When awards season rolls around, Spanx can do only so much. The annual parade down the carpet is as much a virtual physical exam by casting directors as it is a festival of accolades. Being slim and fit can secure work for an actor for the rest of the year and beyond.
So it's a busy time of year for David Allen, a nutritionist whose services include methods of losing weight fast without winding up in the ER. In addition to his awards-season business, he recently helped an actress drop more than 30 pounds in five weeks for a role as a heroin addict, as well as plotting out Josh Gad's 30-pound drop after the movie Jobs wrapped.
"I feel great … I lost it the healthy way," the Book of Mormon and Modern Family actor who played Steve Wozniak told Chelsea Handler last November. Name-checking David Allen, he called him "incredible."
Gad continues to work with Allen, whose client list also includes Colin Farrell and Janet Jackson.
"With big celebrities, it's feast or famine," says Allen. "They work hard to make a change to their body for awards season or a particular movie, then have a complete meltdown and go 100 miles in the opposite direction when it's over." No wonder that the great majority of A-listers have innards that are on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Remember Hilary Swank inhaling an Astro veggie cheeseburger right after the 2005 Oscars? Food cravings, Allen says, are not exclusively due to the stress and abundantly available food during awards season — although those factors certainly don't help matters. Weight gain and low energy are more likely a result of an imbalance in hormones, insulin or adrenalinw, he says. It freaks out our organs. Just as we think best when we are calm, our bodies metabolize food best when balanced and de-stressed. So his approach to nutrition begins with a series of blood and saliva tests, almost always followed by a gut cleanse — but not the kind that involves a fast.
"Eighty percent of people have gastrointestinal problems," explains Allen. "Heartburn, gas, bloating. They say 'You are what you eat.' I say you are what you digest."
After lab tests, which are included in Allen's $1,200 starting cost, he and his team craft a meal program around the findings. "Low adrenals will make you crave coffee and stimulants to bring your energy back up," he says. "High adrenals will lead you to salty foods. Low serotonin levels make you crave carbs, which then make you sleepy." Put another way: The system feels desperate, and the mind makes bad choices.
Allen's approach to changing behavior is distinct more for what it is not than for what it is. There's no chronicling of food history or food diaries. No calorie-counting. And there's no tough love if you fall off the wagon into a bag of cronuts. "I'm a balance guy," he says, "Not a no-meat guy." He dislikes the word "diet" because it connotes something that will come to an inevitable end.
Allen is not a doctor, so he doesn't prescribe medication, though he works with a medical center to complement his own brand of supplements with hormone creams and injectables.
Instead of flat-out barring certain dishes, he teaches his clients to replace them with what he calls a "wider palette" of foods, which are, naturally, not the processed kind. He teaches people to visualize correct portion size: More than a handful is usually too much.
He also keeps those on ambitious programs from going too far. "I lost close to a pound a day on a program David set up for me," says Kathy Lohmann, who, despite working for a healthy-food-delivery service in L.A., hired Allen to help her shed an unneeded 43 pounds last year. "I told David I was getting together with my friends for a night out," she says. "He told me to go ahead and eat a normal dinner with them; go ahead and have a drink."
Healthy enzymes in the digestive tract are stoked by Allen's protein shakes. But unlike many diets, the shakes typically don't take the place of meals; they're snacks. It all goes back to his belief that extremes lead to yo-yoing.
In the period between four and six weeks, he says, a patient's digestive tract will be cleansed and start functioning better, which — in Lohmann's case, at least — provides new energy. "I never felt hungry or deprived," she says. She continues to work with Allen to keep the lost weight off. As does Gad — who now has to put some of his weight back on for a starring role in a Sam Kinison biopic. "We're going to up the calories and carbs, but he doesn't want to go back to where he was," Allen says. "The weight brings back low self-esteem." He adds, "He may have to resort to prosthetics to look big."