HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The new year often means a new diet, right? For students at the University of Hawaii's John A. Burns School of Medicine, cutting calories and fat isn't a choice. It's part of the curriculum.
Fruit or french fries - which would you pick? UH students headed to the medical school's Kulia cafeteria to test out "The Diet Experience".
It's new coursework where med students go on different diets for seven days to learn what's appropriate for patients.
"As future physicians, we're going to end up having to make recommendations to our patients," says UH medical student Aniket Natekar. "So, then, if a patient says to you, 'Do you do this?' and then, if we say, 'No', then, it's like, 'Then, why should we do it?'"
The first-year students have completed one of three diets, so far. Since they're learning about the heart and lung, they started with the cardiovascular food plan - which calls for reducing salt and sugar intake.
"Not having dessert was really hard," says med student Momal Mazhar. Another student, January May Andaya says, "I know, you love your sweets." Mazhar replies, "I love my sweets!"
"Actually, there were times when I did crave salt," adds Andaya.
Assistant professor Sheri Fong adapted The Diet Experience idea for UH and says students come away feeling more empathetic.
"The experience allowed the students, not only to put into action what they learned about the cardiovascular diet, but also, see some insight into how difficult it is for patients to follow a diet that's prescribed by their physician," says Dr. Fong, PhD.
They'll also cover the renal diet for kidney issues - and a gastro-intestinal diet for diabetics and celiacs.
"You can't always make the perfect choice with the options you're given, but you can make a better choice," explains future doctor, Ari AuWinitzky.
The students have learned not to go "cold turkey" on bad foods. Med student Yun Jenny Jiang suggests, "I think satisfying little urges from time to time is essential for actually being on a diet."
Otherwise, they say, you'll give up too soon.
This is the first year that the med school has incorporated The Diet Experience. When the students were asked how many of them could follow the diet for a whole week, nobody raised their hand.