The Flex Diet

The Flex Diet

Going all-out with a crash diet and radical workout program is not the way to lose weight and get in shape, says Portland cardiologist James Beckerman, author of "The Flex Diet: 200 Ways to Lose 20 Pounds."

It's the little steps that win the race — use the stairs, not the elevator, park farther from the store, walk the dog, drink green tea instead of diet soda, eat eggs, not bagels and, of course, eat your veggies. They taste good and are super good for you, so plan meals around a vegetable, not a meat dish, several days a week.

Sounds simple. Maybe too simple? It's meant to be that way, because Beckerman, after surveying the field of weight loss, diet and exercise, said, "I spend so much time as a cardiologist trying to change people's lifestyles. The information on what works is out there, but the messages just haven't been getting across.

"With small changes, you can have a great impact on your health. Rapid changes are nonsustainable," says Beckerman, a physician with Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland.

Beckerman, whose book got a big boost in January on the "Today" show, will present his new fitness model at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 9, in the North Medford High School Auditorium, 1900 N. Keene Way Dr. It's free.

And, yes, it's too simple because it's just common sense — stuff most of us know instinctively but don't do. Take the stairs, for instance. If it's only three or four stories, hey, walk it. Studies have shown walking stairs is faster than taking the elevator, so you're not saving time by avoiding stairs.

"Research shows that people who are less sedentary overall, even if it's only a few minutes a day, significantly reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke," said Beckerman, in an interview. "Get out of the habit of looking for the parking space nearest to the big-box store. Park 50 yards away and walk."

It does take concentration and thought to change habits, he notes, but "after a few weeks, it becomes part of your lifestyle."

Our society is beset by myriad diets and workout regimens "with rigid rules you have to practice," he says, "and it's not something everyone can achieve. It can be very discouraging. The Flex Diet, he notes, aims to get over that hump.

The ultimate goal of the Flex Diet? "To get you more active, cut portion size, reduce processed foods and to gradually employ some of 200 simple changes that make this happen. The book helps you design your own program. It celebrates us as individuals. Exercise flexibility and what works for YOU — and remember, small successes are successes."

Food is surrounded by hundreds of complex theories and studies, but the Flex Diet calls for minimal adjustments, he says, such as: avoid saturated fats and trans-fats (the ones that make packaged food taste OK during a long shelf life); avoid food that's been wrapped in plastic for long periods so it can survive shipping from far away; shun high-fructose corn syrup and nitrate preservatives.

Just following those changes brings a significant drop in heart problems, he says.

A few practical tricks about food: Don't always buy meat first then plan starch and veggies to go with it. Instead, a few days a week, get the veggies that call to you and plan the meal around that, sans meat, and look for high-fiber veggies — broccoli, carrots, greens, avocados — which are low in calories.

Meat is fine, he says, just choose low-fat cuts and avoid processed meats such as bacon, sausage or ham.

Beckerman's 15 minutes of fame on the "Today" show was "an amazing experience," he says, in which he lined a table with 10 items pointing the way to improved health and fitness:

  • A camera to take a "before" pic at the starting line, a great inspiration as you make progress.
  • A cell phone, so you can get automated text messages with healthful reminders from Beckerman or other sources. Any messages you post on his Facebook, he promises to personally answer.
  • Four to six glasses of water. They hydrate you and keep you full, so you have lower appetite. You don't need to schlep around those big bottles of water, he says.
  • Apples. High fiber, low sugar, full of water, yummy and a good substitute for the daily snack.
  • Flax seed. Cheap, easy and a true super-food, it's high in fiber and high in omega-3s. Just grind it in a coffee mill and add to soup, yogurt, smoothies, casseroles.
  • Eggs, that's right, eggs. High protein, low carbs and "my patients love this. They can't get over the idea of a cardiologist prescribing eggs. Use them instead of that bagel every day."
  • Green tea. A great antioxidant. You lose weight and lower risk of cancer and heart disease.
  • Sneakers. They're to walk the dog. Don't make the kids do it. Do it as a family, 20 to 30 minutes. You lose weight and increase heart health.
  • Nonstick pan spray with natural oils, such as canola or olive oil.
  • Plates, small ones, 10-inch instead of the old 14-inch. "Smaller plates mean smaller portions."

At this point in his "Today" segment, two attractive and fit women came on the set and began running their fingers through his hair, the cue to go to a commercial.

The segment is at

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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