In 2012, Dr. Jagannath Dixit noticed that he was putting on weight. Dixit, a medical doctor based in India, has been teaching in state government medical colleges in Maharashtra for decades. Like any true scientist, he began experimenting—testing out a variety of diets with mixed results.
“The result of these experiments was that I would put on weight when I was experimenting, or I would lose some weight, but when I stopped [the diet], it came back,” he told The Indian Scene in an interview this summer. “I was in search of some diet plan that would be sustainable, and I thought it should be free of cost—not require any expense. It should not require you to buy any machine or buy any nutritional powder or something from the market. And importantly, you should be able to follow it happily in your life.”
On the advice of a friend, Dixit attended a lecture taught by Dr. Shrikant Jichkar, a medical doctor and Indian politician who had long been an advocate for fitness and preventative medicine. In his lecture, Jichkar spoke of a new strategy to combat obesity and diabetes: restricting meals to two per day. “I actually didn’t believe it to start with,” Dixit says. “I thought, ‘How is it possible?’ In medical college, we’re taught ‘calories in, calories out.’”
“Let me practice it for three months,” Dixit remembers saying. He ignored his common sense and medical training and followed the regimen, losing about 8 kilograms (roughly 18 pounds). “And that was the point when I converted.”
The carbohydrate-insulin model of weight gain posited by Jichkar and Dixit suggests that controlling the level of insulin produced by the body can lead to weight loss. Lower insulin levels direct the body to burn liver glycogen and fat stores, this theory says. Preaching this gospel, Dixit has been watched by millions of viewers on Youtube; his lectures routinely circulate on WhatsApp (maybe you’ve seen one). In fact, the diet itself—dubbed the Dixit diet—is the subject of at several hundreds WhatsApp groups.
But among other medical professionals inside and outside of India, there’s significant doubt as to the validity of Dixit’s theory. When Dixit was named a public health ambassador by the Maharashtra government, Dr. Suhas Pingle, the state secretary of the Indian Medical Association, told the Mumbai Mirror he was skeptical. “Dixit is offering ‘effortless weight loss’ and diabetes control — and Indians are always looking for the easy way out,” he said earlier this year. “There are real dangers with the diet — developing hypoglycemia [low blood sugar] is just one of them.”
Diabetes specialists and doctors of internal medicine are quick to point out that Dixit is neither a dietician nor a diabetologist, and that his method should be subject to additional scientific scrutiny. “The hypothesis that carbohydrate-stimulated insulin secretion is the primary cause of common obesity…is difficult to reconcile with current evidence,” one recent study published in the American Medical Association’s internal medicine journal concluded. Dixit’s other dietary advice—reducing sweets and sugar and increasing protein intake—do seem to be more grounded in scientific research consensus.
Dixit’s hope, is that “whenever anyone in the world is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, every doctor should tell him to follow this diet.” Combatting an epidemic estimated to affect millions of Indians and Indian-Americans is a laudable goal, but it’s not clear this is the right way to do it.