WATERLOO - It is variously known as the "phen-lo" diet, the 400-calorie diet or the starvation diet.
Whatever you call it, a weight-loss plan developed by a local internist is turning heads in the Cedar Valley.
Dr. Henry Snead, who has offices in Waterloo and Garner and plans for another in Mason City, restricts his patients to just 400 calories per day and prescribes the appetite suppressant phentermine.
More than 20 former and current patients of Snead contacted The Courier to share their stories, about half of whom wished to remain anonymous.
For more than a decade, word-of-mouth has brought hundreds of patients to Snead's offices. Most said they've lost dozens or even more than 100 pounds by restricting their daily food intake to just 400 calories - equivalent to one piece of lean turkey, two slices of bread and one glass of skim milk - until they reached their goal weight.
Some gained back the weight. Others have kept it off. Some praise the physician who finally helped them with what they call "food addictions." Others say the diet is akin to doctor-prescribed anorexia.
"I would be concerned," said Lori Fincher, head dietitian at Allen Hospital in Waterloo.
"If people are looking for a quick fix, they're going to look for those types of things. But people need to realize they didn't put the weight on overnight, and they're not going to take it off overnight, either," Fincher said.
A woman who answered the phone at Snead's Waterloo office on Flammang Drive said he did not want to be interviewed by The Courier unless he was allowed editorial control of this article's content.
He did give information about his diet plan to the Mason City Globe-Gazette, however, a newspaper owned by Lee Enterprises and sister paper to The Courier.
Sharon Haskin of Eldora has been on the diet since February. She went to Snead after seeing three co-workers do well with it.
"Everything he said made sense, and he had medical data to back it up," Haskin wrote in an e-mail. "He assured me that if I stuck to the 400 calories, drank a lot of water, walked every day and ignored the skeptics, everything would be just fine."
Patients said Snead instructed them to ignore naysaying friends and family members.
"He said, 'Everybody's going to tell you you're going to die with only 400 calories a day,'" said Rick Reuter of Evansdale, who lost 48 pounds in 30 days several years ago. He has since gained part of that weight back.
T.J. Dodd of Cedar Falls warned his sister, Jenny Dodd of Waterloo, of that same thing - but after seeing her drop 82 pounds, he changed his mind and started the program three months ago.
"Basically (Snead) tells you, as far as taking the weight off goes, it doesn't matter what you eat because it comes down to the calories you put in your body," Dodd said.
Almost everyone said they initially expressed concern about the drastic calorie restriction. But, some said it was motivating to see the weight drop off so quickly and better, in the long run, for their health.
"I have a long history of heart disease and cancer in my family," said Myriah Bradley of Waterloo, a participant since June who is trying to lose more than 160 pounds. "I thought, what is the worse health risk - being (at that weight), or eating 400 calories a day?"
Not everyone's experience on the diet was positive. Barbara and Sam McAhren of Waterloo said they had difficulties with depression, headaches and high blood pressure. Even still, they "highly recommend" the diet.
For Carlene Thierman of Cedar Falls, massive hair loss made her end the program in 1999.
"It messed up my body; it messed up my metabolism," Thierman said. "Now when my body goes into any kind of stress, my hair starts to fall out."
Darel of Denver, who would give only his first name, said he lost nearly 70 pounds in four or five months and felt healthier. But it wasn't all fat.
"I lost my strength - I'm very capable of getting everything done, but my muscle mass isn't there," he said. "When you only have so many calories, you don't just lose fat. You lose something else."
Fincher, the dietitian, said the average adult needs at least 1,200 calories per day.
"Once you go below that, you are starting to lose vitamins and minerals your body needs," Fincher said. "It can slow their metabolism way down, which can actually deter weight loss, because the body goes into starvation mode."
Carrie, who would give only her first name, lost 40 pounds in two months in 1996 using Snead's program. But she quit the diet after passing out several times.
"I questioned it, but I wanted to lose weight - so, like a dummy, I did it," she said. "I don't think it's healthy for anybody."
A native of Atlanta, Ga., Snead received his doctor of medicine degree from the Medical College of Georgia in 1981. After a residency in Atlanta, he was issued a medical license to practice in Iowa in 1984.
He became a member of the Black Hawk County Medical Society and the Iowa Medical Society and was hired as an internist at Covenant Medical Center in Waterloo in 1992.
Snead told Covenant he had obtained his doctorate in biochemical genetics from the University of Notre Dame, though he had not received such a degree. He was fired from Covenant for doctoring his resume and in 2004 was cited by the Iowa Board of Medical Examiners for, among other things, falsifying professional credentials and weight-loss treatment care concerns.
Mark Bowden, executive director of the Iowa Board of Medical Examiners, would not comment on the Snead case specifically but said the board investigates physicians when concerns come to light.
"If you're concerned the way (a doctor is) handling weight loss does not meet the standard of care, it is conceivable they could be brought back (to the board)," Bowden said.
By June 2007, Snead had completed the medical board's requirements to return his license to full privileges.
"I like Dr. Snead," said Vicky Klemp, who is 15 pounds from her weight goal. "His personality is probably not everyone's cup of tea, but I like (that he) told it to me straight, and he does that. I have recommended the diet to others, and those people have been very pleased."
Still, the unconventional approach worries Fincher.
"How can we help them change their behaviors versus, 'OK, here's 400 calories and here's a pill.' Because once they stop that, the majority of people put the weight back on plus extra."
CORRECTION: Dr. Henry Snead, the subject of a story in Sunday's paper, page A1, "400-calorie diet trims waistlines, raises eyebrows," was not fired from Covenant Medical Center, which was stated in the story. Covenant officials said that although Snead joined the medical staff of the hospital in 1992, he was never technically hired as an employee and therefore could never have been fired. Those who join the medical staff simply have privileges such as admitting patients and using Covenant facilities, a similar practice used by other hospitals, and as such are not technically employees. Covenant officials also confirmed Snead continues to have physician privileges today. The Courier regrets the statement that he was fired.
Photo Caption: Dr. Henry Snead, the subject of a story in Sunday's paper, page A1, "400-calorie diet trims waistlines, raises eyebrows," was not fired from Covenant Medical Center, which was stated in the story. Covenant officials said that although Snead joined the medical staff of the hospital in 1992, he was never technically hired as an employee and therefore could never have been fired. Those who join the medical staff simply have privileges such as admitting patients and using Covenant facilities, a similar practice used by other hospitals, and as such are not technically employees. Covenant officials also confirmed Snead continues to have physician privileges today. The Courier regrets the statement that he was fired.