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If Diets Really Work, Why Am I Still Fat?

By Belinda Elliott
Contributing Writer

CBN.comCelebrity trainer Dino Nowak wants to set the record straight. After watching many of his clients waste money on weight loss products that did not work, and suffer with diets they couldn't stick to, he decided to write a book that would give people honest answers to their weight loss problems. In The Final Makeover, he exposes the inaccuracies of popular diets and gives readers the valuable information they need to make wise choices about their health. I recently spoke with Dino about his book.

There are so many diet and health books on the market today. What led you to write this one and how is it different from all the others?

D: You know, it actually took me such a long time to do this because I saw so many diet books out there by a Ph.D or by “Dr.” this or “Dr.” that, and I thought, “Well, why would someone want to read mine?” But as I kept reading these diet books and reading the reviews they kept getting it wrong and there were inaccuracies, errors and contradictions. So I just took each diet book that came out and read them and marked them up, and I started compiling all this. I really began to see that even though they were dealing with the diet and the physical aspects, they were always neglecting the emotional and the spiritual aspects.

Any change – and this is from my background being a Christian as well as being in the fitness industry – any change that you attempt from the outside in never works. It never lasts. It is just behavior modification. You really have to have a change of heart, and the only one who can do that is Jesus Christ. He is the only one who can change a human heart. So you have to start inside and work out. That’s where this book is different.

And even some popular books that use dual psychology, they say you need to come to the point where you can look in the mirror and love yourself unconditionally. The problem is that humans are notorious for conditions. Where is that unconditional love found? Unless you have a relationship with God you don’t have a concept of unconditional love. So that’s where it is different. It works from the inside out.

How has that message been received by the secular market?

You know, honestly, it has been received better in the secular market. It has been a slow start in the Christian market, and I think it is because they have been burned so many times from so many different programs. In the secular market they are more apt to kind of tear things down or look at the criticisms of the current diets that are out there. And also, I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to do things like Lifetime Television and Entertainment Tonight, and if you mention those two programs people will take it. In the Christian market it has taken a little longer. They are a little more skeptical.

And, I think, at least this is what I’ve experienced and it isn’t always popular, but I talk a lot in the book about the different dieting scams, and pills, and products that are out there. And oftentimes, some of the Christian programs have sponsorship by those very companies. So they are hesitant to have me come in and speak out about that. That is why I made sure in the book to document everything, so that it is backed up, to let people know that this is the truth. For me, that’s been the frustrating aspect because on Christian radio on Monday through Friday and on Sunday, all you hear is pastors talking about truth, integrity, and honesty, then on Saturday morning it is all infomercials for diet products or this thing that cures arthritis, cancer, or whatever. So that has been very frustrating for me, and I think that is part of the reason why it has taken a while in the Christian marketplace.

Do you think that when Christians hear those kinds of infomercials on a Christian station they take it in without thinking about whether or not the information may be accurate?

Yes, that’s a big thing because they assume that since it is on a Christian station they can trust it and believe it. So I write in the book that those stations have a higher responsibility. I would expect that from the secular market, but I’m shocked that we do that to our brothers and sisters in Christ. And oftentimes, the producer or someone doing the radio show doesn’t know themselves. They just assume that the person has the evidence and has the clinical studies but, as I write in the book, whenever the Federal Trade Commission comes in and asks to see the studies no one has them. So I think the burden of proof needs to be put on the advertiser for them to say, “Look, here are the studies and here is where they are published.” Anyone can do a study and twist is however they want. But when they say, this was published in the Journal of American Medical Association. It was reviewed. That’s the key.

Just as no Christian station would air a commercial for Hooters -- you know, they would screen that -- they should also be screening these products to protect their listeners.

Switching gears a little, you have worked as a trainer with several celebrities and you say in the book that you’ve found they struggle with the same issues as everyone else. Why is that?

They struggle even more so, because so much of their identity and even their career is found in that image in the mirror. They will go to auditions and they will have a casting person look them point blank in the face and say, “You are too fat. Your arms are too big. Your stomach is too big.” And that will happen on a daily basis sometimes when they have multiple auditions. The average person often isn’t exposed to that harsh of a criticism. Their harshest criticism is often from themselves. So that can be kind of tough, especially the longer you are in the industry. As actors and actresses get older it becomes tougher. So it’s hard, but on the other hand, it is their job so they have more time to dedicate to that. They often have a personal trainer like myself, a dietician, a cook, a nanny, a housekeeper, and a gardener, so it is easier in that aspect. Average Americans do not have that luxury so they have to take care of the kids, cook, shop, and do all of those things in addition to trying to squeeze time in to try to take care of themselves. So there are advantages and disadvantages that they have.

You also mention that there is a lot of deception that goes on in Hollywood. Americans are often looking at celebrities as their idols and wanting to be like them, but they aren’t getting a realistic picture.

That has been freeing for me, just as a man in Hollywood what I’ve seen about how we view women, whether it is our girlfriends or our wives, and even the men, the ideas of perfection and the role models we look to. When I began to work with some of these people I would see their picture on a magazine cover and then I would train with them and I would say, “In the picture you didn’t have love handles. Those came back really quick!” And that was just mind blowing, the amount of deception that is out there. And it is so impossible to find those pictures. The best thing you could probably do is go to the grocery store and pick up an Inquirer or a tabloid magazine and see their candid photos. It’s unbelievable. I was looking at one of Brittney Spears. On her new CD cover she is stick thin, and they had one of her at the beach with her fiancé and I thought, “That is not the same girl!”

It’s really frustrating to think how many young girls are looking at that picture and saying, “I want to look like that.” When the fact is she wants to look like that too. That’s the message that I’m trying to get out is that what we need to do is to honor God with our bodies, care for our health and our fitness, and to use what we’ve been given. That’s one of the biggest things is to stop following the world, stop following the culture. In no other area of life do we do that. We don’t follow the culture in how to raise a godly family or how to live a godly life, but when it comes to caring for the body God has given us who do we chase? The world. My passion is to be that person in the Christian marketplace who people can say, “Here is someone that I can trust, he is not out pushing pills, he is not out trying to make a buck.” And I can give them the right information and point them toward the Lord too.

You mention that many of the diets that are currently popular could actually be dangerous. One of those you discuss is the low-carb diet. Why is that diet not a good one?

Well, first of all, these diets are nothing new. They have been around since the 1800s. One of the first high protein, low carb diets was William Banty back in the 1800s. It’s just unbelievable that this seems to be a new, revolutionary thing. I mean, even the Atkins diet has been around 30 plus years now. Americans love bacon; they love burgers and cheese. If plans like this worked, we should have eradicated obesity in the past 30 years. They just don’t work. And with all of these diets, the whole time they are saying calories don’t count but carbs do, all of their meals are low calorie. With any diet, all diets, I don’t care what diet it is, they have a proven 95 to 98 percent failure rate within six months. Diets don’t work. So people go on these diets and the diets fail them, and they think, “I’m worthless. I’ve failed. I can’t do this.” And they berate themselves even more when it is the diet that is the problem.

It is much easier to teach someone to diet, and give them a good list and bad list of foods, than it is to actually educate them on how their body works. When your body eats carbohydrates it is basically like gasoline in a car. It is what our body runs off of. When it breaks down that carbohydrate it breaks it down into what is called glucose. It stores the glucose in your muscle fiber and about 100 grams in your liver as glycogen, it is a storage form. Think about a gas can in your garage, that’s the storage form of energy. When you stop eating carbohydrates, all that is depleted and it goes where your body uses it up. Now with every gram of glycogen in the body, your body attracts three grams of water. So when you lose those glycogen reserves you are flushing water out on a three to one ratio. There goes the weight. So on the scale you have lost 8 pounds or ten pounds, but it’s water.

What happens next is that your brain functions almost exclusively off glucose. Our brains can’t store it like our muscles can so the brain needs a steady supply. When our carbohydrates are gone our glucose is gone and the brain starts to freak out. It says, “I need that glucose.” So you feel nauseated, lightheaded, dizzy, you have mood swings, and those are all things that these low carb diets claim will show that it is working. It is actually your body struggling to survive. So what it does is it sends a distress signal throughout the body and begins to break down muscle tissue and take the protein, through a process called gluconeogenesis, it converts it to sugar -- which these low carb diets never tell you about -- and gets the glucose to the brain. Now you’ve broken down lean muscle tissue which is more dense than body fat, and it is more metabolically active, so you are losing muscle which again appears like weight. So you’ll lose 15 or 20 pounds on the scale, but in all reality if you were to do a body fat test that percentage is higher now because now more of your body is made up of fat as opposed to lean tissue.

So many people they try and try and they can’t stick to this diet, no one can, because your body is fighting it and it’s starving and eating itself to survive. So you go off the diet and you have your first piece of bread, and here comes the glucose, it goes back into the muscle fibers, and the water comes back in. Your body is trying to return to a normal healthy state and here come on the pounds. Then you think, “Bread is bad for me.” But your body is just trying to go back to normal. And you have damaged yourself because now you’ve lost that lean muscle tissue and your metabolism is lower. As a result, the weight you lost before comes back and even more.

So the key is really to start developing more lean muscle tissue. A pound of fat uses about 3 to 6 calories a day, however, a pound of muscle uses 30 to 50 calories. So for each pound of muscle you are revving your metabolism and it makes your job that much easier. That’s why with bodybuilders all they do is eat and sleep. It’s like a car. You can drive the same 10 miles in an 8 cylinder car or a 4 cylinder car, but that 8 cylinder car is going to use more fuel. That’s the idea. By being physically active, being healthier and fit, you will burn more calories doing the same activities during the day.

You mentioned body fat. Many people are concerned about how much they weigh, but they often do not realize that a high percentage of body fat is also a crucial factor. How important is the amount of body fat you have?

Body fat is one of the biggest things. All many diets talk about is weight, but body fat is really the key. I had a client I was working with in Los Angeles. We reassessed after about four or five weeks, and she had gained five pounds. Initially, she started freaking out, but that’s the reason why I use body fat, circumference measurements with a tape measure, and skin fold measurements with calipers. She lost 30 millimeters on the calipers, lost a couple inches, and her body fat went down but her weight went up. She was fitting into smaller clothes, was tighter and toner, but her wait went up.

We have to get away from this idea of weight. That three digit number on the scale means absolutely nothing. It is about understanding what is happening inside your body, and working with your body and getting great results instead of working against it and struggling and trying to hold out with as much will power as you can. No one has that much willpower. You can’t go the rest of your life and not have a piece of chocolate. It is about working with your body, removing the emotional bondage we place with food, and enjoying what God has given us with discernment.

In the book you mention that in addition to choosing foods wisely people need to be more aware of their portion sizes. Why is that important?

If you want to see what the real problem is in our culture, look back at 1970. Back then the restaurant industry was a $40 billion per year industry. Fast forward to the year 2000, it was a $440 billion industry. So we are not eating at home like we used to. On top of that, serving sizes have increased depending on the restaurant anywhere from five times to 10 times what they used to be. We are eating out more, and serving sizes have gone out of control. There’s your problem.

Also, during that same time period our society has become more sedentary. Our jobs are more sedentary. We’ve gone more high tech. And for entertainment, kids used to go outside and play and make up games. Now they get home from school and they plop in front of the television. They play Playstation or Xbox or they surf the internet. So many things have changed in our society that it is very easy to blame carbohydrates or these different things. But when you look at what has happened, we’ve gone through fat – that was the villain decades ago – then all of sudden it is carbohydrates. There are only three food groups: proteins, fats, and carbs. So what is next? We need to look at the deeper issues – expectations, motivations, and societal issues like entertainment, eating out instead of cooking ourselves, and eating at home as a family. That is what needs to change.

When you discuss fitness in the book you emphasize that people don’t need to have an expensive gym membership or any fancy exercise equipment. Why do you feel that way?

That is really where my heart’s passion was. I saw so many people… in these fitness books they give you these lists of exercises and of machines at the gym. Number one, most people can’t afford to have a membership. And if they can, even a greater amount of people do not feel comfortable walking into those environments. But you really don’t have to have all that equipment. There are over 100 exercises in my book and not one of them requires a piece of equipment. Also, there are seven levels so you pick your starting level. Most fitness books make the error of assuming your fitness levels. They just say here are the exercises. A lot of people can’t even fit into the machines, or they don’t feel comfortable, or maybe they have injuries, so it is just too hard for them to start out. And I really don’t like machines because they are very fixed linear path movements. We never experience that in real life. In real life we turn, twist, rotate, and bend. Never in your life have you had to sit down like on a leg extension machine and move your legs like that. When in your entire life have you done that? People are working out in these very fixed linear paths, that don’t replicate and transfer to real life activities. By doing the movements in my book, they are much more time effective, use multiple muscle groups, use compound complex movements, give a greater caloric burn, and they translate well into your daily life. It makes you fitter and stronger than just working in one single direction.

Do men and women lose weight differently?

Yes, men typically have more lean muscle tissue, so in a sense it is easier for them to lose body fat. The flip side of that is that they carry more in their stomach which is a greater health risk. Women store it more in their hips and thigh area. I go through in the book and talk about LPL, the gatekeeper so to speak, in how your body determines where it stores fat. And a lot of that is based on genetics as well. Men and women do have differences. For women, primarily because of childrearing, it is harder to lose that fat because your body is holding onto it for reproduction. God designed our bodies incredibly well. Other books say that is evolution, but I believe it is God. Whether it be through feasts or famines, women needed to be able to feed the children and store that fat for fuel energy.

Also, men can get down to as low as 3 percent body fat before it becomes dangerous. Women can only get down to 17 percent. Already, you are looking at a five-fold increase that women cannot go below. Their lowest levels are five times that of men. Many people compare women to men and they shouldn’t do that. Like that show The Biggest Loser, it was unfair to women because they were equally comparing their fat loss to the men. What they should have done is if the woman lost 2 percent body fat they should have given her four points because it is a lot more difficult for women to get their body fat percentage low.

So women really need to have realistic expectations of what their bodies are capable of and what they are supposed to do, because you look at these images in the media and they aren’t even healthy. They aren’t real. You can’t do that. The body can’t do some of those things. Yet, we are looking to those images as the ideal.

In your book you include a lot of pages where you can track your body measurements, what you eat, and how you spend your time. Why is that important?

It is huge because so many studies have shown that we tend to overestimate our activity and underestimate our food consumption. So often times, you may think you had two sodas today, but when you use your log you see that you had four or five. It is a huge difference to have a visual representation of what you are actually doing in a day than just guessing what you did. I put a time journal in there too because people often say, “I don’t have enough time in the day.” But when you actually have to track your time and you see that you have three or four hours spent watching television, you have some time. You also need time in the Word and time with family and friends. This plan looks at the whole person.

And for your measurement logs you are not just looking at your weight, but looking at your measurements, your inches, your skin fold, and your body fat percentage. Tthe key difference is to look at those measurements as opposed to looking just at your weight.

Your weight means nothing. Who came up with that idea? Weight is just the force of gravity acting upon a mass. We are so much more than just that number. It means absolutely nothing. It is about what is going on inside your body.

Recent studies have shown that obesity in children has significantly increased. What is the parents’ role in helping their children be healthy?

The biggest thing is setting the example. What really frustrates me is when parents single out that child, like when the whole family is eating dinner and this one child is eating something different. The family is eating pizza, but he has a chicken breast and broccoli. Make the changes for the whole family. Everyone benefits from that. Never single out one particular child. It just wreaks havoc on them with body image issues, eating disorders, and self-confidence. It is just horrible. Instead set the example and get the whole family active. Take the kids to the park and start playing more games with them. Set the example yourself in that you start working out and you start taking care of your body. Then they will see how much better you feel and how much healthier and happier you are, and they will follow and change.

Your program is for 40 days, but what should people be doing after that time period? Isn’t this really a lifestyle change?

Your 40 days is your jumpstart. Like with the heart excercises in the book there are seven levels. During your first 40 days you may go through levels one and two. Then you come back around and do levels 2 and 3. The idea is to keep continually progressing and challenging your body. It is like when you were in fourth grade and you completed the fourth grade math book. Imagine that you went on to fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh grade, and eighth grade, but you kept the fourth grade math book. You wouldn’t progress or develop and grow. Sadly, that is what we do with our fitness component. We do the same routine that we saw in a magazine or on a video, and we’ve been doing this forever, and we wonder why we haven’t changed. Our body adapts and plateaus. So you have to constantly keep things challenging for your body so that it continually grows and progresses. That is why the first 40 days you can go through it, and then change the progression levels so you have plenty of variety to keep going with it.

What advice do you have for people who have tried many of the diets or weight loss products out there and feel that they have no hope because nothing has worked for them?

There is hope. I work with people who have tried every diet under the sun. I’m working with Lulu Roman, from HeeHaw, right now on Entertainment Tonight. She had tried every diet. But the change occurs when you start to look inward and look at your motivations for change and your expectations. Understand that it is not to follow the world, not to follow the culture, but to use your body as a tool to glorify God and set an example. And also to really put things in perspective, think of how many people you have come across in your life who have had terrible accidents and are paralyzed for the rest of their lives. They are in wheelchairs or stuck in a hospital bed somewhere. They would give anything to be able to get up and go for that walk that we complain about. They would give anything to go to the park and play with their kids. There is so much we take for granted.

So first and foremost, where you are right now, see your body as a blessing with all that it can do. Instead of standing in front of the mirror and focusing on all the things you don’t like, get a pen out and write down all the things your body can do and see what a blessing that is. Then begin to move forward with proper expectations, proper motivations, proper methods – not dieting because diets don’t work -- it is by moving and using the body. God designed our bodies to move. Look at us. We don’t have Barbie arms and GI Joe legs that don’t bend and move. We were designed to move and to really glorify God and enjoy the movements. That is one of the biggest things you can do to make that change once and for all in your life.

And understand that fitness or health does not come in any one shape or size. I have clients in Hollywood who are size two or three when they come to me, but they are classified as obese because when we do the body fat percentage, they have a 37 or 38 body fat percentage. They are obese. It is called “skinny fat.” Then I have people who are what’s known as a “plus size” but they will pull a 25 or 27 percent body fat reading. They are fit, active, and healthy. They are in better shape than that thin person.

We have to understand that God created us differently. God gave us diversity in flowers, trees, all kinds of different things, and we are not meant to all look alike. While some people are considered “plus size” that is a cultural standard. The important thing is to be fit and be healthy. We were not all meant to be thin, and once you get that idea out of your head you may attain that, but that is not the goal. That should not be the motivation. Glorify God with your body, use it as it was designed, and enjoy the journey. It is a lifelong change.

What can people do to protect themselves from the weight loss scams that are out there?

To really protect yourself and to stop falling for these scams and diets, particularly the infomercials on pills and products. People need to start thinking about it this way. We know that 65 percent of all Americans are overweight or obese. Let’s imagine that the news came on and said, “Sixty-five percent of Americans have AIDS.” If someone came up with a pill that cured that, it wouldn’t be on an infomercial. It wouldn’t be on late night TV. It wouldn’t be in between soap operas. They would be a Nobel Peace Prize winner. A major pharmaceutical company would be in a bidding war with them. It would be all over every news network because it would be such a huge breakthrough. Sixty-five percent of all Americans have obesity, diabetes, or heart disease. When someone finds the cure it is not going to be on an infomercial. So until you see that, put your wallet back in your purse, or back in your pocket, because nothing works. They may say, “Clinical studies prove…” but when the FTC comes in they don’t have them. It has happened time and time again. The problem is that by then they have already gotten your money.

In America we spend over a billion dollars a year on health and weigh loss products. That’s more than the countries of Hong Kong, Ireland, and Egypt use to run their whole nation. We spend that much on these diet products, and we are one of the fattest countries in the entire world. It doesn’t work. Change your heart. Change your motivations to honor God, and be a light to the world.

One of my biggest passions is this. Imagine five years from now, the news came on and said that now 75 percent of all Americans are overweight and obese, but there is this population of evangelical Christians who are down to 55 percent. What are they doing? Do you think your neighbor would come over from next door and ask what you are doing? There is the perfect opportunity to tell them the Lord has changed your heart and that has made the difference. That’s what I want to happen in the Christian marketplace with our brothers and sisters. I want them to have that witness. But that will only happen if we stop following the culture and the world. We have to separate ourselves and be set apart, to change and not follow the world.

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