If nothing else works, Charles Stuart Platkin, the Miami Beach-based Diet Detective, will badger you into losing weight. • There was Jennifer Cadle, 276 pounds. He bought her a huge chocolate cake — her weakness — and had her cut a big slice and put it in a box. "You'd have to walk 2 ½ hours to work that off," he told her. • Then he made her walk the 2 ½ hours carrying the boxed slice of cake. • "At least let me eat the cake," she pleaded. • "You're not eating that cake," he barked.
At 399-pound Micah Molinari's house, Platkin purged the refrigerator of fattening foods and poured a gallon of rum down the drain.
"That hurt," Molinari recalls. "I do enjoy my cocktails."
Both interventions were public — featured on Platkin's WE-TV cable network program I Want to Save Your Life, a reality show for the overweight. (You can see those episodes and many others on an afternoon-long marathon, July 15 on WE starting with Cadle's story at 1:30 p.m.)
Platkin makes no apology for his approach.
"These people have really reached the last straw. They're looking for help."
His diet plans seem pretty standard — avoid red meat, eat chicken, fish and vegetables, egg whites, oatmeal, skim milk and such. His exercise plans seem unremarkable, too — walking, core training, yoga, Pilates.
Motivation is the key for Platkin, an associate professor of public health at Florida International University and the author of five books, including The Diet Detective's Count Down. He also dispenses advice at his Web site, www. dietdetective.com.
Platkin pries into his clients' lives to see what's important to them, then convinces them they're going to lose it if they don't take off pounds.
It worked on Molinari: "I have a 5-year-old daughter, Sydney. She's my life. I need to be healthy so I'm there when she needs me."
He lost 100 pounds in 17 weeks.
In preparing for the TV show, which debuted in April, Platkin requires diet clients to fill out a 40-page questionnaire. They also must give him permission to interrogate family and friends, and to show up and videotape at any time.
One Saturday six months ago, Molinari had friends over at his apartment when one of them said, "I'm starving. Let's order a pizza."
As secretly prearranged, the friend called Platkin, not Pizza Hut.
Molinari recalls: "About half an hour later there's a knock on my door. There's this pizza guy with a box. But he calls me by name and cameras come flying out of everywhere. I almost had a heart attack."
It was Platkin with a production crew and some pizza ingredients: whole grain crust, low-fat mozzarella, fresh basil, tomatoes and garlic.
They made it on the spot.
"It actually tasted pretty good," says Molinari, 31, a window-treatment designer and tour guide.
While Platkin might spend several days with the clients he features on his TV show, he also peppers his regular online clients with information. They can sign up for a $4-a-week subscription weight-loss program with custom menus and recipes. There are links to his columns and journals for tracking exercise.
Platkin says dieters should rely not on willpower, but on research and planning. If you are going to a new restaurant, visit its Web site first and scan the menu for healthy choices.
Platkin spent years practicing for what he someday would preach. Growing up in New York City, he was always heavy.
"I was on Dr. Atkins at age 10. I was ostracized in school. I was called fat by a teacher once. It was traumatic."
As he reached his 30s, he worried about his health. His grandfather, father and uncle all had diabetes.
Platkin's epiphany came after he earned a law degree from Cornell, realized he didn't want to be a lawyer and was working up a pitch for a magazine story on how people could change lifelong behaviors. He had pored over behavioral studies, consulted experts, drafted an outline.
"But I didn't believe a word I'd written," he says. "I knew it in theory, but in practice I thought it was hogwash. Finally, I decided I had to apply it to myself. It changed my life."
Platkin wrote his first book, Breaking the Pattern, in 2002 and applied it to himself. Today, at 46 and 5 feet 9, he weighs 164 pounds.
In 2001, wanting to leave Manhattan after 9/11, Platkin and his wife, Shannon, a catalog model and personal trainer, moved to Miami, where he earned a master's degree in public health from FIU. Today, he's an adjunct professor there, teaching and working on his doctorate.
SOMETIMES THEY CRY
Platkin concedes that his motivational techniques can be hard on dieters. In one episode, he reduced 258-pound Sussy Taveras to tears by telling her she was in danger of dying from a heart attack and never seeing her daughter graduate from college.
"I was so stressed," says Taveras, 27, of Miami. "My daughter's father had just died, I had moved in with my mother, I was overweight. I ate rice and everything fried. I just didn't care."
Under Platkin's guidance, she went from 258 to 203 pounds in six months, with a goal of 140 pounds.
"He told me what I needed to hear. He said, 'You're a strong, powerful woman.' He made me feel like I was worth the time."