Tuesday, March 4, 1997
Let's hear it
for no-sweat
dieting plan


BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

This could be the answer to our prayers, my fellow food lovers and aerobics haters.

Men in white lab coats are talking again about an anti-fat pill, an easy way to be thin and trim. Scientists in California say they have discovered a gene that could lead to a drug that helps people get rid of ''unwanted flab.''

These guys have been spending too much time around test tubes. Don't they know that all flab is unwanted? And that we are willing to try anything to get rid of it (short of eating sensibly and exercising)?

Haven't we signed up to be liposuctioned and fen-phened? Haven't we faithfully purchased the Buns of Steel video? Haven't we worshipped at the altars of Jenny Craig and Oprah? Haven't we Weight Watched?

Haven't we eaten enough fiber to insulate a house? Haven't we tried the Grapefruit Diet and the Scarsdale Diet and the Hollywood Diet? (Sometimes all three simultaneously if we were coming up on a high school reunion.)

Haven't we counted fat grams? Haven't we tried to substitute fat-free yogurt on dishes that beg for sour cream?

Does anybody think we were all so excited about olestra because we wanted to know more about ''anal leakage''?

Is there any other conceivable reason that we would listen to anything at all that Suzanne Somers has to say or to sell?

Genetic scapegoat

These same scientists say their discovery might also explain why some people are prone to weight gain. That's probably important information, but just not as interesting as the other aspects of their research.

We already have affixed the blame to our mothers, to menopause, to our fathers, to stress, to our thyroids, to the Busken family, to the holidays, to salt, to Graeter's.

We are very good at deciding why blubber is not our fault. Now all we need is an easy, fool-proof, temptation-proof way to get rid of it.

The last word we had from the laboratory was that yo-yo dieting was bad for us. Imagine that. You gain and lose the same 15 pounds three or four times over the space of six months and that's not good for you.

We are shocked, shocked. We overeat, we diet, we lose. Then we celebrate by going out to dinner. And then we gain it all back again, in half the time it took us to lose the extra poundage.

The unfairness of this has been discussed over many a meal that includes almost no fat whatsoever, unless you count the fried cheese appetizers somebody else ordered or the shared dessert.

And everyone knows that neither of these things counts, nor does any calorie consumed standing up at cocktail parties or hanging over a sink.

Fat chance

Craig Warden of the University of California at Davis reports in the March issue of the scientific journal Nature Genetics that the discovery of the fat gene could lead to a drug that would help the body burn off more calories, rather than store them as fat.

''I think this is probably a major discovery for obesity,'' says Dr. Albert Stunkard of the University of Pennsylvania. He says scientists haven't been able to figure out how people's bodies regulate their weight. This could change.

''I'll bet you the drug companies are hovering like vultures over this finding,'' says Dr. Stunkard, who is officially an authority on fatness, but sounds like an authority on commerce and human nature as well. I hope he's right.

Mr. Warden is guessing that a person might be able to lose five pounds a year with every one-tenth of a degree increase in body temperature. That doesn't sound like much. For men, it would be about like letting a woman set the thermostat in their homes during the winter.

What's a little heat? Especially if you don't have to really sweat. A tenth of a degree is nothing. It's not like you have to spend an hour on a Stairmaster or a stationary bike.

If the drug companies give us this magic pill, we'll be able to concentrate on other things we'd like to improve. Such as wrinkles. Or baldness. Or even our minds.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax to 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.