The Serotonin Power Diet
In memory of my mother who unsuccessfully tried every diet that came her way and to my daughter who needs relief from terrible recurring migraines.
Author's Disclaimer: This article is not intended to treat or cure any illness or disease; rather, it for educational purposes only. Consult your healthcare practitioner or medical doctor before starting this or any diet or exercise program.
Wurtman, Judith J., PHD and Marquis, Nin Frusztajer, MD; The Serotonin Power Diet; Rodale Inc., New York, NY; 2006, pp.290 ISBN 1-59486-346-6
This book caught my eye because, having been a mother who breast-fed her babies, I was familiar with serotonin.
As I began reading the book, I soon realized that this was not just a diet but a whole program that includes emotional support and exercise guidelines, also to be covered in this article.
Is the Serotonin Power Diet legitimate?
It should be with 30 years of research behind it.
Dr. Judith Wurtman received her doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in cell biology, and Dr. Nina Marquis (thumbnail photo) accomplished a degree in nutrition from Columbia University and her medical degree from George Washington University.
These ladies seemingly are not in this field just for the money, but truly have their clients' success at heart.
The Book's Contents
The book covers four main aspects: 1) explanation of how the brain's serotonin helps regulate weight, 2) the program itself, including exercise, 3) how to plan and implement your individualized diet, and 4) food preparation.
Lists of motivational tools, as well as helpful suggestions for specific dieters' problems through the use of question and answer sections are presented.
What is serotonin?
According to the authors, serotonin is the brain's natural chemical that acts as an appetite suppressor, signaling when a dieter has had enough to eat. Serotonin also helps to re-establish the sense of well being when encountering stresses (p. 4).
The process for the brain to make serotonin includes insulin, the pancreatic hormone that prepares glucose and amino acids for tissue absorption, and tryptophan, an amino acid that is more slowly absorbed by general body tissues than other amino acids. The authors use a store's clearance sale as an analogy to explain how the tryptophan becomes the brain's "sole customer" because insulin has caused the other amino acids to be locked into tissues; thus, the tryptophan remains in the bloodstream so the brain can use it (p.6)
A Few Serotonin Facts
- serotonin-producing carbohydrates help control cravings (p. 4)
- the male brain produces double the serotonin than the female brain (p.15)
- no serotonin is made when protein alone is eaten
- no serotonin is made when fat and protein are eaten together
- no serotonin is made when a serving of protein is eaten with a serving of carbohydrate
- no serotonin is made when using artificial sweeteners
- removes mental fatigue that prevents the dieter from exercising
- fructose, the sugar found in fruit, does not produce serotonin (p. 74)
What You Can Expect*
- you will eat carbohydrates
- you will eat protein
- you will have snacks
- you will be able to eat at a restaurant
- you will exercise reasonably
- you will lose an average of 1-2 pounds of fat, not water, weight a week
- you will be relying on your brain (not will power) to control appetite
- you will feel satisfied without mood swings
*introductory pages xii-xiii
Basics of the Diet
The Serotonin Power Diet has three phases: surge, balance and control. The 12-week time frame for each phase is two weeks, six weeks, and four weeks, respectively. The control phase may be continued until ideal weight is achieved and the new life-style patterns are established.
The surge phase uses the largest amounts of carbohydrates over a two-week period. This familiarizes the body with carbs, especially if these have been avoided in accordance with other diets. The authors recommend the following guidelines for this phase (p. 80):
- eat protein at lunch
- fruit may replace lunchtime vegetables
- complex carbohydrates and vegetables for dinner
- snacks are included, but the final snack of the day may be forgone if desired
Sample menus are outlined on pages 80-83.
The balance phase is designed to maintain the serotonin levels that were established during the surge phase, and the meal plan is as follows:
- breakfast is a protein, carbohydrate, and fruit or fruit juice
- a snack one hour before lunch
- lunch is a protein and vegetables
- a snack three or four hours after lunch
- dinner is a protein, carbohydrate, and vegetables
Proteins are measured and the dinner protein may be eliminated. More detailed meal guidelines are given on pages 84-85, and serving portions are explained on pages 76-80. Sample menus for this phase are on pages 85-87.
A summary of the control phase is as follows (p. 88):
- portions are important
- one afternoon snack, but a morning snack is allowed before lunch if necessary to feel satisfied
- an after dinner snack may be incorporated if necessary to satisfy
- restrict fat calories
- revert back to the surge phase of the diet if stress factors have caused a risk in overeating
Sample menus for the control phase are presented on pages 89-91.
There are over 75 recipes at the back of the book for the various phase levels of the diet. While an organically grown, plant-based diet is not the focus, many omnivorous individuals will enjoy the meals to meet their specific goals. The Pad Thai Salad, Italian Flag Salad, Sushi Rice Salad, Mushroom Burger, Potato Pancakes, Sunday Baked Beans, October Soup, Nam Chinese Noodles with Tofu and salad dressing recipes are just some of the foods that fit into a vegan diet. Adaptations can always be made.
Calorie Comparisons of Some Popular Foods
KFC Crispy fried chicken twister sandwich with mayo (670)
KFC Oven roasted chicken twister sandwich without may (380)
Taco Bell Grilled Stuffed Chicken Burrito (325)
Taco Bell Ranchero Chcken Soft Taco (135)
McDonald's Chicken Selects with Creamy Ranch Sauce, 3 pcs (580)
McDonald's Chicken Selects with Spicy Buffalo Sauce, 3 pcs (440)
Dannon Fruit on Bottom Low-Fat Strawberry Yogurt, 6 oz (160)
Dannon Fat-Free Plain Yogurt, 3 oz with 1/2 c blueberries (112)
Progresso New England Clam Chowder, 1 c (230)
Progresso Manhattan Clam Chowder, 1 c (110)
Lessons from the Cases
1) carbs with fat take longer to digest--these will delay the brain's serotonin production, which you should not do
2) antidepressants seem to put a higher demand on the brain's serotonin, even though they are designed to prolong the presence of serotonin in the body's system
3) the Serotonin Power Diet does not interfere with antidepressant medication, and affected clients are able to lose as much weight as those not on medication
4) persons coming off low-calorie liquid diets often overeat when resuming variety in their diets
5) taking time to examine food and exercise choices can be a powerful tool for sticking to a diet
6) the type of carbohydrate, portion, and time of day make a difference
7) activity makes a difference
8) workaholics are advised to decrease their work load by (a) allowing others to help and (b) setting a "no disturb" hour at the office
9) one has to be ready to commit before starting a diet
10) one has to be realistic about the process of the dieting program with small, manageable changes at a time
11) an overly zealous, all-or-nothing attitude doesn't work; patience is key
12) planned meals help, and
13) emotional support, such as group exercise or a dieting partner, increases success.
Laboratory testing on rats aside, I noted 40 examples in this book about clients with different situations and solutions to their specific problems that undermined their ability to remain focused on this particular diet. Many were examples of poor carbohydrate choices and eating at the wrong times. Carbohydrates loaded with fat calories and little to no exercise brought about an overweight condition. Some of the cases had to do with someone who had always had normal weight until an antidepressant over a few months seemed to increase carbohydrate cravings that often went out of control. Here are three case studies of interest:
A Fat Binger
Miriam was a single mom who couldn't control her carbohydrates and, after one week on this Serotonin Power Diet, was able to end her binge eating and began to follow the 20-minute rule to wait after eating dinner to sense whether the body was satisfied. This method worked for this woman so she could successfully stay on the diet and reach her goal (p. 10).
An Antidepressant Case
Claire was a 42-year-old violinist who had received an antidepressant medication to help her hope with her bereavement upon the death of her father. Her weight had been stable for 15 years prior to taking the medication. Suddenly she found herself craving crunchy snack foods, oftentimes in the form of high-calorie chips. None of her clothes fit. In one month on the serotonin diet, she lost 6 pounds. By the end of the program, 14 pounds had vanished and she returned to her former weight and disposition. Cravings were under control (p. 20).
The Workaholic Syndrome
Neil was a senior manager at a biotech firm and father of two children, both under ten years of age. He turned out to be a chronic procrastinator for starting the diet because he was putting in so many hours at work and snacking on wrong foods in the employee kitchenette. In addition, he was on antidepressants. He was counseled to come back when he was actually ready to make a commitment to himself for losing weight. Six months later, he did just that. In 8 months, he lost 40 pounds, experienced a renewal of his family relationship. "I feel and look better at 43 than I did at 33," he said (p. 45).
The Exercise Requirement
Four 30-minute sessions per week of aerobic activity in your fat-burning zone (heart rate = 220 - age X 0.75)
Three sessions of 30-minute duration per week of strength training that tires the muscle groups
- a half-hour a day in addition to as much general activity as possible, such as taking the stairs or parking farther away
- if unaccustomed to exercise, build up to the weekly requirement; intensity can come later
- listen to your body
- use a heart-rate monitor, if available
- be mindful of injury prevention and health limitations, and
- wear good exercise shoes.
4-Week Beginner Fat Burning Exercise
What about migraines?
According to the Mayo Clinic, which is not referenced in this book, imbalances in brain chemicals, including serotonin, which helps regulate pain in the nervous system may be involved. Researchers continue to study the role of serotonin, which drops during migraine attacks. This may cause the trigeminal system to release neuropeptides, which travel to your brain's outer covering (meninges). The result is headache pain. If this theory is proved correct, it would stand to reason that serotonin support might reduce or prevent the severity of migraine attacks.
Does the Serotonin Power Diet help PMS?
In her research and studies, Dr. Judith Wurtman discovered that the mood swings associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) were related to the changes in the action of serotonin. The carbohydrate beverage Serotrim improved women's moods (p. 10).
The craving for chocolate and tendency to binge on carbohydrates prior to onset of menses is related to the body's need for serotonin. The Serotonin Surge phase is best at this time. Fat-free chocolate is best in order to avoid excess fat calories that, when taken in routinely, put on weight (p.139). Remember, too, that high fat intake with carbohydrates actually interferes with the brain's ability to produce serotonin.
The Serotonin Power Diet offers hope to those who have dieted and have been unable to stick to their diet plans. The diet also sheds a glimmer of hope for migraine and PMS sufferers.
Impressive are the authors' credentials, the years of research, and the 20 endnotes of references at the back of the book. The index covers just about everything from acid reflux to zucchini.
While the book is not for everyone, particularly diabetics without dietary adaptations and epileptic sufferers, the latter sometimes doing best on a ketogenic (high fat) diet when medicines fail to prevent seizures, the majority of those wishing to lose weight and take some control of their body fat will find this book concise and supportive. The language is informal and easy to read.
Fad diets are out. Calories do count. There is a difference between complex and simple carbohydrates. Portion and time of day are advantagous tools.
To top off the information I have presented, the authors offer consultation and support through their websites and email. Their Adara Weight Loss Centers are located in both San Francisco and Boston.
Peace and good health be with you!