Offbeat Ways to Lose Weight

Dogs are a man's best friend, and a new study shows pets can make great weight-loss buddies, too.

By Jean Lawrence
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Michael Smith

One of the quickest novelties to wear off is the novelty of dieting and weight control. So scientists and nutritionists are constantly seeking ways to bring back "that losing feeling."

Instead of eating hot dogs, how about running with one? As the media never tire of reminding us, 60% of American adults are overweight. But did you know that 60 million cats and dogs also suffer from the disease of obesity? For both people and pets, of course, added weight means increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and a host of other ailments.

The idea for a unique pilot study called "People and Pets Exercising Together" (PPET) came not from the human side, but the pet side. "Hill's Pet Nutrition (maker of Science Diet and Pet Prescription pet foods) contacted me, as an obesity expert," Robert Kushner, MD, medical director of the Wellness Institute at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, tells WebMD. "They said we have two epidemics here, people and pets. Let's be creative."

Kushner's associate, Dawn Jackson, a registered dietitian and exercise specialist, says research shows that peer support is a major predictor of success in dieting. They wanted to learn if a dog could count as a "peer" (hey, it's our best friend) in keeping both the human and pet on track.

In the trial, 29 people are dieting in a humans-only group and 16 in a dogs-and-humans group. The people eat about 1500 calories a day and let their dogs tow them around on daily walks. The dogs also are on a regimen determined by the study's vet and their own vet at home. Both the dogless and dog endowed get advice, a newsletter, and periodic weigh-ins (including separate reckonings for the chubby canines). The results will be published in April 2004.

So far, both humans and pooches are shedding pounds, but the final results have yet to be tabulated. "I will say this," laughs Dr. Kushner, "this is the most fun study I have ever done." Could a franchise be in the wings -- maybe PETsMART meets Weight Watchers? "PETsMART didn't seem too interested," Kushner sighs.

This shouldn't stop you, though -- Kimberly Glenn, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and coordinator of the weight reduction clinic at Northside Hospital in Atlanta, says walking the dog (who could break a promise to a large-eyed sweetie?) is a good way of dropping the pounds.

Family Fitness Camp

Glenn also suggests going on a health vacation, such as hiking or to a spa, and involve the whole family in your program. Especially after September 11, families want to stick together and do more things, agrees Randy Griffin, director of marketing of the Eden Roc Renaissance Resort and Spa in Miami. The Eden Roc's Family Fitness Package certainly fits the bill.

For nearly $1,000, families (typically mom, dad, and one or two adolescents) receive two nights of luxurious pampering, rock climbing instruction, kickboxing, aqua fitness, yoga on the beach, and a cooking lesson from a top chef. Light, delectable recipes, naturally! Mom and dad can even sneak back to the room for a massage while the teens are swimming. "Everyone laughs, sometimes at each other, and has a great time," Griffin tells WebMD.

Back to Basics

Most weight-loss programs call for not skipping meals and loading most of your intake during the day rather than right before bedtime. That's not how people were meant to eat, insists Ori Hofmekler, former editor of Mind & Muscle Power magazine and author of "The Warrior Diet." "People used to hunt, fight, or wander during the daylight hours," he explains. "Night was for feasting and eating everything they caught."

Eating like a warrior, Hofmekler contends, can melt off five pounds a week. Undereating during the day (fresh vegetables, fruit, coffee, tea, and water only) triggers the body's highly efficient fat burning mechanisms, he explains. You burn fat for 10 hours a day and detoxify the liver. Excess hormones and heavy metals are stored in fat, according to Hofmekler, and this needs to be burned off and not just sit there. "This keeps you young and full of energy," he says.

Simplify Your Goal

With so many people regaining lost weight, much of the emphasis these days is on changing lifestyles -- radically and permanently. Glenn says a short-term goal such as training for a charity or 5K walk might be a good starting point.

Or find a partner (noncanine) for daily workouts. Start with the commitment to that person and the daily outing, then expand to food changes that make you feel lighter and more energetic.

Cruise to Lose

Dieting, like much else in life, is a matter of style. For people who love to cook and love to eat, but don't want the latter to show too much, Cooking Light magazine has Norwegian Line cruises. "It's not really a diet cruise," smiles Mary Creel, project editor at Cooking Light. "About 350 passengers on the ship may be on this program, which features our recipes, but our recipes are really for everyone and featured in every dining room on the ship," she says.

Diet guru Richard Simmons also runs at least one cruise a year on Carnival Cruise Lines, offering "Sizzlin' Sweat and Tonin' Workouts" and "Energizing Rise and Shine." A ship, catchy music, endless ocean in every direction, and Richard Simmons. What, no dogs allowed?

Star Lawrence is a medical journalist based the Phoenix area.

Published Oct. 2, 2003.

Robert Kushner, MD, medical director, Wellness Institute, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago. Dawn Jackson, RD, exercise specialist, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago. Kimberly Glenn, MS, RD, coordinator, weight reduction clinic, Northside Hospital, Atlanta. Randy Griffin, marketing director, Eden Roc Renaissance Resort and Spa, Miami. Ori Hofmekler, former editor, Mind & Muscle Power; author, "The Warrior Diet." Mary Creel, project editor, Cooking Light, Birmingham, Ala.

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