Dr. Ali Zentner: Prescription for better health

Dr. Ali Zentner: Prescription for better health

Dr. Ali Zentner is on a mission to help people develop a healthy relationship with food.

Struggling since childhood with her own personal weight issues, the Vancouver obesity expert shares her story - she's shed more than 175 pounds - and those of her patients in her book The Weight-Loss Prescription.

dr-ali-70x78.jpg Dr. Ali Zentner

Dr. Ali Zentner practises internal medicine and specializes in cardiac risk management and obesity. She has helped thousands of obese and overweight patients.

Zentner lost more than 175 pounds and embraces a healthy and active lifestyle.

She was the medical expert on CBC's Village on a Diet and is a contributor to CBC's Live Right Now. She is based in Vancouver.

Dream dinner guest

"I would love to have steak dinner with my dad," Zentner told CBC Live Right Now when asked about her dream dinner guest.

Her father, who died about 11 years ago, wanted his daughter to become a doctor.

"I was on my first year of practice when he died so he never really saw everything that happened since then -- and I'd love to have dinner with him to update him."

A celebrity, someone you don't know, could disappoint, says Zentner. But not her dad.

"I know my father would totally deliver a totally great date."

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"Food is very much a part of our culture; it's a part of who you are," Zentner told Live Right Now.

"I think in most cultures, it's not just a nutritional standard, it's an expression of affection, it's how people celebrate, it's how they grieve, it's how they cope.

"And from a physiological perspective, there's a whole host of data that shows that particularly when it comes to certain types of food, there are biochemical feedbacks that exist in the brain that are tweaked every time - for example - we consume sugar or fat or salt."

Zentner argues that our personalities and our behaviours are innately influenced by our genetic patterns -- so why wouldn't our food choices and our likes and dislikes?


Obesity is very much a disease, not a social condition, says Zentner.

"There's a physiology that exists in the body -- why our fat cells talk to our brain and why our brain answers back. And then there's an environment that we live in that makes it really easy for a lot of people in this country to gain weight and really hard for them to lose it."

She wrote her book because she felt there wasn't one out there that addressed how people behaved around food.

As a physician, she sees obese and overweight patients every day.

For her, it was a natural progression to go from treating patients in an office to having a book for people who couldn't come to see her.

She says the dieting industry has really capitalized on telling people they should eat a certain way until they lose a certain number of pounds.

"That's not good medicine. It's not how people lose weight longterm. It's not how people keep weight off and, more importantly, it really is detrimental to the person who's trying to make a true lifestyle change."

Zentner wanted a book that people who were struggling with weight could read and then recognize that they were not alone. She also hopes people who had never had a weight problem could read it and realize obesity is a disease.

"I wanted a book that implied a sense of empathy to the reader - and not just empathy - but created a sense of community and that's why I used my patients as examples. "

On diets

"A diet innately implies a beginning, a middle and an end. And that doesn't work for weight loss," says Zentner.

There's no such thing as an end, explains Zentner. She believes in a lifestyle change - something that you do for the rest of your life.

"And you add to it, and you take away, and you adjust. And you sort of go with the flow and see where it takes you. That's how people lose weight. You don't lose weight by 'I'm going to cut out carbs for six weeks and see how that goes.'"

"We live in a world where people want quick-fix tips," says Zentner. "You don't get quality, long-term results with quick fixes. If you want a quick fix, it's going to be just that. It's going to be a temporary solution."

"I think people have to establish who they are around food. I think keeping a food diary is a good start," suggests Zentner.

"What people think they should be doing, what they are doing and what they think they're doing are three different things."

Eating together

From a health perspective, when families eat together there tends to be a greater consciousness about what's put on the table, says Zentner.

"I think it only reinforces an opportunity for discussion around what is healthy food -- and what are unhealthy foods."

But she points out that the actual act of eating together isn't necessarily healthy.

"If there's unhealthy eating behavior, it can be a family experience.... I would take it one step and look at what as a family are you eating as opposed to just the act of eating together."

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