. It is important for people to know that it was not just a weight loss clinic. The Center was a medical practice, like at my current practice called The Center for Balanced Health, where nutrition was the therapy of choice.

The lower-carbohydrate diet regimen, not only inspired hundreds of thousands of overweight individuals to reach and maintain weight goals, but it also improved clinical outcomes such as lowering blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol thus allowing people to reduce or eliminate medications. Additionally, patients reported better sleep and more energy, and less gas and bloating. The results for most patients were more than just memorable they were life changing.

Directly contributing to the Atkins New Diet Revolution and Atkins For Life books were meaningful professionally because I was able to learn the science supporting the low-carb lifestyle. I practice low-carb nutrition with great confidence because it works. The most unforgettable time was when I tried to purchase a booth at a diabetes conference to disseminate scientific information supporting the safety and efficacy of The Atkins diet and they refused me despite the fact that I was credentialed through their own agencies.

3. As you stated in your answer to the previous question, today you are the Director of Nutrition at The Center for Balanced Health which seeks to provide individualized health and weight loss techniques customized for the specific needs of each person who comes to you for assistance. What are some of the major issues that you and your staff see time and time again that people come to you for help with?

Many of our clientele are referrals from other patients. However, I welcome your readers to visit us online anytime to learn more about what we do at Click on the "Balance Your Health" link for a list of medical conditions that we see frequently and a description of symptoms that may explain the main reason for their resistant weight loss. The list includes unstable blood sugar such as diabetes and hypoglycemia, heart disease, thyroid issues, hormonal imbalance, yeast and stomach problems, polycystic ovarian syndrome and low energy levels.

4. I was fascinated by one service you offer at the Center for Balanced Health called the "10-Minute Breath Test" which has a 99% accuracy rate. This simple and quick test will let you see how many calories someone is burning daily. How does this test work and what happens next if you find that someone is not burning as many calories as they should?

The body uses oxygen to burn calories. The “breath test” measures the amount of oxygen the body is consuming. Based on the rate of oxygen used, it calculates the Resting Energy Expenditure (REE). The REE is the exact amount of calories that a person burns each day. It does not account for calories burned while doing daily activities, house chores, walking through the mall, etc.

We can use the test for individuals who are following a low-carb regimen and also need to count calories. For example, those people who have been on medications that interefere with metabolism like anti-depressants, birth control pills, steroids, etc. or who are post-menopausal women and those who want to have concrete information about how many calories they need to consume on a daily basis.

The breath test also reveals 3 scenarios that help us identify whether someone has an underlying medical condition that is interfering with weight loss:

a) burning too few calories
b) burning more than the average amount of calories and not losing weight
c) consuming a very small amount of calories and burning normally, but not losing weight

If we find any of these situations, we know that any weight gain or inability to lose weight may not be the fault of the patient and in fact could be due to an underlying medical condition, such as an underactive thyroid, hormonal imbalance, or yeast overgrowth. Once we identify the reasons for resistant weight loss, we can tackle the real problem and get results that otherwise would not have been achieved.

5. This may sound like a simple question, but I believe it is the question of our time--why is obesity and diabetes growing so fast in the United States and around the world today?

I wish it was a simple question with a simple answer. There are a myriad of factors that intertwine to create this diabesity explosion. You will see from the list below that food companies and technology have their place in the blame game but we as individuals are also guilty.

Here are my reasons why we are overweight:

- Convenience foods that are high in carbs and fat
- Sugar-laden beverages that provide excess calories
- Low cost convenience foods
- Aggressive marketing of cheap convenience foods
- Eating out too often, especially for children
- Certain medical conditions and pregnancy
- Psychological/emotional eating for comfort
- Social reasons to feel connected with others
- Technology reduces activity levels, breeds slothfulness
- Prescription medications
- Distorted body image thinking obesity is normal
- Eating too quickly and without any real purpose
- An "I'm too busy to eat healthy" state of mind
- Too little physical activity

We have forgotten what it is to live and enjoy life. We have forgotten what real food tastes like. We have forgotten what is like to eat dinner together as a family. We have forgotten how to celebrate, mourn or feel any emotion apart from food.

Food has become a crutch that is now a part of every facet of our lives when in fact it should only be used to satisfy hunger. Results of a study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation show that 38 percent of full-time employees spend 50 or more hours at work each week. We work 320 hours, or about two months per year, more than Europeans do. We are stressed and need to learn to relax more by rediscovering time--time to cook, time to spend with loved ones, time for ourselves.

If for no other reason, we should do this because our children are mimicking these deadly characteristics and the statistics show it. Approximately 30 percent of children between the ages of 6 to 19 are overweight and 15 percent are obese. Weight is not just a cosmetic issue anymore. Children, like adults, are suffering from orthopedic problems, asthma, high cholesterol and blood pressure, psychosocial issues, and diabetes.

I have heard that if a child develops diabetes before the age of 14 that his life is shortened by 17 to 27 years. This may mean that this will be the first generation in which parents may outlive their children. And I do not believe that the current resolution of prescribing adult medications, such as Lipitor, to these children is any kind of real solution. This is wrong. I believe the statistics will likely get worse before they get better because we must change these bad habits and create healthier ones instead.

However, there is no magic bullet.

6. What needs to be done from the perspective of the medical community and government to help turn the tide of this grave problem before it reaches pandemic proportions? Or is this an issue that individuals and their families will need to make to improve their own health before it's too late?

I am sorry to say that the problem is already pandemic. One billion people in the world are currently overweight. You are playing Russian roulette if you want to wait. The numbers will only escalate while we cut through the red tape waiting for the government or medical community to catch up. Take responsibility of your own weight and health, choose a medical professional who is supportive of your decision, and let them act as a guide. Do not wait another minute.

7. Diabetes has afflicted millions and tens of millions more are expected to have it in the next 25 years. With the most recent research pointing to low-carbohydrate diets as the way to help treat and even reverse some of the symptoms of this condition, why don't organizations like the American Diabetes Association and doctors treating diabetes patients share this valuable information with them instead of issuing them more and more prescription medications?

Jimmy this is a very good question--why don’t they? My guess is that they themselves have not read the research or refuse to see the value of this simple, but very effective method.

From discussions with patients it seems that doctors do not want patients with diabetes to experience ketosis because they are concerned that the patient will go into ketoacidosis. This is, in fact, erroneous thinking because overweight patients with higher insulin levels are resistant to ketosis (fat burning) and ketoacidosis. This is partially the reason that diabetics may find it harder to lose weight because they are resistant to burning fat. However, there should be concern for those patients who are thin and insulin dependent, like Type 1 diabetics.

Because the media, not the scientific community, had a lot to do with the spread of the low-carb craze, misinformation (such as "avoid all carbs" and "just eat meat") about the plan spread rapidly into our culture and professional health care organizations began to question the safety of this nutritional approach without getting a real understanding of the metabolic advantages that this way of eating offers.

Most doctors do not have any practical experience in using a low-carb regimen to treat diabetes. Most doctors learn about medications through lunch-and-learns that are sponsored by the big drug companies and it is not in their best financial interests to talk about low-carb nutrition that would decrease the need for their product and, subsequently, their profits.

Of all the educational conferences I am aware of, The Nutrition & Metabolism Society is the only organization that sponsors information for doctors. So, if someone wants to discuss low-carb as an option with their physician, then they may want to have the information on that web site handy for discussion.

8. The low-fat diet has monopolized what constitutes a healthy diet in this country for many decades now and yet we have not seen any improvements in obesity at all. Do you think we are finally seeing the final vestiges of support for this archaic dietary approach and is the pendulum swinging in favor of a broader view of nutrition based on each person's needs? Where does livin' la vida low-carb fit in that equation?

Let me just say that your "Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb" blog is a main catalyst in helping the pendulum swing towards healthy low-carb eating because the information your provide is consistently based on solid science and research. What you provide here is practical and to the point so just about anyone can relate to your blog.

It is because of you and others like you who are passionate about low-carb living that more and more people are finally realizing that, after all this time, a low-fat diet may not be producing the results that have been claimed. There has been a major shift in what consumers believe to be healthy and these foods are lower in sugar and carbohydrates that spike their blood sugar. People now know that eating healthy carbs is important.

9. Why do people misunderstand the low-carb lifestyle so much? Is there a better way for those of us who support this way of eating can articulate it better for a generation of people who desperately need to lose weight and get healthy?

Frankly, the the low-fat/low-carb diet wars have taken their toll on the public. Low-carb has such a stigma attached to it now that people who eat this way should describe their diet as a healthy approach to eating. Quite simply, if you consume foods that taste good, control your appetite and cravings while providing good health (i.e. vegetables, meats, nuts/seeds and low-glycemic fruits along with adequate vitamins/minerals, antioxidants, fiber and healthy fats) and staying away from commercially prepared foods that provide very few nutrients and way too many calories, then you can spark an interesting conversation.

If you try to describe a low-carb diet and someone has a preconceived notion about what that is, then you will not get too far in convincing that person about your way of eating. Remember, weight loss is not easy no matter what some may say. Make your new eating plan a top priority in your life and keep it a top priority so you will be successful! Otherwise, no matter what type of nutrition plan you follow whether you follow low-carb, low-fat or any weight loss plan, it just will not work!

10. THANK YOU again for sharing some time with me and my readers at the "Livin' La Vida Low-Carb" blog today, Valerie. The work you are doing is greatly appreciated because you are seeing evidence day after day of how livin' la vida low-carb is STILL changing people's lives. Do you have any parting words of advice and encouragement for people who are considering beginning a low-carb approach to shed the pounds or improve their health?

Sure I’ll share a few suggestions I give my clients:

1. Follow the "Livin' La Vida Low-Carb" blog regularly for reinforcement from someone who cares because getting good support is hard to come by.

2. Make healthy food a priority in your life, stay focused and find ways to keep yourself motivated. Do not let things like the scale, fights with your family or even happy occasions sabotage all your hard work.

3. Do not deprive yourself--EAT and ENJOY your food!

4. Plan meals/snacks ahead of time.

5. Read label ingredients for hidden carbs.

6. Decide right now which foods you will eat and avoid during the holidays. Eat smaller portions of your favorite foods and try to completely avoid foods that are just not worth it.

7. Use visualization, for example, to prepare you for what will happen if you refuse a piece of pie.

For example:

Family: Here, honey, have a piece of pie.
You: No, thank you.
Family: Aw, come on, Thanksgiving is only once a year.
You: No thanks, I’d rather pass.
Family: Fine, I won’t make pie next time.

If you eat the pie, then you will feel guilty but if you do not eat the pie, you might feel guilty, too. How does your scenario play out? Keep your priorities straight then replay the scene in your mind so that it works in your favor.

Everyone slips on occasion, but get back on track with food and exercise ASAP.

10-9-06 UPDATE: One of my readers wanted to expand upon the visualization point of my interview with Valerie Berkowitz:

Hi, Jimmy! I'm still loving your blog!

Here's an excerpt from a recent entry:

7. Use visualization, for example, to prepare you for what will happen if you refuse a piece of pie.

For example:

Family: Here, honey, have a piece of pie.
You: No, thank you.
Family: Aw, come on, Thanksgiving is only once a year.
You: No thanks, I’d rather pass.
Family: Fine, I won’t make pie next time.

I don't know where you'd put a comment like the one I make in response to these overtures, but here it is anyway:

"You know, it has been so long [three years in my case] since I've eaten anything with sugar in it, that I no longer have the enzymes I need to digest it. If I tried to eat it, it would just be awful. I'm afraid I would suffer for hours if not days. [Not being specific about what the suffering entails, but bending over slightly and putting my arms around my belly lets their imagination fill in the details.]"

When I've said something like that to people, they realize that they are asking me to make myself sick, just so I will join them in eating something that is not on my diet. They realize that it's kinder just to let me eat my version of dessert (usually an extra slice of turkey) than to have me join them in the pie, ice cream or whatever. Since I'm a biochemist, people know that I know about digestive enzymes, so that may give my response a bit more credibility. But just in case it would help someone else, I'm sharing it.

Thanks again for your blog!

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Blogger Unknown said...

>We can use the test for individuals who are following a low-carb regimen and also need to count calories. For example, those people who have been on medications that interefere with metabolism like anti-depressants, birth control pills, steroids, etc. or who are post-menopausal women and those who want to have concrete information about how many calories they need to consume on a daily basis.<

I've had this done and my resting metabolic rate is only 1610 calories a day. Since Celexa makes me hungry 24/7, you can see why I have to count calories if I want to lose.

10/09/2006 12:45 AM  
Blogger Lowcarb_dave said...

I've noticed a trend, that you blog about attractive females! LOL

Just kidding!

Wow what fantastic advice - and very thought provoking!

I liked it!

10/09/2006 4:50 AM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

That's because low-carb makes them all so gorgeous, Dave. :D

10/09/2006 8:25 AM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

That sounds all well and good, IB, but some people can't seem to stop once they start eating the things they shouldn't. Dr. Ornish talked about only eating a "little bit" of the less healthy foods, but that can be very, very difficult for people who can't show that discipline. Trust me, I KNOW and that's why I avoid those things completely now. My body just doesn't need 'em.

10/09/2006 3:59 PM  
Blogger Lowcarb_dave said...

I agree Jimmy,

Just a little try is no good for me!

10/10/2006 3:54 AM  
Blogger AnOldHouse said...

I've always subscribed to the concept of "planned indulgences". If I recall correctly, it's something out of Dana Carpender's "How I Gave Up My Low-Fat Diet and Lost 40 Pounds" book.

There are just a few occassions in life that I think warrant such indulgences...your one personal favorite special holiday, your own birthday, vacations, etc. These should be limited to no more than 4 or 5 occassions a year, obviously probably fewer for those actively pursuing weight loss. Your birthday, not everyone else's! That one special holiday every year, not all of them and certainly not Idaho Potato Week or Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day! LOL

For me, I happily glide through all the big holidays now feasting thouroughly on all the goodness of a low-carb lifestyle and only let loose once a year for a couple of weeks while on vacation. When I get on the plane to come home, I'm right back on plan and quickly lose whatever I might have gained within a week or so.

Even during the planned indulgence, my choices now are very different than they would have been before. I just don't care to eat the blandness of most starchy foods potatoes or most pasta, etc. I will eat some ice cream or sorbet or other desserts, loads of fruit of all kinds and some refined flour breads like croissants or toasted english muffins.

That's worked for me, but if you can't handle it without throwing your entire plan into a tailspin, just don't go there!


10/10/2006 4:49 PM  
Blogger AnOldHouse said...

When it comes to eating things that are clearly off your plan and you haven't previously declared a "planned indulgence" (the "planned" part is critical!!! spur of the moment indulgences!) for that particular occassion, I feel it's very important not to let anyone guilt trip you into eating anything at all. All it takes is a polite but firm "no thank you." If the food maker can't accept that, then it's their issue, not yours. Never allow someone to guilt you into eating something that's off plan!

10/10/2006 10:01 PM  
Blogger AnOldHouse said...

Hey, do I qualify as "The Media"? ;P

You don't really want the answer to that, do you?


10/12/2006 4:28 PM  

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