Before and after shots of businesswoman Abigail Joan Lim, who lost 114 pounds in nine months using the Cohen program
MANILA, Philippines – Celebrities like Judy Ann Santos and Bea Alonzo swear by it. So do numerous others whose "before and after" photos were exhibited at the lobby of Greenbelt 3 in Makati last weekend.
But the Cohen program isn't for everybody, according to Barbara Young, chief executive of Cohen's Lifestyle Centre in the Philippines.
Formulated by Dr. Rami Cohen, a specialist known for his research on hormones involved in obesity and weight loss, the Cohen program is an individually tailored eating plan that aims to correct hormonal imbalances that cause weight gain. It uses a person's blood chemistry to find out what kind of foods – and how much of it – one should eat.
"The Cohen program is recommended to those who need to lose at least 10 pounds and experiencing what Dr. Cohen calls the ‘obesity syndrome' – always hungry or craving for food, feeling tired or no energy, feeling bloated or having water retention, always dieting or exercising but still gaining weight. The program is also highly recommended to those who are suffering from high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels," Young said.
Among its benefits, Young enumerated, are: reduction in cholesterol levels, improvement in blood pressure level, decrease in cellulite, improvement in skin elasticity, increase in energy, reduction in hunger and "even improvement in fertility."
But at P55,000, the Cohen program is certainly not cheap. And that's why Young is also upfront about the risks involved before would-be customers sign up for the program.
"First and foremost, you have to be medically fit if you undergo the program because it's a rapid weight loss program," Young told ABS-CBNnews.com during the opening of "Re: New Me – The Cohen's Lifestyle Photo Exhibit," which ran for three days at the posh Makati mall.
According to Young, those on a program can lose an average 10 pounds per month. "That's how much the body has to metabolize, so the body has to be generally healthy," said Young, who lost 46 pounds in four-and-a-half months on the program.
She explained that the program aims to influence three hormones -- the human growth hormone, insulin and serotonin. "If those hormones are at the right level, the body will just switch on the fat-burning mechanism," she said.
Just like any other rapid weight loss program, there are conditions that the Cohen program is not recommended to. According to Young, these include: pregnant women, breast-feeding women, children below 15 years old, people over 65 years old, full vegetarians, insulin-dependent diabetics or diabetics on medication, people with liver and kidney problems and people with severe heart conditions.
"To ensure the health and safety of the individual, Dr. Cohen makes a decision on the suitability of the individual based on the medical history and the blood test results that is required to enroll on the program," she said.
Not for young teens and seniors
The Cohen program is not recommended to those 15 years and below because these teens are not emotionally prepared for the pressure that comes with strictly following the prescribed foods.
"We also do not recommend it to teens below 15 because the motivation isn't there yet," she said.
Meanwhile, those 65 years old and older tend to "have more medical conditions."
Pregnant and lactating women are also not allowed to go on the program. Those who wish to shed those post-pregnancy pounds are advised to wait two months after giving birth – and only if they are not breast-feeding. Besides, Young noted that mothers who are breast-feeding require special nutritional needs.
"We're just playing it on the safe side. If we think there is any chance that we're putting the person at risk, we will not (recommend the program). Because it's not about the money; it's about ensuring that the person is healthy," Young said.
Young said those working in night shifts, such as call-center employees, should also be aware that the Cohen program may not work as effectively since sleep plays an important role in losing weight. That's because the human growth hormone, which helps repair the body and burn the fat, "comes out between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m.," she said.
"We do have people on night shifts who are on the program. They still lose weight so that's not a problem. But there is a chance though that their weight loss rate is not as fast as the optimal," Young said.
How it works
Before and after shots of executive Leonardo Decampong, who lost 45 pounds in six months using the Cohen program
Before going on the Cohen program, Young said she tried many fad diets and also tried going to the gym to lose weight.
She explained that losing weight isn't just a matter of burning more calories and eating less.
"The interesting part about the Cohen program is you have to eat in order to lose weight. The ‘prescription' in the program tells you exactly what you can eat at the exact quantity and at the right interval to bring back the hormones in balance which then triggers the body to release fat. When you go on diet, the body thinks it is undergoing starvation and it will naturally preserve itself by holding on to fat instead of burning it for energy," she said.
The Cohen program begins with an individual eating plan based on one's body chemistry, which is designed balance the hormones and trigger the body's natural fat-burning mechanism. Upon reaching one's healthy goal weight, one goes on a personalized "refeeding plan," which is designed to stabilize one's weight by gradually reintroducing richer types of food and increasing the amount of healthy food the body can take without causing hormonal imbalance. After the stabilization stage, one is taught the "maintenance guidelines," which are strategies on "how to maintain your weight, on how to enjoy what you used to enjoy, in moderation, without regaining the weight."
Young said that unlike with traditional diets, those undergoing the Cohen program should not feel hungry. "On the Cohen program, you will eat just the right amount of food for your body and you shouldn't feel hungry," she said.
In fact, one doesn't even need to exercise while on the weight-loss phase. Exercise is only re-introduced once the target weight has stabilized.
"Cohen is not anti-exercise. When the body is undergoing hormonal imbalance exercise, the body is trying to preserve itself by holding on to the fat and at that body state, exercise will burn the remaining blood sugar but not the fat. When the body reaches the state of hormonal balance, the body becomes efficient in burning fat with exercise," Young clarified.
But like many similar programs, success is highly dependent on one's motivation to stick to it.
Young said the hardest part is adjusting one's attitude.
"In any lifestyle change, you have to be open to adjust to make the Cohen program work. Most of our successful clients organize the way they prepare their food. After all, it is your body that would benefit so you would like to be in control of what you eat and how much you eat," she said, noting that their graduates have adopted the habit of weighing their food before they put them in the refrigerator.
"It's also hard to be doing it on your own without support. That's why we built a community who understand what you're going through," she said, adding that she has yet to see someone following the program who has not lost weight.
The Cohen community established by the Cohen's Lifestyle Centre Philippines is composed of those who have successfully completed the program, as well as those who are still on their journey to better health. It is aimed at providing a support system to encourage and inspire members to persevere and stay on the program.
"You need to be mentally and physically prepared," Young advised those who are thinking about undergoing the program. "Once you start the program, once you switch on the body's natural fat-burning mechanism, it (weight loss) is going to be very fast. And the best thing to do is do not interrupt that."
"The body is amazing. You just have to feed it right then it will do what it's supposed to do," she added.