Dishing with a diet doc


Mary, a sales rep for WJW, has been looking slimmer these days. What was her secret, I wondered. Turns out, Mary has been seeing Dr. Barnett Mennen of Gaithersburg. She’s lost 20 pounds and with the exception of a minor setback around the holidays (hey, who didn’t), she’s well on her way to goal.

Knowing we were kicking off a new series aimed at the GenX generation (those born between 1961 and 1981), and, since we’re fresh off our New Year’s resolutions, I thought I’d represent all us over 40s and get some advice about losing weight after turning the big 4-0.

WJW: What’s going on? Is it age? Is it the nightly glass of wine? What’s happening?

Dr. Mennen: At age 40, women begin to go through menopause. From ages 48-52, they stop producing estrogen and progesterone. Men begin to lose testosterone after age 30. There is a change in the metabolic rate and how we store fat. Fat is stored around the middle. Yes, it’s directed by genes, but also by hormones and age and stage in life. We do know these things happen. We objectively see them happen. It’s much harder when we get to 40. The body seems to say that as we get older we need to be more efficient about storing calories in between the hunt.

WJW: So what can we do?

Dr. Mennen: When you were in college, you could eat three slices of pizza and have dessert. But now that stuff will catch up to you.

First, understand that you can’t get away with what you used to. Times have changed and we have to have a new strategy. Look to our paleo ancestors. I’m not a religious paleo guy but I also don’t look at the paleo diet as a new fad. Our ancestors ate this way for 2 million years. That’s quite the fad. But, unlike strict followers of paleo, I do not advocate no dairy products. In modern America, that’s hard to follow. But understanding the paleo lifestyle and consciousness can inform us about macro nutrients — fat, protein and carbohydrates. And micronutrients — trace elements and vitamins.

As we get older, all the pasta and desserts and pizza and bagels are now bothering us. People think we get fat from eating fat, but that’s incorrect. We eat very little fat — oil, butter, salad dressing. Most of our calories in modern America is in carbs. More carbs than we need get stored as fat. Carbohydrates turn into fat and make us fat.

WJW: What are we doing that we think is good, but is actually hurting our weight loss efforts?

Dr. Mennen: Make intelligent decisions — don’t eat starchy vegetables. If you’re in weight loss mode, no pasta, potatoes, corn (not a vegetable, it’s a grain), sweet potatoes, yams. Green vegetables you’re safe with. One trick is to use a head of cauliflower and use it to make mock mashed potatoes.

Also, when you’re trying to lose weight avoid bananas, oranges, peaches and pears. The best fruits to eat are the ones closest to what our ancestors ate — berries. Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries — those are excellent.

Other really important steps — stop the diet and artificially sweetened drinks. They raise insulin levels and keeping insulin up is a killer. Your brain senses sweetness. It thinks “ahhh, a sugar load is coming” so it stimulates the pancreas to put insulin out. Insulin makes fat. So a woman who eats a salad and drinks Diet Coke at lunch and then at 3:00 eats a small bag of pretzels and drinks another Diet Coke — she’s ruined her day. That’s why you’ll never see a diet soda commercial that will claim “drink this and lose weight.”

Drink water or seltzer or unsweetened sparkling water with natural flavors. When you drink those, you don’t get a hit of sweetness.

WJW: What about exercise?

Dr. Mennen: Exercise is wonderful. I exercise almost every morning. Exercise is good for your head, your heart, and your joints. As a weight loss strategy it doesn’t work well unless you do an Army ranger workout or train for a marathon. Hitting the treadmill three to four times a week for an hour won’t do it. In fact, you may gain weight. Some people will run on a treadmill, burn 150 to 200 calories, work up a sweat and think, “Wow, that was a good workout! I’ll have a treat.” And then they’ll treat themselves to a 400 calorie treat.

WJW: Can we talk about wine? Do I have to give up my wine?

Dr. Mennen: Many of my patients have a nightly glass of wine. Red wine is a little worse than white wine. But I think, let’s enjoy life. But I tell patients who have two glasses of wine before dinner to switch to vodka. Add ice, club soda and a twist of lemon and you will not load up on carbs. Or, save the wine as a treat on the weekend. Remember, alcohol has calories.

WJW: Any more tips? Those little things we can change that will make a
big difference?

Dr. Mennen: Try to stay on the outer aisles of the supermarket — produce, meat, fish. That’s where the basic food is found. Frozen vegetables, without additives, are very good food. Sometimes even better than fresh that lose nutrients as they travel from field to our table. Frozen vegetables are flash frozen in the fields.

WJW: What about gluten? Is it bad?

Dr. Mennen: Some people do have sensitivity. But this isn’t celiac disease. This is gluten sensitivity. It does exist, but it’s not widespread. But, it’s good because you’re avoiding wheat so I don’t fight it. Especially bagels and pizza. These breads are made with high gluten flour. So, if you think you’re gluten sensitive, avoid pizza and bagels. High gluten flour is chewy. And it’s not a natural food for us.

WJW: Final thoughts?

Dr. Mennen: When you are on a weight loss phase, eat close to a paleo diet seven days a week. Once you hit your goal, you can be five days on and two days off. Be more rigorous in what you are cutting down. When you were 25, your metabolism was high. But now at 40 … and then at 50, it’s even worse. Prepare for that. You can do it. Just make the right decisions.

To learn more about Dr. Mennen’s practice, go to

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