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A Look at Alternative Weight Loss Plans

Aired April 29, 2006 - 08:30   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone.
"Now in the News," talk show host Rush Limbaugh makes a deal with Florida prosecutors. He pleaded guilty to one charge of prescription fraud yesterday, but prosecutors agreed to drop the charge if he remains in treatment for drug addiction, an addiction he admitted to in 2003.

Cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, marijuana could be legalized in Mexico. The bill is waiting for President Vicente Fox's signature to become law.

Under the measure, possession of small amounts of certain drugs would be decriminalized. Supporters say it will allow the government to go after big time drug dealers.

Those are the headlines. We'll see you back here at the top of the hour. HOUSECALL with Elizabeth Cohen starts right now.

ELIZABETH COHEN, HOST: Good morning and welcome to HOUSE CALL. I'm Elizabeth Cohen in for Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

From low carb to low fat, there are more diets out there than ever before. But this morning, we're not going to talk about mainstream plans. We're going to look at unusual ways people have lost weight and regained their health.

We begin with Nick, a doctor, who relied on baseball to save his life. Here's CNN's Gary Tuchman.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the Nick Yphantides, who loved baseball and food, but not necessarily in that order. He called himself a big fat Greek. Dr. Nick, family practitioner, who knew he should be an example to his patients, wasn't even sure how much he weighed because his scale didn't go high enough.

But after stepping on two scales, he found out he weighed nearly a quarter ton.

NICK YPHANTIDES, USED TO WEIGH 467 LBS.: When I realized I weighed 467, you could have just told me my mother died. I was bawling. I was just so humiliated.

TUCHMAN: He also became motivated. This is Dr. Nick today. 6'2", around 200 pounds. A bout with testicular cancer convinced him his life had to change.

N. YPHANTIDES: And it hit me like a ton of bricks how ridiculous it was having dodged the cancer bullet. And on the other side of life, I was literally killing myself. I'm convinced now that I was committing a slow form of suicide by eating myself to death.

TUCHMAN: So Dr. Nick planned a very ambitious diet. On the night before it was to begin, though, one last monster dinner. A double portion of porterhouse steak, several appetizers, cheesecake, and a banana cream pie.

N. YPHANTIDES: We went to the Ruth Chris steakhouse here in San Diego. And I let it all hang out.


Thirty-five years of bad habits culminated in one evening of food decadence. The next day, I went on the liquid fast that would last for eight months.

TUCHMAN: Under medical supervision, he only drank protein shakes, exercised regularly, and went off in this RV on what he called a radical sabbatical, a journey to each of the 30 Major League baseball stadiums, including the home of his beloved San Diego Padres.

Do you think you could have lost all this weight without the distraction of something like baseball?

N. YPHANTIDES: I'm not sure I could have.

TUCHMAN: He went to 110 games. At Chicago's Wrigley Field, he successfully performed CPR on a fan having a heart attack.

(on camera): Dr. Nick spent five months going to all the Major League baseball cities. Despite the temptations of kielbasa, hot dogs and pizza, not to mention peanuts and Cracker Jacks, he lost 188 pounds.

(voice-over): He hadn't seen his mother for months. Home video caught her reaction when he returned to his home in Escondido.

BERNICE YPHANTIDES, NICK YPHANTIDES' MOTHER: He had lost so much weight, and also got a haircut, and just looked so different. I was just shocked at the door.

TUCHMAN: And here was your own flesh and blood and you didn't even recognize him.

B. YPHANTIDES: No, it was a miraculous, joyful moment.

TUCHMAN: Nick lost an additional 82 pounds for a total of 270. His first solid food was eaten with flare on Thanksgiving and also captured on home video.

In the three years since his diet, Dr. Nick fell in love and got married. Debbie Yphantides gave birth to their daughter Nicky in April.

And Dr. Nick wrote a book, appropriately named "My Big Fat Greek Diet", in which he tells his story and gives his medical viewpoint about how others can lose weight and keep it off.

He writes that a liquid diet is certainly not for everybody and should only be done under a doctor's care. He preaches about working out, something he tries to do seven days a work at his home YMCA.

N. YPHANTIDES: You want salad?

TUCHMAN: The Greek food is still plentiful at family gatherings in Escondido, but Nick says the vivid memories of his past gives him plenty of incentive to eat in moderation.

N. YPHANTIDES: These clothes used to be tight on me.

TUCHMAN: And what are the sizes?

N. YPHANTIDES: This is a size 60 pant, five feet around.

TUCHMAN: Gary Tuchman, CNN, Escondido, California.


COHEN: That is indeed impressive. We'll be checking in with Gary later in the show.

But first, how faith could fight fat?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Praying for weight loss.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a different person than I was on the inside. That's why I'm never going to gain weight again.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Find out how this woman lost 100 pounds and gained herself esteem using her faith.

First, take today's quiz. How many calories are in the average jelly doughnut? That answer, plus how long it will take you to burn it off after the break.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Checking our quiz, we asked how many calories are in the average jelly doughnut? The answer 289, which means it would take a 135 pound woman running a ten-minute mile 29 minutes to burn it off.

COHEN: So the question is, is that doughnut worth it? We'll leave that up to you. According to the CDC, an estimated 65 percent of American adults are either overweight or obese, which leads just about one out of three people in the U.S. at a healthy weight. Struggling to get to or stay at that healthy weight is what we're talking about this morning.

And our Heidi Collins found a growing number of Americans are looking to their faith for weight loss.


GROUP: In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): From the looks of the bagels and cream cheese piled next to the holy water and rosary beads, you'd never know this was a diet meeting.

Jackie Halgash is a registered nurse, a 51-year-old mother of three, and meets weekly with her sisters and other nurses to do "The Light Weigh," a faith based weight loss program.

They read Bible passages.

JACKIE HALGASH, REGISTERED NURSE: A broken and contrite heart, oh, God, thou will not despise. Short and sweet. I just think that I came to this program because I was broken. I felt I had nowhere to go. And I felt like I couldn't do it by myself.

COLLINS: And forget about Atkins and South Beach. Instead of counting carbs, these dieters count their blessings.

JOAN CAHILL, DIETER: When I came to this program, I was a desperate person. I had no place to go but up. And "The Light Weigh" just showed me a promise of deeper faith, a thinner body. And it was a light shining in the darkness for me.

COLLINS: For Jackie, that darkness was 245 pounds. She tried every diet she knew and couldn't keep the weight off.

HALGASH: I was in the grocery store and I was shopping. And it hit me that there isn't anything in this whole grocery store. I could fill my cart with all my favorite foods and I wouldn't be satisfied. So what am I trying to satisfy?

COLLINS: Despite losing 60 pounds, she still felt fat.

HALGASH: I looked at myself from behind and I thought, oh, my God, you're such a pig. You're such a pig. You haven't changed at all.

COLLINS: Three years later, Jackie has changed. She lost 100 pounds. She credits "The Light Weigh" and its philosophy of not eating when you're sad or lonely or bored, only when you're hungry.

Suzanne Fowler is the founder of "The Light Weigh". She went on her first diet in third grade and watched her weight balloon after the birth of her sixth child.

SUZANNE FOWLER, FOUNDER, THE LIGHT WEIGH: The world's dieting has put me into a shortage mentality, which is what all dieting does to people. Food is either good or bad. They're either being good or bad. And so when this happens, it begins to control you.

Here we are with a restaurant portion. Wow! This could feed an entire family.

COLLINS: Fowler has no medical credentials, but dishes out advice. Her key point, eat only fist size portions at mealtimes. Go ahead, have doughnuts, but in moderation. There are no forbidden foods.

We contacted a registered dietitian, who said the problem is some people may eat cheesecake all day and become nutritionally deficient, a charge Fowler answers by saying when dieters are at peace with God, they don't need the junk food to fill the void.

(on camera): Jackie and her sisters are among hundreds of thousands of Americans following faith based diets. They found success, but does everyone?

Other religious dieters may be destined to fail if they go looking for weight loss miracles.

MARIE GRIFFITH, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Failure really is about failing God. I mean, it can really be about not having the faith, not having the discipline. not being obedient enough to God. Are you going to hell if you can't lose the weight and keep it off?

COLLINS: Marie Griffin is a religion professor at Princeton University, who has studied bible based diets. She worries some followers may think they're more lovable to God as a size 6 than 16.

But when Jackie gets on the scale now...

HALGASH: All right.

COLLINS: ...she's happy. She has kept few reminders of her fat days, just some old cotton pajamas.


HALGASH: Yes, it's a 3X. 3X.

COLLINS: That's like extra, extra, extra large.

HALGASH: Extra large. Yes, and the people in the know, know that's like a 24 to a 26.

COLLINS: The real difference for her, Jackie says, is what she's achieved through prayer and sacrifice.

HALGASH: Will I struggle? Yes. Never like before, but I'll struggle, but He'll keep me close because my heart is open and my mind's open. And I'm a different person than I was on the inside. That's why I'm never going to gain weight again.


COHEN: Thanks, Heidi.

While the people we've seen this morning have lost 100 pounds or more, experts say a weight loss of just five percent of your body weight can have an impact. Think about that. If you weigh 160 pounds, that's just eight pounds. Eight pounds that could mean a better quality of life and help prevent deadly diseases like cancer and heart disease.

Well, we're going inside the diet capital when HOUSE CALL returns.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This place saved my life.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She lost nearly 200 pounds. Just ahead, find out why millions of people just like her are flocking to a town in North Carolina and seeing some drastic results.

And later, why one group says a popular children's network is helping make kids fat.

First, this week's medical headlines in "The Pulse."


CHRISTY FEIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Coffee drinkers can relax a bit, even if they drink six or more cups a day. According to a new study, long term coffee consumption does not increase the risk of heart disease.

Many breast cancer survivors are not as vigilant about mammograms as time goes on. A new study in the Journal of Cancer found just 63 percent of women who had undergone breast cancer surgery were still getting annual mammograms just five years after surgery. Doctors say survivors are frightened more cancer will be found.

Christy Feig, CNN.



COHEN: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL. We're talking about weight loss alternatives from liquid diets, to prayer.

Now Gary Tuchman is back to take us to a town that one woman said saved her life and many call the weight loss capitol.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TUCHMAN (voice-over): This is what Teresa Khirallah used to look like. This is Teresa now. The 31-year-old Texan gives some of the credit to a place called...


TUCHMAN: You've heard of Durham. It's the home of Duke University and the home of the famous Durham Bulls minor league baseball team. But there's something you may not know about this town.

KHIRALLAH: Durham is certainly the -- yes, I would venture to say it's the diet capital of the world.

TUCHMAN: Durham is an international destination for people looking to lose a lot of weight. The city of 200,000 is three world renowned residential diet clinics. The Rice Program, the Duke Diet and Fitness Center, and the Structure House. Its founder is Dr. Gerard Musante.

GERARD MUSANTE, PH.D., FOUNDER, STRUCTURE HOUSE: This is a very unique town. This is truly a mecca. I look at it as a one-stop place. You have a problem with obesity, you're going to invariably find a solution to it here in Durham.

TUCHMAN: Teresa came to the Structure House for what turned out to be a life changing four weeks of dieting, exercise and behavior modification.

At your peak, how much did you weigh?

KHIRALLAH: Three hundred ninety-two pounds is the most I've weighed.

TUCHMAN: And what have you gotten down to?

KHIRALLAH: About 195.

TUCHMAN: So you've lost about 200 pounds, which is more than half of you?

KHIRALLAH: Yes, yes.

TUCHMAN: And how does that make you feel?

KHIRALLAH: Oh, I wake up every day knowing that I'm the luckiest person in the world.


KHIRALLAH: How are you guys?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good, how are you?

KHIRALLAH: Good, good, good.


KHIRALLAH: Thank you.

TUCHMAN: And now, Teresa is back at Structure House. She's here to recharge herself, living in the on-campus apartments for a two-week stay.

KHIRALLAH: A lot of people make pilgrimage to holy land. And I guess Structure House has become a holy land for me.

MUSANTE: What is the easiest change you can make at home? That's what we want to focus on.

TUCHMAN: It's very pricey. Structure House is more than $9,000 for a four-week session. The key here is learning to keep a structured lifestyle. Regular low calorie meals are important. So is avoiding snacks.

MUSANTE: The basic philosophy is that we develop a relationship with food. All of us develop a relationship to some extent. And sometimes, some of the relationships can be dysfunctional.

TUCHMAN: And how has the experience been so far for all of you?



TUCHMAN: This breakfast table is full of people at Structure House for the first time. They regard Teresa, who is now training for a marathon, as a conquering hero.

KHIRALLAH: I get tired driving 26 miles. I'm not sure how the running is going to go, but...

Durham is a place I learned to enjoy movies without popcorn. Durham is the place that I went to see theater shows and concentrate on the actual show instead of dinner afterwards. And so, yes, Durham has a huge place for me.

TUCHMAN: It's an emotional second visit for Teresa, who meets up with an instructor who helped her a great deal.

KHIRALLAH: When you see the one person that you've, you know, made -- now I'm going to start crying and I'm not going to do it, because you're not supposed to - it's just - it -- I mean, it saved my life. So this place saved my life. And I'm not naive in thinking I didn't have a big part in it, too, this past year.

But it certainly -- yes, I do. I feel like - and I'm going to make this pilgrimage for the rest of my life back here.

TUCHMAN: And she won't be the only one.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Durham, North Carolina.


COHEN: A great success story. And we wish Teresa continued success at staying healthy.

More HOUSE CALL after the break.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Marketing to kids.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know who this is?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How one woman's battle could change the way big business talks to your kids. Stay tuned.


COHEN: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL. Sixteen percent of kids in this country are overweight or obese, and that number continues to rise.

As Carol Lin reports, that's got a mother of three and a consumer group taking action against big business.


CAROL LIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sherri Carlson is the mother of three young children, ages four, eight, and 11. Her biggest concern? Keeping junk food away from her kids.

SHERRI CARLSON, PLAINTIFF IN LAWSUIT: It's an uphill battle. I try.

LIN: Carlson says her children are always asking her to buy the high sugar snacks they see on store shelves and on television commercials. She blames kid friendly advertising for her children's cravings.

CARLSON: They just make them so enticing with just fun, upbeat, you know, eat this and have fun kind of situation. You know, if I go off for a granola bar, it's not quite the same as, you know, having some fun Pop Tart or something.

LIN: Carlson joined two consumer activist groups in a pending class action lawsuit in Massachusetts against Viacom, owner of the Children's Network Nickelodeon and the cereal maker Kellogg.

The plaintiffs say Kellogg and Viacom practiced deceptive advertising by specifically marketing high sugar products to young children.

They want Nickelodeon to stop airing junk food ads during programming for kids under eight years old. They also want both corporations to stop using popular children's figures, like Sponge Bob Square Pants.

CARLSON: Do you know who this is?



LIN: Carlson says her youngest child, four-year old Paige, is already responding to this type of advertising.

CARLSON: She'll see a character, and even though if she's never even tasted the product, never even had it, but since she sees her friend on the box, she wants it.

LIN: Kellogg and Nickelodeon declined to speak to CNN on camera, but released the following statements. Nickelodeon says it "has been an acknowledged leader and positive force in educating and encouraging kids to live healthier lifestyles."

Kellogg says it "is proud of its products and the contributions they made to a healthy diet. We have a longstanding commitment to marketing in a responsible manner and our messages accurately portray our products."

Carlson disagrees.

CARLSON: Nickelodeon, yes, they have really good health messages. And then, you know, then they put on some junkie ad right after the health food messages.

LIN: The Center for Science in the Public Interest, one of the group's involved in the lawsuit, agrees that both Nickelodeon and Kellogg have initiatives to promote children's health, but they say it's not enough.

LIN: Carol Lin, CNN.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Coming up, your guide to the perfect workout for your mood.



ERIK FISHER, SPORTS PSYCHOLOGIST: People can really get more in touch with their emotions, they'll have a better workout.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Dr. Eric Fisher is a sports psychologist. So what workout does he recommend if you're feeling angry?

FISHER: You want to go and kick box or go and take your anger out on other people. For some people, that might work well, but for others, they might need to do something more meditative.

COSTELLO: Dr. Fisher says try running or lifting weights or aerobics, boxing or take a walk to reflect or yoga to relax. When you're depressed or have the blues, do something that empowers yourself, such as taking a walk in nature so you could reflect.

If you're bored...

FISHER: Bored and you want to do something to spice things up. So you might get out there and take a new class.

COSTELLO: If you're feeling stressed out, Fisher suggests working out on a treadmill or doing Pilates, Tai Chi, or yoga. When you're feeling happy, extend yourself. Try a new aerobics class. Lift more weights. This will help you feel even more uplifted.

So no matter what mood your in, there is no good excuse for not working out.

Carol Costello, CNN.


COHEN: Thanks, Carol.

No excuses any more. Tune in every week for more ways to stay fit from our bod squad. And next weekend on HOUSE CALL, we're taking an in-depth look at how medicine is helping today's wounded soldiers.

We'll take you inside the Army's only medic training school in the U.S. and follow one wounded soldier as he reclaims his life with the help of some cutting edge technology.

That's next weekend, 8:30 a.m. Eastern. E-mail us your questions at

Thanks for watching. I'm Elizabeth Cohen. More news now on CNN.


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