Dr. Ali Zentner knows the weight loss journey intimately. Having gone through her own weight loss — she’s shed more than 175 pounds — she brought her experience to CBC’s reality show Village on a Diet. Thankfully, if you missed Village, Zentner has gone on to pen The Weight-Loss Prescription and here, the Vancouver physician shares some insights on how to ditch those pounds.
Q: How does your book differ from the other diet books out there?
A: Diets imply a beginning, a middle and an end. And what I wanted to do with this book is focus on the middle. I think what’s out there in diet books right now is “Eat this don’t eat that” or “I lost 150 pounds and you can too”. But I wanted a book that transcended that, that accomplished three things. Firstly, I wanted to advocate making true permanent lifestyle changes. Secondly, I wanted to draw the reader in and allow a sense of empathy of this disease. And I wanted a book that focused on science — as a physician, it’s my obligation not to just give a personal account of what to do, but really to focus on what was the evidence and what worked? And what didn’t?
Q: And you believe diets don’t actually work, correct?
A: They don’t. Again, they imply a beginning, a middle and an end. What truly does work is making small, significant changes over a long period of time. A diet says that you essentially flip on a light switch — you do one thing one day and completely not the next. That’s not how people change or how behavioural change happens.
Obesity is very much a disease. There’s a huge physiology that exists, that we’re actually changing every day, about how we interact with food, how our brain interacts with our fat cells and the biochemistry we have there.
And I want the reader to ask: who are you around food? What is your food personality when it comes to your food behaviour? And if you understood that, then you could identify the problem. Diets focus on the solution and take cookie-cutter approaches to the solution and so it’s no question they would fail. As a physician, not every patient needs treatment X.
Q: And in doing so, you identify different types of eaters — the all or nothing dieter, the emotional eater. What if you’re a “multiple” type of eater — say a fast-food junkie and a calorie drinker?
A: Pick one and work on that. I ask my patients: which one are we going to pick first? Because it puts you in the driver’s seat and evidence shows that when people feel empowered, they feel an ability to make significant behaviourial changes.
Q: What did you learn going through your own weight loss experience?
A: Everyone asks when did the penny drop for me to start losing weight? But I don’t think change happens that way. I remember that we’d won an elliptical trainer and it sat in our house for months. But one day I got on it and I did five minutes and I remember thinking ‘just go back tomorrow’. And I kept going back, and pretty soon five minutes became 10, and 10 became 20 and within the first year and a bit I lost about 60 pounds and then I realized that ‘okay, maybe this is an option’.
I don’t want you to get the impression that it was this night and day concept because what people ask me now, ‘how long did it take you to lose that weight?’ and I say, any day now. There is no cure for this disease and every day I wake up is a day I focus on my own treatment.
Q: How did your Village on a Diet experience influence you?
A: I had patients who never knew my story. All of the sudden my whole personal story was front and centre and as a doctor I didn’t know how to navigate it. And then inadvertently my story became an inspiration for people. I realize now that that’s one of my most important therapeutic tools as a physician: being an example.
Q: So for readers who want to start losing weight today, what can they do?
A: There are four things that can help.
1. Keeping a food diary
This way you know what you’re doing and you can make changes.
2. Walk 30 minutes daily
Studies show a woman who walks 30 minutes a day has half the risk of a heart attack than a woman who doesn’t.
3. Don’t drink your calories
4. Eat breakfast every the day
But remember, people don’t need tips on how to start. They need a cheering section on how to continue. So the fifth one is never diet in silence.