Interviews / August 16, 2012

Cathy Wong, N.D., C.N.S.

By Charles Platkin, PhD

Cathy’s work has appeared in numerous major publications, including First For Women, Men’s Health, Natural Health, Body + Soul, Woman’s Day, and Natural Solutions. She has also been a guest on “Healthy Living” and “Body + Soul,” Sirius Radio programs, as well as ABC-TV Channel 5 News. Cathy is the author of the new book the Inside-Out Diet. Read on to find out her thoughts on dieting, detoxing and living a better life.

Name: Cathy Wong

Website:: www.cathywong.com/

Diet Detective: Hello Dr. Wong, thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview. My first question is to explain what a Naturopathic Doctor is and what do they do?

Dr. Cathy Wong: Like medical doctors, naturopathic doctors who have graduated from accredited institutions are educated in human anatomy, physiology and pathology and have clinical training. While there are certain areas naturopathic doctors receive relatively little training in, such as emergency medicine, they receive significantly more education in diet and nutrition and the use of natural therapies such as herbs, supplements, and acupuncture.

Diet Detective: What was the most interesting nutrition concept you’ve found in researching your book?

Dr. Cathy Wong: I’d have to say the extent to which we store chemicals in our body fat. The book describes this in detail. And the thing that makes it relevant for us all is that when we lose weight and shed fat, these stored chemicals get released into the body. A study measured blood levels of chemicals called organochlorines, and found that when people went on a diet or lost weight, blood organochlorine levels increased between 25% and 50% in just three months. These harmful chemicals can slow our metabolic rate and interfere with our hormone balance, which can then result in cravings and fat storage.

Diet Detective: What is the difference between detox diets and fasting?

Dr. Cathy Wong: In general, a detox diet is a short-term diet that has (or at least should have) three components. First, it should minimize the amount of chemicals ingested in the diet. This means eating organic food and staying away from chemicals, artificial colors and sweeteners, and foods to which you might be sensitive. Second, a detox diet should emphasize foods that provide the appropriate vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants that the body needs for detoxification. Finally, a detox diet should contain high fiber foods and water that will draw out and eliminate toxins by increasing the frequency of bowel movements and urination.

There are a variety of detox diets out there, and unfortunately, not all of them have these three necessary components. The Inside Out Diet contains all essential components, and that’s where it’s different.

A fast is a type of detox diet where you avoid solid food and usually only consume water for a short period of time. Some fasts allow other fluids such as vegetable or fruit juices.

Diet Detective: Detoxing is very controversial; many nutrition experts argue that the body has the capability to detox itself. For instance, this is a quote from Peter Pressman, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California, “The human body is a marvelous internally paced machine — our bodies are designed to get rid of wastes, bacteria, and other non-digestible food components through our stool.” Can you explain?

Dr. Cathy Wong: Our bodies can do these things, but what people don’t realize is that in the past 50 years alone, over 80,000 new chemicals have been introduced and are used in everything from furniture to computers to food packaging. Small amounts make their way into our food, water, and air. The pressing issue, which scientists are slowly recognizing, is that our bodies can’t eliminate these chemicals, and they get stored and accumulate in our fat cells. When we lose weight, they are released into our bodies. Unless you help the liver and the colon get rid of these chemicals, they can lower metabolism and cause other more serious problems.

Diet Detective: While you only recommend a couple supplements — a multivitamin and omega fatty acids — do you think that taking supplements is unhealthy? There has been much controversy surrounding the taking of supplements in the last few years. Shouldn’t you get your nutrients through food?

Dr. Cathy Wong: The problem some people fall into is that they take a lot of supplements every day and because of that, they don’t try as hard to eat well. When I was first starting out and learning about herbs and supplements, I did that and didn’t feel better because I wasn’t eating properly. Supplements shouldn’t replace food.

But in many cases, supplements are needed. For instance, omega fatty acids are essential in our diet, but nowadays there are few clean sources. The same goes for vitamin D — a large study recently found that vitamin D intake was associated with reduced mortality. It’s also thought to be crucial in preventing osteoporosis, cancer and other diseases. But many people are deficient in vitamin D because the main source of it, the sun’s UV rays on skin, can also cause skin cancer. So supplements definitely have their place. It’s a matter of using them wisely.

Diet Detective: I’ve read that you’ve had your own battle with weight control. How did you finally lose the weight and how did you maintain the loss?

Dr. Cathy Wong: It was definitely hard. If you look at me now, you’d never guess that I struggled with my weight. I had certain treats and feel-good foods I needed every day. I was addicted to sweets and fatty foods. I would eat breakfast sandwiches with fried egg and sausage on a regular basis. I’d need some sort of sugary dessert in the afternoon and liked anything fried.

If I had to, I’d lose weight quickly for an event but then quickly regain the weight. The diets I tried weren’t healthy and did nothing for my energy level. If anything, I was more tired on those diets. Looking back, the lack of energy made me vulnerable to my cravings for chocolate, muffins, and fast food. I just didn’t have the energy to fight them day after day. I talk about how I lost the weight for good in the book. It started with a liver cleansing diet. My digestion improved greatly and, for the first time, I had the energy and stamina to overcome my bad habits. That was key. I slowly began to appreciate healthy food and it changed my health forever. I was on the Inside Out Diet, but an early version of it.

I maintained the weight-loss by following the maintenance plan (step three) in the book, which means I’d stick to my core plan most of the time. Usually on weekends, I wouldn’t deprive myself of particular foods I wanted, but rather practiced portion control. I had a baby at the beginning of April, and I’ve just started on step 1 of the diet again to lose the weight I gained during my pregnancy. It’s going really well!

Diet Detective: Can you give us a brief overview of your book The Inside Out Diet? How will it help someone lose weight permanently?

Dr. Cathy Wong: The Inside Out Diet is simple. The first week, step one, you remove a number of foods from your diet such as dairy, wheat, and sugar. During this step, you should still eat lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and certain low-glycemic starches.

The next week, step two of the diet, you introduce some of them back into your diet one by one to pinpoint any foods that cause cravings, bloating, headaches, etc. Most people stay at this level until they’ve reached their goal weight. Then you’ve graduated to step three, the maintenance plan.

Not only do the foods in this diet support the liver and help with detoxification, but they also happen to be the healthiest, most nutrient-rich foods out there. Therefore, this is a great diet approach even if you aren’t trying to lose weight but simply want to eat better.

Diet Detective: Now a few more personal questions so readers can get to know you. If you could eat one unhealthy food whenever you wanted without gaining weight, what would it be?

Dr. Cathy Wong: Milk chocolate, in any form.

Diet Detective: What’s your favorite breakfast?

Dr. Cathy Wong: A berry smoothie made with low-fat yogurt and whey protein powder. It’s easy to make, which is key in the morning. My recipe for it is in the book. I use frozen organic berries, which are more convenient and less expensive than fresh, and they taste just as good.

Diet Detective: Do you have time to exercise? What do you do?

Dr. Cathy Wong: I go for a brisk walk for an hour and a half each day and use an exercise DVD at home. I have a six month old son and just recently got back to the gym. It feels great to be back.

Diet Detective: What’s your favorite healthy ingredient? What’s the one thing you’d suggest people keep in their kitchen if they want to cook healthy meals?

Dr. Cathy Wong: Time is usually the biggest constraint people have, so I’d say that in addition to fresh, try frozen fruit, vegetables, and chicken because of the convenience factor. In terms of nutritional value, they’re virtually the same as their fresh counterparts. Some of my favorites are frozen berries, frozen chopped bell peppers, frozen spinach, and frozen chicken breasts.

I have a couple of other favorite ingredients. If you want a substitute for butter on toast, try mashed avocado. It’s an excellent source of monounsaturated fat and antioxidants, and one tablespoon has 2.5 grams of fat, compared to the 12 grams in a tablespoon of butter.

Herbs and spices are also must-have ingredients. Cinnamon has a natural sweetness but no calories, so it’s ideal in desserts. Rosemary, oregano, thyme, parsley, and tumeric are great in marinades for meat because they help reduce the formation of harmful compounds called advanced glycation end-products, particularly in fried, grilled, barbequed, or roasted meat.

Diet Detective: What’s the one kitchen utensil or tool that you can’t live without?

Dr. Cathy Wong: My blenders are indispensible. I use my regular-sized blender to make smoothies, and I have a mini-blender which I use to chop herbs, nuts, and other foods, and also to make pesto and sauces. It’s handy and really easy to clean in the dishwasher.

My metal measuring cups are also essential. I use them to ensure my portions are right when I’m scooping yogurt out of the container or serving other foods such as brown rice.

Diet Detective: What do you consider the world’s most perfect food?

Dr. Cathy Wong: There really isn’t one perfect food. The oil of cold-water fish such as salmon is an excellent source of two of the most important types of omega fatty acids. Omega fatty acids are also called essential fats because we must obtain them from our diet. The problem is that because there are so few dietary sources, deficiency is quite common. This can result in systemic, low-grade inflammation that can lead to hormone imbalances and weight gain. Omega fatty acid deficiency has also been linked with heart disease, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, skin disorders, and inflammatory bowel disease. Other signs of deficiency include dry or rough skin, brittle or soft nails, dry, hair, and dandruff.

The problem with eating fish, however, is that the oceans they swim in are polluted. Chemical contaminants can even be found in wild salmon. That’s why I recommend people get these omega fatty acids from fish oil supplements. The better manufacturers filter out the mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants from their fish oil.

Another top pick is arugula. Like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and swiss chard, it’s a cruciferous vegetable so it contains sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol, compounds that speed the detoxification of many potentially harmful chemicals, enhance glutathione (an antioxidant) production, and are believed to help suppress the growth of tumors. Unlike most other cruciferous vegetables, arugula is a salad green, so it’s convenient to take with you for lunch or add to a salad. One cup contains more vitamin C than any other salad green. It’s wonderful with balsamic vinaigrette.

Diet Detective: What person do you respect most, or who motivates you? And why?

Dr. Cathy Wong: I have great respect for people who work hard and are able to build a better life for themselves, their children, and the people around them.

Diet Detective: What do you do to reduce stress/relax/center your mind? Do you participate in an organized relaxation activity such as yoga, meditation or tai chi?

Dr. Cathy Wong: Cardiovascular exercise helps me manage stress. I also love going for walks outside. I’m normally a fast walker, but now that my son is becoming more aware of his surroundings, I like to point things out to him as we walk. I also enjoy yoga.

Diet Detective: If you had to pick one healthy cook book to recommend which would you choose?

Dr. Cathy Wong: I haven’t looked at it in years, but one of my first cookbooks was Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. It’s a thick book that isn’t just a collection of recipes — it’s filled with information on how to shop for fruits, vegetables, and grains, how to store them, and how to cook them. I can’t vouch for all the recipes though, because some of them are higher in sugar, carbohydrates, and fat. It’s a good reference though.

Diet Detective: What’s your favorite healthy recipe? Will you share it with our readers?

Dr. Cathy Wong: One of my favorite Inside Out Diet recipes is the Maui-terranean Salad with Herbed Chicken. It has so many wonderful complementary flavors. Sabra Ricci, the chef who created the recipes for the book, lives in beautiful Maui and has many celebrity clients who go out there for rest and relaxation. Eating this salad takes me there, even though I’m in the chilly northeast.

Maui-terranean Salad with Herbed Chicken

Servings: 1

3 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 cups mixed baby greens
1/2 Maui onion or other sweet onion (e.g., Walla Walla, Vidalia, or Oso)
1/2 orange, peeled and segmented
5 Kalamata olives, pitted and quartered
1/8 avocado, diced
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
pepper to taste

Place the chicken breast, lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of olive oil, and oregano in a bowl. Cover and marinate for 2 hours.

Grill the chicken. Set aside to cool slightly.

Toss all the remaining ingredients in a salad bowl. Transfer to a serving plate. Slice the chicken breast and place it on top of the salad.

The foregoing recipe is excerpted from The Inside Out Diet by Cathy Wong. John Wiley & Sons, 2007. All rights reserved.

Diet Detective: Do you have a Calorie Bargain? What food did it replace? Was that an important food in your diet, since you ate it so often?

Dr. Cathy Wong: Low-fat black raspberry frozen yogurt with dark chocolate chips. In high school, I used to love ice cream, but it’s high in fat and sugar. This frozen yogurt is made with non-fat milk and is lower in fat and calories than ice cream. While there’s sugar, much of it comes from the raspberries and dark chocolate, which have other health benefits.

Diet Detective: What was your worst summer job?

Dr. Cathy Wong: In high school, I worked for two summers as a cashier at a fast food chain. I’m sure that experience influenced my career choice!






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