Diets: Not so common sense

Dr Luc Evenepoel’s fad-free weight-control book has made him the darling of South Africa’s medical establishment. Here’s why he thinks diets should go the way of the dinosaur…

Evenepoel came to SA after qualifying as a doctor in Brussels in 1987. He returned to marry a South African and specialised in anaesthetics in intensive care at Groote Schuur Hospital, where he still works.

His book, Dr Luc’s Promise: Lose the Weight and Keep it Off is the result of an interest in things dietary that began when he was a child and suffered terrible hayfever. His mother followed a naturopath’s advice and removed all refined foods from his diet – which over two years saw his hayfever virtually disappear.

Evenepoel no longer regimentally avoids sugar, however. He is opposed to all extremism. The concept of “relaxed restraint” is key to his message, because, he says, there is a big fat difference between weight loss and weight control.

“You can eat just chocolate, or just leaves and grass, and you will lose weight,” he says, “but if you want to control your weight in the long term, it has been scientifically proven over and over that extreme diets do not work. According to studies, 85% will regain the weight over two years, and 95% over four years.

“If you Google ‘diet’, you get 520 million websites in one fifth of a second. One website lists the 500 most popular diets. Five hundred! If there are 500 most popular diets, and people just keep getting more and more overweight, do diets work? How healthy and sustainable are they in the long term? After the 100-day-no-chocolate diet, what will you do on day 101? You’re not going to celebrate with broccoli. I even found the tapeworm diet. You swallow them in a capsule, because eating them is a bit disgusting. That’s how weird things have got.”

He blames the diet plague on greed and insecurity. “Those not living in poverty are living in a world where there is too much food. It’s just lying around everywhere.” 

“And yet we have been fed the idea that if we don’t look like a cover model – which is not a normal body – then we must drastically do something about it.

“There is a lot of money to be made: first they tell you to eat, and they make money there, then they tell you you’re too fat, but we can sell you the product to get back to your ideal weight. Every time I see a weight-loss advertisement I wonder how it is allowed to be let loose on the public. If you made these claims about a car or a holiday, the advertiser would be found guilty of fraudulent misrepresentation, but when it comes to food, it seems anything goes.”…

Evenepoel wrote his book to counteract the ignorance he kept encountering. “Over the years I have always given ad hoc advice on weight control, honest advice, not what people want to hear, and I have always had very good feedback and more people coming for advice. I thought that one day somebody should write down what is and isn’t true about weight control, and nobody seemed to do that. That’s why I did it.

“You’d be surprised how little doctors know about long-term weight control,” he says. “It’s not their fault. You have to learn a lot of things in medical school, and weight control is just by the by. But in my opinion, if a doctor prescribes you a diet to lose weight, it almost borders on malpractice.

“People abdicate power, they don’t take control of their own lives and bodies. They’d rather trust things like the low-carb approach, or some miraculous meal-replacement drink, instead of asking, what can I do for myself? I give simple advice, but it means examining yourself. It’s not a quick fix. I tell you why diet drinks can make you gain weight, why exercise won’t make you lose weight, and why if you skip breakfast you will be five times more prone to becoming overweight….. Read the full article