Diets: A New Flavorful Way to Lose Weight

By his own admission, Jonathan Link, 34, a systems analyst at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn., is "a designer kind of guy." So imagine his distress when his weight began creeping up and he found himself shopping at Wal-Mart for trousers with elastic waists. No matter how much he exercised, the extra pounds wouldn't go away. Then he volunteered for a trial of a new diet plan. Admittedly, he was skeptical when he heard that it wasn't based on counting calories, but on cooking meals with daily flavor themes—lemon one day, thyme or basil the next, walnuts or almonds the day after. Yet in 12 weeks, Link, who's just shy of 5'10", dropped from 183 pounds to 159, and his cholesterol plummeted from a scary 232 to 164—low enough that his physician stopped pestering him about going on cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Today anyone who wants to try this diet can, without joining a clinical trial. It's the subject of a new book, "The Flavor Point Diet," by Dr. David Katz, associate professor of public health at Yale and director of the Yale Prevention Research Center at Griffin Hospital. It's the first truly novel diet plan to come along in years—and one of the few that doesn't require starving yourself or eliminating entire categories of nutrients, such as fat or carbs. All you have to do is "manage flavors," says Katz.

That may sound like an improbable premise for a diet. But it's based on the science of "sensory-specific satiety." Think of it as the theory of diminishing returns applied to appetite. It explains, for example, why each successive bite of pasta is less satisfying than the previous one. That's why you don't stop at pasta, but reach for the bruschetta as well, not to mention the salami and provolone. And when the cannoli and tiramisu are offered, it's surprising how you can find room for those, too. Never mind that you're already full. Nature has programmed us to seek a variety of tastes, shapes, colors and textures in our food, so that we will consume a wide range of nutrients. Yet in the land of vending machines and all-you-can-eat buffets, this natural propensity is working against us.

The remedy, according to Katz, is to consume a healthy diet with nutritional variety, but unified by a daily flavor theme. On lemon day, for example, you would have lemon-poppy seed muffins for breakfast, lemon tabbouleh salad for lunch, pan-seared tilapia with lemon chives and capers for dinner, and fresh blueberries with lemon peel for dessert. The subtle repetition of the flavor du jour helps you reach satiety faster, he says, without making you feel deprived. The diet includes a month of these daily menus (plus two "special indulgence days"—chocolate and coconut).

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Sample Menu From 'The Flavor Point Diet'

But can you really diet without feeling hungry? It worked for Laura Coppola, a buyer of medical equipment at Griffin Hospital and another of the study subjects. She lost 19 pounds in 12 weeks on the diet and dropped a dress size. "I used to have cravings for snacks like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Cheese Nips," she says. "I don't have those any more."

To be honest, the diet doesn't work only because of flavor themes. It works because Katz relies on tried-and-true principles of weight loss, incorporating lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains—foods that are low in calories and high in fiber, making you feel full more quickly. Portion sizes are also limited. If you stick to the plan, you consume just 1,500 or so calories a day. Yet Coppola and Link both found it was surprisingly easy to do because the recipes, which were developed by Katz's wife, Catherine, were "delicious." A year after finishing the trial, Link still cooks them—which is exactly Katz's goal. You use the daily flavor themes just long enough, he says, to establish the healthy eating habits the diet espouses, with a proper balance of "good" fats (like omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon), complex carbs and lean sources of protein. Then, like Link, you can mix and match the recipes. Only such long-term change will help you keep the pounds off for good.

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The diet is no magic bullet. Cooking all those different meals each day takes time and planning, even though most of the dishes are one-pan preparations. And it's not cheap—at least, at first. Coppola found she spent $400 in the first few weeks, as she stocked her kitchen with everything from pine nuts to extra-virgin olive oil.

But when was weight loss ever easy? If you want magic, says Katz, read Harry Potter.

Diets: A New Flavorful Way to Lose Weight | News