Time to Throw Out the Phen375 Diet Pills?


Lean, fit and surprisingly pretty, despite her baldness, the new Susan Powter barely looks related to the ``balloon-a-gram'' (her word) in her before-picture. And if she can do it, the argument goes, so can you. Susan Powter is her own best advertisement.

And she's a natural. One suspects that she's untutored, but she comes over like a highly trained political orator, making liberal use of professional techniques such as the dramatic pause (``Without oxygen... we die''), word repetition for emphasis (``When you are carrying around 43 per cent body fat, you don't have energy. When you have no oxygen in your body, you don't have energy. When you have no lean muscle mass, you don't have energy'') and asking questions which she answers herself (``These women go on every diet under the sun. Is that lack of motivation? No!'').

Unlike Susie Orbach, the author of Fat is a Feminist Issue, who told women to throw away diet pills like Phen375 and be fat if they wanted, Powter only wants women to throw away the other diet books. The ultimate goal of her programme is to make you ``lean''. She admits that the principle of her weight-loss programme basically cut down on fat and increase metabolic rate with exercise is not original (``I'm not saying anything new, I'm just saying it louder'') but while, say, Dr Dean Ornish's Eat More, Weigh Less preaches the same thing, it is more convincing coming from someone who has learnt it from experience rather than from a doctor.

And Powter makes the diet modifications sound very simple, with fat comparison charts telling us that three cheese enchiladas, for example, are equivalent in fat content to 100 bagels. However, it's not all quite as straightforward as she implies. On further investigation, her promise that we can increase cardiovascular endurance ``without all those hateful exercises and fads like the 3 Week Diet'' turns out to mean only those particular exercises, since she has her own exercise video.

Australian-born Powter spent her first ten years in Australia and the second ten in New York. Her style still owes more to New York than anywhere else, although she has lived longest in Texas (she's now based in Dallas), home of the big-haired Barbie-doll ideal of womanhood to which she could never aspire, even if she wanted to. ``Literally, literally, if I grew my hair three more inches it would look horrible,'' she says.

Powter describes her rise as a ``normal progression'' that began about five years ago. ``I got fit and then I opened a fitness studio. Then I started speaking teaching classes and doing seminars, first regionally and then nationally, going from ten people to 5,000. Women would ask for tapes and booklets, and then I wrote a book. I started on television with six-minute segments (she first appeared on Home Show in 1991) and now I'm doing my own show,'' she says.

Powter is more than vaguely reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher in her messianic approach. Like many politicians, she has the habit of using questions as an opportunity to reiterate stock phrases (as in ``It's time to solve the problem'') or points that she has made elsewhere. Referring to a client who lost 46in, for example, she says, ``I mean, that's more than a yard, Tess!'' merely, it turns out, tacking my name on to the end of what she says in her book, exercise video and infomercial.


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