Pritikin: You have a family connection to Pritikin. Will you tell us about it?
Judith Linzer: My mother went to Pritikin in 1981, when it was in Santa Monica, and she met Nathan Pritikin. (He didn’t die until 1985.) She was there for a month, because back then you had to go for a month. My father had died the year before, of a heart attack at the age of 60. My mother was the one we always thought would have the heart attack, because she was the one with the high blood pressure, but she never did. She died when she was 93. After Pritikin, she lost a total of 50 pounds, and she always kept off the weight. Sometimes she would “cheat”; for example, she always ate a turkey drumstick on Thanksgiving.
The Decision to Change
Pritikin: What prompted you to visit Pritikin?
Judith Linzer: My AIC was increasing, and my fatty liver disease was getting worse. My endocrinologist was about to change my injection medicine to something stronger, and my liver doctor kept telling me that I was on my way to getting cirrhosis. They both kept telling me to lose weight, but neither of them seemed to have much of an idea of what I should be eating. I knew I needed some outside help, and I knew I needed to go somewhere and be immersed in a complete environment to give me a jumpstart.
My brother is four years older than me, and he had chest pains almost to the day my father passed away and had to have a stent put in. And my mother had bypass surgery at 75, so I kind of knew that I had to worry about a heart attack or something like that. I’ve always had what I would call a weight problem. As a kid, I wore a “chubby” and my brother wore a “husky”—that’s what the sizes were called back then.
Pritikin: What was your tipping point? What made you pull the plunge and come to Pritikin?
Judith Linzer: My diabetes, my A1C, was going up. My liver was getting fatter, and I was like, I’m going to have a heart attack. Pritikin was expensive for me, but I knew that being in a wheelchair from having a stroke would cost more. And if I died from a heart attack that would cost me my life—and that would be more costly than going to Pritikin.
My father had a heart attack when I wasn’t even 28. He had seven young grandchildren who he loved to visit, and then one day he dropped dead. When my mother would go to visit them, the two-year-old baby kept looking for Grandpa. It was so sad.
So why did I go? I said: I can’t do this to myself. I knew my mother went to Pritikin and it helped her, and I had to do something to kick start me, with nothing else to distract me.
A Life-Changing Experience
Pritikin: What did you enjoy most about Pritikin?
Judith Linzer: Pritikin offers you a lot of things all together. One of the most important parts for me was the nutritionists. The doctors gave me the information so I had to stop denying the facts and look straight in the face of reality—that the way I was eating was going to kill me—and the nutritionists explained to me how to do it. So they were both very important. I liked that the physicians treating us were also the physicians giving us the lectures. And I liked the sense of mission that the people who work there have. They know that they are literally saving lives and their work is meaningful to them. Some of the people who work there told us how much they love working there, and how being there helps them live the Pritikin lifestyle.
The fitness center was really wonderful. Exercise is hard for me, and I felt very supported there. I found out how much I love to dance while doing zumba. Another element that helped so much was being there with other people who had similar health issues, who wanted to do better, just like me. One of the guests who befriended me when I first arrived told me that it was his tenth time there. When I asked him why he kept coming back, he laughed and said, “I’m a slow learner,” but I could see how much both he and his wife loved being there.
I’m a clinical psychologist, and I understand that, if you want to teach someone something, coming at it in different ways is very effective. That’s a big strength of Pritikin. Also, I liked that you meet all these teachers—the nutritionists, the exercise physiologists, physical therapist, etc.—in a group setting, and then if you want to talk to them more, you can book a private session.
Pritikin: Did you lose any weight?
Judith Linzer: When I went to Pritikin, my weight was a little over 195. Now I’m 160. I went down to 167 in four months, and it was easy. I ate as much as I wanted and stopped when I was not hungry, and the pounds just came off. But now it’s not as easy. It took me another four months to lose seven more pounds. But I figure that I’m not in a hurry. The nutritionist told me that losing it slowly will help me not gain it back. And anyway, once I lose all the weight, I’ll still be eating this way for the rest of my life and I’m hoping the rest of my life will be longer because I’m eating this way.
I want to lose another 15 to 20 pounds because I want to completely get rid of my belly fat. The lecture about belly fat was enlightening and also depressing, but I needed to hear it. The 94-year-old doctor who gave that lecture told me, “Young lady, you need to lose that belly fat.” That was funny to me, because at 67 years old, it’s been a while since someone called me “young lady.”
Pritikin: Aside from the weight loss, did you experience any other health benefits?
Judith Linzer: Not only did I lose all this weight, I also lost my high blood pressure and my fatty liver disease. And my diabetes is way better; my A1C before Pritikin was 7.6, and it went down to 5.8 in 10 weeks. And then a few months later, it went down to 5.3. My endocrinologist was amazed and said, “Whatever you’re doing, just keep doing it,” and then she took me off Victoza, which is a diabetes injection. My doctor said that technically I still have diabetes and high blood pressure, but it’s being controlled with diet and exercise, rather than with medication. That means I must continue to eat the Pritikin way, or I’ll go back to needing those medications and getting sick. And you know what, I’m happy to do it. I feel proud of myself.
I feel calmer and have less food cravings. One thing the nutritionist told me that really helps is that there is this hunger hormone that sometimes tricks us into thinking we’re hungry when we’re not. I notice that sometimes I want to eat before bedtime and I think I’m hungry, but then I make an effort not to eat and when I wake up in the morning I don’t feel those cravings like I did the night before and then I think of the nutritionist at Pritikin and smile to her in my head and thank her. When I start to eat breakfast I realize that I have a big appetite (because I didn’t eat the night before) and then I thoroughly enjoy it. I also wake up feeling energetic and rested. I think that doing most of my eating earlier in the day has helped tremendously with the weight loss.
Pritikin: Did you have any aha moments at Pritikin?
Judith Linzer: One doctor took a piece of paper in her hand and started stabbing it with a pencil to demonstrate the effect salt has on our arteries. I apologized to my arteries on the spot. Also, there was a 90-year-old doctor teaching at Pritikin, and one day I got to his lecture early and he was talking to a bunch of us. It was the month of May and he had just gone to his grandchild’s college graduation, and he said that there were so many older people there with walkers and canes and wheelchairs and that it was so sad, because it’s not necessary for most of them, as it could have been prevented. And he looked terrific, so spry. He said his biggest complaint was that everyone his age had already died. So one of the main messages I received is that you don’t want to just stay alive, you want to feel good and have good functioning while you’re alive.
Pritikin: Did you learn anything new about your health?
Judith Linzer: Pritikin let me take part in a free sleep study, and I found out that I have severe sleep apnea. I was shocked that I was waking up 25 times an hour, because I was asymptomatic. I also had a vascular ultrasound and a heart scan. I found out that I have calcium in my heart. I’m hoping to reverse it. I’m inspired that when Nathan Pritikin had his autopsy his arteries were clear, even though they were clogged when he was originally diagnosed [with heart disease].
Returning Home With a New Life
Pritikin: What was it like when you came home?
Judith Linzer: I knew I would have an easier time with the food than with the exercise. The fitness team at Pritikin gave me a copy of the weight-lifting exercises and core work, and now I do everything with my personal trainer.
Overall, Pritikin motivated me to take better care of myself. Since I’ve been back, I’ve made my health a priority, including getting cataract surgery and the CPAP machine [for my sleep apnea].
I’m really strict about the food plan. I take my own food everywhere, and I spend lots of time in the kitchen preparing that food. Sometimes people want me to eat non-Pritikin food, but as soon as I tell them I no longer have fatty liver disease, high blood pressure and got off injecting diabetes medicine, they smile at me encouragingly and leave me alone…and then they eat their cheese and crackers while I eat what I eat. There have been a few times that others have asked for a taste of what I’m eating, and they are sometimes pleasantly surprised by how good it tastes.
When I go to a new supermarket, I go to the cereal aisle to see if I can find a new hot cereal. If I do, I get excited. In a way, I feel like my life has gotten bigger, not smaller.
It’s weird, but I’m enjoying food now more than I did before, even with the limitations. At Pritikin, they kept saying that your taste buds are going to change. I got there a day early, and the food has a two-week cycle so it just so happened that my last dinner there was the same as my first. The first dinner, the pea soup tasted so dull to me without salt, but when I had that same soup two weeks later, I could taste the peas and I didn’t need the salt anymore.
I appreciated the people serving us the food, and how I could try something and if I didn’t like it, I could try something else. At some dinner meals, I sometimes ordered multiple dishes before finding one I liked. The guests would joke with each other when tasting something, “Oh, your taste buds haven’t changed yet?” One person would like something, and someone else didn’t like it but liked something else. So we all had to experiment to see what we liked. But after two weeks, my taste buds did change. I looked forward every morning to the blueberry quinoa oatmeal. Now I eat all kinds of hot cereals with fruit for breakfast. I eat breakfast around 8 a.m., and I’m not hungry again until about 1 p.m.
Pritikin: We hear you’re planning a return visit soon. What inspired that?
Judith Linzer: I have to come back because I didn’t really want to leave. I’m not an easy person to please, but Pritikin felt like home as soon as I got there. It felt like a family. Some of the people who work there have been there for many years. I need the continued support, and I’m looking forward to having those two weeks again to totally focus on health. I spend so much time at home preparing food; it’ll be great to not have to do that for two weeks and just enjoy the food. I want to see my doctor, the nutritionist and the exercise people, and quite frankly have them be proud and happy for me.
I want to hear some of the lectures again. There was so much information, I didn’t get all of it. I want to focus this time around on the cooking classes, which I mostly didn’t attend last time. I need to learn more ways to prepare food and have more variety. This may be heresy, but I don’t necessarily want to focus on weight loss when I go because I want to enjoy eating the food. But since I don’t eat when I’m not hungry anymore and there’s so much exercise there, it’s hard not to lose weight.
Pritikin: Tell us about your recent solo performance featuring Pritikin.
Judith Linzer: I live in the San Francisco Bay area in Oakland, and for the past four years I’ve been taking this eight-week class, where I develop a solo performance show. Solo performance is getting on stage by yourself and doing [a show about] something autobiographical. This past November was my ninth show, and I did it about my Pritikin experience. I started off saying that, “You know that expression, life is short, eat dessert first, well I want to tell you that if I eat dessert first, my life will probably be even shorter.” I spoke for my arteries, my liver and the sugar trying to get out of the bloodstream and into the cells. Pritikin really helped me understand that my body needs my help.
The last part of the show was talking about how my grandparents from Eastern Europe didn’t have enough food to eat while they were growing up, and my parents who grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the Depression only ate chicken once a week because that was all their parents could afford. When my mother came back from Pritikin in 1981, she said that she hadn’t realized that her parents had eaten better than we did because she and my father thought they were doing better by giving us all that animal protein.
Growing up, my father’s parents didn’t have enough money to get him dessert, so he made sure I wasn’t “deprived” like he had been, and so he bought huge amounts of cakes and cookies, even providing sweets to my friends. I grew up with too much food and not enough exercise. My mother actually told us that if we exercised, we might get hurt. I said in the show “that nobody told us that if you sit around eating chocolate cake, you might get hurt, too.”