Most vacations in Southern California include trips to Disneyland, hours of lying on the beach and fat-filled restaurant dinners. However, a small subset of vacationers go there to lose weight. These people visit the Pritikin Longevity Center, located inside the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel.
The Pritikin Longevity Center teaches one-week, two-week and three-week classes in the Pritikin approach, an intensive low-calorie diet and exercise combination that is meant to control problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. According to Rebecca Fraley, MS, RD, a nutrition educator at the Pritikin center, about 20 to 25 percent of program participants have diabetes.
People following the Pritikin approach eat three meals and two or three snacks a day, including an optional after-dinner fruit snack. Their diet consists of low-calorie foods that are high in fiber. Fraley says that a high-fiber diet has a lower glycemic index, which is beneficial to people with type 2 diabetes.
The diet includes a lot of unrefined grains, fruits and vegetables, plus a little bit of animal protein. Fraley says the center recommends that people who are used to eating meat try to eat only 3.5 ounces of animal protein per day.
“The way that you get your cholesterol to go down very quickly is by cutting out the animal protein,” she says. “We’ve seen very good results. People come here with very high cholesterol levels and after just a week of being here their cholesterol levels have dropped dramatically.”
The center has its own private dining hall where it prepares food for people enrolled in its weekly programs. Fraley says that 70 to 80 percent of the calories in the meals come from complex carbohydrates, and 10 to 20 percent come from protein. She says 10 percent or less of the calories come from fat.
“The Pritikin approach is also a very low-sodium diet. It’s only about 1600 mg. of sodium or less per day,” Fraley says.
The center teaches a two-part, two-week curriculum. The first part covers how to control one’s diabetes and the second part covers the scientific aspects of the disease. Any given week includes lectures from both parts of the curriculum, and participants can choose which lectures they wish to attend. Those staying for three weeks work with a coach who helps them follow the program.
An article in a 1994 edition of Diabetes Care examines a study of 652 people with type 2 diabetes who went through the Pritikin program for three weeks. According to the study, 76 percent of the subjects who had been controlling their disease through diet and exercise went home with a diagnosis that they were no longer diabetic. Seventy percent of the subjects who were taking oral drugs no longer needed medication after finishing the program and 39 percent of the subjects on insulin also went home medication free. More recent statistics were not available.
Another study, published in the May/June 1992 edition of the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation, shows that the Pritikin approach reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
What To Eat
After people leave the Pritikin Center they are expected to continue following the Pritikin approach. Fraley says a typical Pritikin breakfast would be a bowl of oatmeal or fresh fruit with skim milk or nonfat yogurt, and cooked egg whites. Oatmeal is a useful food for people with diabetes because it has soluble fiber, which lowers serum cholesterol and glucose.
According to Fraley, people following the Pritikin approach eat every two to three hours or five to six times a day. She says a typical morning snack might consist of soup and fresh fruit.
For lunch, Fraley recommends starting with a soup and salad, and then eating a vegetarian chili or lasagna for the main course. She says something with beans, which are a source of protein, would make a good entree.
For people who like soup, Fraley also recommends it as an afternoon snack. She says mixed vegetables and baked yams are also healthy choices.
Finally, Fraley recommends having a 3.5-ounce chicken breast for dinner, along with vegetables, brown rice and a salad. Fruit is also an option for dessert, but Fraley says that people with diabetes should only eat three to five servings of fruit per day. She also recommends that people with diabetes avoid eating the bread and dry cereal offered at the Pritikin Center because the body requires more insulin to process these foods.
Following such a strict diet can be difficult. Fraley says that people who are used to living healthy lifestyles usually adjust easily but people who are used to “McDonalds” have a harder time. However, Fraley adds, human taste buds change every seven days and toward the end of their stay, people at the Pritikin Center start to enjoy the food.
At the end of their stay, program participants can take home a cookbook explaining how to prepare most of the meals served in the Pritikin dining hall. Fraley says the point of the program is to get participants off their medication completely, or to help them reach a point where they need fewer medications.
“We teach a lot of prevention,” Fraley says. In addition to nutrition and exercise classes, people can attend cooking demonstrations and medical lectures.
“We get a lot of participants that come back every year,” Fraley says. “They come back either to get a jump start or to get reminded of what they need to do [to keep following the Pritikin approach]. Other past participants are following it very well, but they like to come back because we are constantly updating our courses and providing the latest information in science.”
The cost of the program is about $4,000 per week. For those who are looking for a less expensive way to try the approach, “The New Pritikin Program” and “The Pritikin Weight Loss Breakthrough: 5 Easy Steps to Outsmart Your Fat Instinct” are available in most bookstores.