Marcia Herrin, Ed.D., M.P.H., R.D.

Marcia Herrin Ed.D., M.P.H.,

Eating Disorders News

Sugar Isn't Toxic—It Is My Weight Loss Secret

My dessert diet. The sweetest way to lose.

Posted Apr 25, 2011

Last Sunday (April 13, 2011), just as Nancy was posting her blog, "More Debate on So-Called Sugar and Food Addiction," Gary Taubes' NY Times Magazine cover story, "Is Sugar Toxic?" hit the newsstands. This week, I have been warning my patients that sugar is being "trashed" in the media. Adele, one of my patients (I tell her story below), said in response, "I don't listen to what the media says about sugar. Your 'dessert diet' works for me."

As a nutritionist, many people who come to see me have heard that sugar is bad for you, and they feel addicted to it. Adele's story illustrates how sugar helps with weight loss and health.

In my practice, I work with many women who slowly gain weight through their 30s and 40s. They come to see me referred by docs who know that I specialize in helping overweight patients lose weight. Adele is such a patient. She works at the local hospital and makes heart-healthy choices at the cafeteria for breakfast and lunch.

Adele's husband is retired, so she comes home to a well-balanced dinner every evening. Later at night while watching TV, Adele takes trips into the kitchen, first to get a bowl of ice cream and then, when that "doesn't do it," to open a bag of cookies. Afterward, stuffed and bloated, Adele vows to start a diet in the morning.

At her first visit with me, Adele told me this had been her pattern over the last 20 years. "No surprise," she says, "that I have gained 40 pounds and keep gaining. Of course, I have tried every diet under the sun. They work for a while, but then something happens, and before I know it, I am back to overeating sugar at night. Can you help me?"

I show Adele my food plan. She is surprised to see that I recommend eating dessert with lunch and dinner and asks me why. I tell her that eating sugar-containing desserts ("fun foods") at the end of well-balanced meals will leave her satisfied, so she will be better able to resist urges to overeat in the evening.

I tell Adele a bit of my own story of having gained 40 pounds in college after several years of dieting in high school. When I started following this very same food plan, I slowly lost those 40 pounds. The punch line is that I have kept off the 40 pounds for 40 years.

"Wow!" says Adele. "But what about your metabolism? Doesn't it go down as you get older?"

"Unfortunately," I tell her, "metabolism drops like a rock as you get older."

Then I explain how eating dessert helps me feel satisfied with smaller meals, and having desserts every day no matter what keeps me from craving sweets and other foods when I am not hungry.

Adele, with obvious skepticism, agrees to give the "dessert diet" a try. It has taken 3 years for Adele to lose 30 pounds. She usually eats a quarter of a Lindt chocolate bar after lunch and dinner unless her husband has baked brownies, and when he does, she has a small serving. Her blood sugar and blood pressure are now normal. Her cholesterol dropped too.

Adele's doctor raves about how healthy she is now. She tells me at every visit how amazed she is that two desserts every day are the secret to her weight-loss success. Stay tuned, Adele made me promise to take on Gary Taubes point-by-point next week. 

—Marcia

Copyrighted by Marcia Herrin and Nancy Matsumoto