To some, he's Dr. Oat Bran, the man who led an '80s America into a diet nirvana based on the humble breakfast grain.
Dr. James Anderson has toiled in the diet wilderness for more than four decades, warning the corpulent and couch potatoes that their lifestyles will exact a horrible toll.
Now, Anderson has written a new book that he says makes it simpler than ever to ditch the weight and stick with a weight-loss program. It's called The Simple Diet: A Doctor's Science-Based Plan (Berkley Books, $15), co-authored with Nancy J. Gustafson, a North Dakota dietitian.
The thing about the Simple Diet is this: It really is simple.
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You measure hardly a thing and don't have to cook if you don't like cooking. Just about everything you need is already at the grocery store and costs about $60 a week. You eat lots of fruits and vegetables and commit to an exercise regimen that burns at least an extra 2,000 calories a week.
Do this, and according to the book, you can lose as much as 50 pounds in 12 weeks.
"If a diet requires people to carefully measure out everything, that gets tedious," Anderson said in a phone interview from Hermitage, Tenn., where he retired from the University of Kentucky to be closer to family. "The components of our diet are pre-measured and pre-weighed."
That said, this might not be the diet for you if you find yourself put off at the thought of protein shakes. But Anderson is a fan, saying shakes are filling and provide a boost of protein and other nutrients.
So on his diet are shakes from Special K, Slim-Fast, Revival Soy, GNC and Slim-Rite. Entrees will come from supermarket brands including Smart Ones, Healthy Choice, Lean Cuisine and Michelina's.
Although the diet is simple, it doesn't promise weight loss without giving up the Cheetos, cheeseburgers and chocolate layer cake. And there's no way around the exercise.
Simple Diet followers eat lots of fruit and vegetables, although Anderson warns to pick berries and spinach more often than heftier foods such as potatoes and bananas, even though those foods are not off limits.
The entrees allowed are not all vegetarian, although Anderson calls himself a "Pisces vegetarian." He eats fish, vegetables, fruits and grains, including his morning bowl of oatmeal (yes, he still believes in oat bran).
For lunch on the day of the interview, he had a raw vegetable plate that included red peppers, carrots and cherry tomatoes with fat-free dressing, a meal of mushroom risotto with three-quarters of a cup of black beans, and blackberries and blueberries for dessert.
As you get closer to maintenance weight, you're allowed to add low-calorie variety such as fat-free yogurt and even the occasional bit of low-fat cheese, but the lifestyle change involved in the Simple Diet doesn't suggest that you ever add a plate of french fries and chicken-fried steak.
That's one of the troubles that Anderson sees with other diet regimens that offer treats such as muffins and crackers. Those diets don't teach the lesson that losing weight and keeping it off is a lifestyle change, and they don't keep the dieter from rewiring the brain away from the taste of sweet, salty and over seasoned, which Anderson says is important.
Research indicates that eating is, in some people, a brain-based activity, with satiety and emotional cues indicated by the brain rather than the stomach.
"If people begin to substitute positive, life-affirming substitutes, they can stop repeating those signals, 'I have to have chocolate chip cookies,'" Anderson said.
Sabrina Kamphaus, a Lexington dietitian with The Webb Dietetic Group, said that even losing 10 pounds and following aspects of The Simple Diet, such as consuming more fruits and vegetables or using protein drinks for their hunger-damping, muscle-building abilities, are steps toward a healthier lifestyle.
The key to diets, Kamphaus said, is "making it work for the lifestyle of a modern person who wants to make some changes but doesn't want to carry a (food) scale around."
"A lot of science makes sense, but you have to translate it into a real-life situation," Kamphaus said. "You may not be able to do the diet to a T."
Anderson is encouraged by the number of people tackling their unhealthy eating.
"I think some people are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," Anderson said. "The percentage of overweight and obese adults has seemed to stabilize over the last few years."
He said, however, that bariatric surgery is being over-marketed, particularly for people who have only 15 to 20 pounds to lose.
"It's almost criminal," Anderson said.
Anderson urges dieters to keep records of what they eat and how much they exercise, but he's not particularly fixated on the scale. He urges people to weigh themselves once a day, in the morning and in the buff.
After that, water weight might kick in, and other mild fluctuations may show up.
"If you're doing the program, you're going to be losing the weight," he said.