U prof’s diet catches national attention

Mehgan Lee

Much to his chagrin, a University professor gained national media attention and received offers for book deals in recent weeks for creating a new diet.

“It’s really silly,” said David Bernlohr, head of the department of biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics.

“It has gotten so much attention, and it was never my goal to do that,” he said.

Bernlohr, who studies obesity and teaches medical students about metabolism, said he created the now famous Northwoods Diet about a year ago when he noticed his weight slowly sneaking up on him. In six months, he said, he lost 40 pounds.

But he did not exercise. And he still snacked on chocolate and peanuts and enjoyed the occasional light beer, he said.

“No person should have to be without chocolate,” Bernlohr said. “And if you have to have peanuts, it’s almost required you have beer, too.”

But Bernlohr did moderate the amount of carbohydrates he consumed, he said.

For breakfast, he ate carbohydrates such as cereal or oatmeal to increase his body’s insulin production, he said. For lunch, he ate what he calls a transitional meal, which still included some carbohydrates, but also contained more proteins and lipids. Bernlohr’s transitional meal is generally a slice of pizza, he said. Then for supper, Bernlohr tried to eliminate carboydrates, he said.

His diet also entailed eating the three traditional meals of the day.

“One of the problems with the American culture is we skip breakfast and we eat lunch, dinner and dinner two,” Bernlohr said. “And dinner two is sometimes a full meal at 10 or 11 o’clock at night.”

Instead, Bernlohr said, he tried to stop eating after 7 p.m.

People took notice when Bernlohr shed the weight. He said everyone began asking him if he was on the Atkins or South Beach diets. Bernlohr said he got tired of explaining.

“On the spur of the moment, without any thought to it, I just said, ‘I’m on Northwoods,’ ” he said. “And the basic premise here is that if the beautiful people in South Florida can have South Beach, the good, hard-working people of Minnesota can have Northwoods.”

The College of Biological Sciences’ alumni magazine made a small reference to the Northwoods Diet in a recent article they wrote on Bernlohr’s laboratory. But that small reference was enough to kick off media frenzy. Bernlohr said he is now receiving calls from Dateline NBC and National Public Radio.

“It’s out of control,” he said.

“I’ve got to write papers,” he said. “I’ve got class to teach. I’ve got to go back to my lab.”

Bernlohr said he does not believe his diet is anything special. He is not a physician or nutritionist, and the diet has not been clinically established or proven, he said.

“It just has a cute name,” he said.

Too often people are looking for a magical weight-loss cure, Bernlohr said. But if people want to lose weight, they just need to exercise more and reduce their calorie intake, he said.

“You don’t need 2,500 calories a day,” Bernlohr said. “Cut back to 1,800. Have only one helping. And don’t eat a fourth meal.”