By Barbara A. Besteni, Contributing writer
In "Defending Your Life," a 1991 film starring Meryl Streep and Albert Brooks, the protagonists died and went to Judgment City, a kind of way station where it was decided if they would go on to the next level or go back for another life on Earth.
In one scene, the two are seen gorging on platefuls of food. One of the perks of being dead, apparently, is eating all you want and not gaining an ounce. But you don't have to wait until the afterlife to eat more and weigh less.
You can start by making a few simple changes to your diet.
The concept of eating more to weigh less has been popular since the publication of "Eat More, Weigh Less: Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Losing Weight Safely While Eating Abundantly."If you're attracted because you think you'll be able to scarf down giant slices of cake, refined carbohydrates, ice cream and pints of beer, get ready for the bad news. That's not what this diet is about.
Eat More, But Not Everything
While the catchy name is sure to have attracted hundreds in search of diet Nirvana, the reality is that the foods you eat and quality of the food is what helps you keep off the pounds, and the only magic formula for losing weight is to eat fewer calories than you burn.
The body is a great mathematician. And it will forgive the 500 calories in your grande mocha choco-latte only if you find a way to burn them before the end of the day or you deprive yourself of something else to make up for the calories.
"I've been following this diet since I was in high school," says Linda Hopkins, a 5-foot-3-inch South Florida woman who looks more like one of her students than a 52-year-old math teacher. At 110 pounds, Hopkins says she can still fit into her prom dress.
Good habits start early, she says.
"When I was growing up, there was always an abundance of fruits and vegetables at home," she says. "Don't get me wrong, I had my share of Twinkies and Good Humor ice cream. But because I was feeding my body good quality foods, it let me get away with the occasional bad sugar and white flour."
Eat More, Weigh Less Diet Basics
Ornish's diet is simple: Eat large quantities of complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain breads and cereals, and the fruits and vegetables that Hopkins ate so much of as a child. Because the diet is high in fiber and volume, you fill up quickly. The high fiber also keeps you fuller longer.
But perhaps the most important key to the success of this diet is that it requires you to eat complex carbohydrates, not ones with simple, processed sugars found in white bread, rice and pasta. Complex carbs don't cause spikes in your blood sugar levels. Because your blood sugar stays relatively stable, you won't find yourself battling sugar cravings an hour after a meal.
The diet recommends eating the following whenever you're hungry: Beans and legumes, any kind of fruit, vegetables or whole grain foods.
In each case, you need to read labels to make sure a food doesn't contain added sugar, or sugar disguised as fructose.
Stop When You're Full
You can eat as much of these foods as you want, as long as you stop when you are full, the diet says.
Stopping when you're full is a key component. However, fans of the diet say this is easier to do than on most diets.
"I think it's because you get to eat a lot of filling foods on this diet. A bowl of whole wheat pasta and a salad fills me up pretty quickly. And the fact (that) the whole wheat pasta won't send my blood sugar crashing after an hour is an added bonus. I stay full a lot longer," Hopkins says.
If you can't eliminate dairy from your diet entirely, you should choose the nonfat variety, but consume it in moderation.
What? No Protein?
The strictest part of the diet is the recommendation that you avoid meat, fish, chicken, anything containing fat or oil, nuts, alcohol and commercially prepared foods with more than 2 grams of fat.
Hopkins, however, says this is one part of the diet she doesn't follow. She doesn't feel guilty about it.
"If I had to live without a filet mignon and a glass or two of merlot once in a while, life would not be worth living," she laughs. "Guilt leads to deprivation, which eventually leads to throwing your hands up and forgetting all about healthy eating."
Critics Want More Balance
Critics of the diet agree with Hopkins. Restricting meat, dairy products and fat, they say, deprives your body of nutrients. If, however, you choose to follow the diet to the letter, nutritionists suggest you take vitamin or mineral supplements to make up where the diet lacks. Always check with your doctor first.
"I love this diet because it's not really a diet. It's just a smart and nutritious way to eat. I get to eat real food that tastes good, not something that comes pre-packaged in a box or a can," Hopkins says.
By making small changes to the diet and not depriving herself of the foods she loves, Hopkins has done what nutritionists say is the key to eating well and staying at a healthy weight: You can eat more and weigh less, just as long as you eat more of the right foods at least most of the time.