Diet gizmo may stop yo-yo

August 19, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

When it came to exercise and staying fit, Ronald Frey always made excuses.

But when he retired six months ago, the 61-year-old Hagerstown resident decided to invest in himself.

A workout routine at the YMCA helped him shed a few pounds from his 5'9" frame. It wasn't until last week, however, while rehabbing an injured finger at HealthSouth Sports Medicine of Hagerstown that he found a dietary watchdog that piqued his interest.

"I'm not interested in a crash diet to take pounds off quickly," the 190-pounder says. "I want to take it off slowly."

Enter MedGem, a handheld gizmo that measures resting metabolic rate, the number of calories burned during the day without lifting a finger. Coupled with a computerized BalanceLog that assigns caloric values for everything eaten and energy expended, the apparatus can set Frey on the way to a slimmer profile.


Already, a half-dozen HealthSouth employees are using MedGem, out about a month, to trim their physiques. The high-tech method is but one way for the diet-conscious to monitor and improve their eating habits.

Keeping track

Diagnosed with diabetes late last year, a Harrisonville, Pa., man has developed what amounts to a diet diary, Nutrition Simplified, for users to record the number of calories taken in daily. Richard Hockensmith, owner of Tri-Ridge Group, which is marketing the slender booklet, says he created the diet for himself but quickly realized its potential to help others.

"I think," he says, "once you've used it you become very aware and start controlling your diet and are feeling a lot better."

America's ever-expanding waistline has led to a greater awareness of just what is going in our mouths at mealtime. According to 1999 statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics, 61 percent of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, with 14 percent of children ages 12 to 19 overweight.

Though not operating on a time table, Frey hopes to eventually whittle away 20 or 25 pounds.

"Reasonably, I'm hoping a year," to slim down, he says. "I want to be physically fit, look good again."

To lose one pound in a week, cut out 500 calories a day or 3,500 calories a week, says Chambersburg Hospital Clinical Nutrition Manager Annette Lynch, R.D. To prevent rapid weight loss and regaining of weight, dieters shouldn't try to lose more than a couple pounds per week, Lynch says.

But calorie counting requires more than cutting out entire meals; what the body requires to function changes as we age.

"If you're eating the same at, say, 40 as you were at 20, the chances of your gaining weight is greater," Lynch says, "because you're eating the same amount but your body doesn't need as many calories."

Studies have shown that keeping a diet diary increases the chance of implementing a successful plan, Lynch says. It requires a significant amount of discipline to record everything eaten - good and bad - and the caloric value.

Digitizing the count

This is where MedGem can make life easier. Invented by James Mault, M.D., the handheld device measures oxygen consumption to determine the resting metabolic rate.

With a clip blocking the nasal passages, patients breathe into the device for between 5 and 15 minutes while it hums like an electric razor. There is a sensation of needing to gulp in more air than necessary; using the device feels stuffy, like breathing under covers.

While MedGem is a valuable tool to determine the metabolic rate, HealthSouth occupational therapist Janet Sliwa says the true benefit comes from taking that information and using it with the BalanceLog.

A $70 piece of computer software, the log allows users to establish and record their diet and exercise to create a plan for reducing weight. The program contains a database of the caloric values for 300 exercises and more than 3,000 foods, including brand-names and national chains.

It monitors 13 nutrients, and is able to add new items not already in the database.

"I liken it to going to Weight Watchers every day because you have to confess what you're eating every day," Sliwa says. "I'm a veteran of the yo-yo diet, and as I'm getting older it's getting harder to lose weight, so recording it this way is really allowing me to ... it really makes me recognize where my mistakes are in my eating habits."

HealthSouth, with local offices in Hagerstown and Frederick, Md., is the exclusive marketing agent for MedGem, which costs $50 for the initial test plus the charge for software.

Marketing representative Diane Rasmussen is hopeful that local organizations and physicians will want to give the technology a try. Like Sliwa, she is using the program to get in shape and so far swears by it.

Having spent time poring over a series of diet options, Frey says the MedGem and BalanceLog system has been the only one to make sense to him.

"I'm convinced exercise and a good, reasonable dieting program will get me where I need to be or where I want to be, and then the goal is to maintain it and not slide," Frey says. "(MedGem) is something you can track and see it yourself, and I think other diets are hit and miss. This diet piqued my interest quite a bit because I can monitor it."

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