Saturday, March 8, 2014

My Career as a Diet Doctor

Long before taking up hotel doctoring, I answered an ad from a practice that offered “weight control.” Dedicated diet doctors make so much money they don’t need to advertise for help. My employer was a regular G.P. experimenting with weight control as a sideline.

Every era has a weight loss miracle. During the 1970s it was human chorionic gonadotropin, HCG, a respectable hormone involved in reproduction. During that decade it acquired a reputation as a fat-burner. There were the usual flurry of bestsellers and HCG clinics, and then it went the way of disco.

My doctor merely made it known that he offered HCG. I doubt diet patients made up ten percent of the practice, but they provided an impressive cash flow. The women (only a rare male) came in weekly for a shot, a diet sheet, and a pep talk from the nurse. The doctor saw them monthly, but they paid the regular fee for every visit. He never claimed (to me) that HCG worked, only that patients believed in it, so it inspired them to stick to the diet.

But it didn’t inspire them. Any motivated patient who starts a diet, legitimate or silly, will lose ten or twenty pounds before the gnawing of hunger becomes tiresome. Losing more is much harder. This was no news to the HCG patients, but they were not paying good money to hear it. Their stubbornness amazed me. They signed up with the usual enthusiasm, came in for their shots, followed the diet, and lost their ten or twenty pounds. Then they stopped losing, but most continued to come in, month after month, taking the weekly shot and paying the fee.

Despite the universal opinion among thin people that dieters fail because they cheat, most of these women were trying hard. Alas, they were butting up against the ten-twenty pound limit. Losing more requires a tighter diet, self-denial, and regular exercise, a nearly impossible feat. The statistics doctors know (but you may not because popular magazines print only cheerful news about dieting) reveal how many fat people become thin and stay thin: a few percent.

Dropping that initial weight turns out to be a major advantage. Ninety percent of dieting’s health benefits (reduced risk of diabetes, lower cholesterol, less heart disease) are achieved by a ten percent weight loss. Alas, few patients thrilled to that knowledge because better health was not their goal. Many asked if the shot worked. At first, loyal to my employer, I admitted that opinion was divided. Eventually my answers grew blunt. This never offended the patients who were already suspicious. Many did not even drop out, but the news got back to my boss.

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