With its cartoon book cover and high-concept premise, "The Big Breakfast Diet" looks and sounds like a gimmick. Eat a breakfast of up to 3,000 calories -- loading up on protein, sweets and starches -- and watch the pounds disappear? Uh, right.
But first impressions might be deceiving. Dr. Daniela Jakubowicz, a specialist in endocrinology and metabolic disease, developed the eating plan while treating patients with thyroid disorders, Type 2 diabetes and other health conditions associated with weight gain.
To test her theories, she and a team of researchers conducted an eight-month study with 94 overweight women, comparing weight loss in one group on her big-breakfast diet with a second group on a low-carbohydrate diet. Women on her diet lost an average of nearly 40 pounds, she says, while women on the low-carb diet ended down about 9 pounds on average after losing more and gaining some back.
Jakubowicz’s premise is that it’s not what you eat but when you eat it that matters. She says overweight people often eat out of sync with what their bodies need -- which is more food early in the day and less at night.
The main component at breakfast should be protein, she says, and lots of it. Her diet calls for 2 cups of milk or soy milk and yogurt at breakfast, as well as additional protein. She suggests options such as an egg white scramble, a lean steak or a chicken breakfast burrito. Protein eaten in the morning builds muscle mass, provides energy, increases alertness and maintains the body’s glucose levels for hours, she says.
Also mandatory is a moderate amount of carbs and fat, including a breakfast sweet. She says that a morning sweet, such as a chocolate doughnut or a piece of apple pie, satisfies cravings and keeps the body’s levels of serotonin at an even keel throughout the day. And eating starches in the morning increases energy rather than fat reserves because of how the body processes insulin, she says.
All this food, she says, should be consumed before 9 a.m. (10 a.m. in fall and winter). Lunch should be eaten by 2 or 3 p.m., even if you’re not yet hungry, and be limited to vegetables, protein and fruit. Dinner is minimal – ideally nothing, or just vegetables, a small amount of lean protein and maybe some fruit.
Follow this plan, she says, and the excess weight will melt away and stay off. And you will be spared the afternoon and evening cravings for sweets and starches that plague many a dieter.
Jakubowicz says you can eat even 3,000 calories a day and lose weight, as long as you eat in sync. For the fastest weight loss, however, she recommends a fairly spartan 1,100 to 1,450 calories daily: 600 to 850 or so consumed at breakfast, 350 to 400 calories at lunch and 150 to 200 calories at dinner.
Of course, most overweight people would lose weight on 1,100 calories a day. But on her diet, she says, they won't get hungry or crave carbs at night and be tempted to abandon the plan. She says the large amount of protein consumed early in the day keeps dieters satisfied through the evening.
The main drawback to the big-breakfast diet would seem to be the fact that people eat not just to satisfy hunger or cravings, but as a social activity. And dinner is when they typically gather to break bread. Sure you can order up a vegetable platter or salad while others are noshing on pesto pasta and pizza, but it takes commitment.
Jakubowicz claims, however, that the results you get on the diet will be enough to make you stick with it.
She offers a recipe for a vegetable-packed stew to eat at dinner, and for those who need more flexible options, recipes for dishes such as goat cheese and baby spinach salad, spicy Thai beef and sauteed shrimp and peppery red cabbage.-- Anne Colby
Photo: "The Big Breakfast Diet: Eat Big Before 9 a.m. and Lose Big for Life," Daniela Jakubowicz, Workman Publishing, $11.95.
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