'Be Hungry' Doctor Suggests Diet Didn't Kill Georgia Teen Who Weighed 40 Pounds

Diet follower Ebony Berry is charged with starving her daughter to death.

June 28, 2012, 12:00 PM

June 28, 2012— -- A doctor who advocates an austere "be hungry" diet defended a mother charged with murder after her teenage daughter died weighing only 40 pounds, claiming the cause of death may have been contaminated water and not the diet.

Ebony Berry is charged with child cruelty and murder in the June 15 death of her daughter, Markea Berry, 16, who officials say starved to death.

Dr. Andrew Chung, who calls Ebony Berry a "friend through Facebook" and a "sister in Christ," suggested the jailed woman's daughter "picked up something from the water when she was missing [in 2010]," which could have contributed to her weight loss.

Markea Berry wandered away from home in 2010 when she was 14. She was found safe at a Walmart the next day. Her mother told the Atlanta Journal Constitution at the time her daughter had special needs.

Chung visited Berry at a Cobb County, Ga., jail on June 22, a jail official confirmed to ABCNews.com.

"She is a friend through Facebook. I really didn't want to see her, but she is a sister in Christ," Chung said. "It was right for me to visit her."

The Emory University-educated cardiologist, who preaches people be "wonderfully hungry" and eat no more than two pounds of food per day, said he met Berry at a health fair in 2008. He said she showed an interest in his teachings.

Berry, who lives in the same area as Chung, had reportedly been a follower of the doctor's "Be Hungry" teachings, which he says are healthy for the heart and help combat obesity.

"Guard the body by holding the right amount of food," he said, summing up his belief, which he says is rooted in science. "Everyone goes around talking as it's starvation but medically it's not. Starvation is terrible."

Chung declined to further discuss Berry's case, saying he didn't want to speak for her.

On June 16, police responded to a 911 call where they found the body of the teenager, who was severely malnourished.

The teen, who weighed just 40 pounds at the time of her death in her Mableton, Ga., home and evidence showed she had been neglected, police said.

Her mother is being held without bond in the death of her daughter. She does not yet have a lawyer.

Chung has been called everything from "crazy" to a "caring" and "very educated" man whose findings are rooted in science and scripture.

Keith Ayoob, director of the nutrition clinic at the Rose F. Kennedy Center in the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, called Chung's two-pound rule "disturbing" and also pointed out it doesn't account for water weight in many fruits and vegetables.

"This is a philosophy. I find it troublesome he is making recommendations about eating that are not science-based," Ayoob said.

Chung points out on his site that he does not preach starvation, but rather being "wonderfully hungry."

His two pound philosophy even extends to fruits and vegetables, despite their water content he said.

"It's part of the food, it is food. We have plenty of people here in Georgia who are getting big eating watermelon," Chung said.

In a video posted to his YouTube account, the cardiologist explained his logic."When we're 10 times hungrier, doesn't food tastes 10 times better?" he asks. "And when food tastes 10 times better, that's wonderful, isn't it?... It's a mathematical principle."

In another video, Chung asks his 10-year-old daughter, whose food he weighs, how she is doing while the two waited in line at a Krispy Kreme shop.

"I'm wonderfully hungry," she replies.

Rev. Charlotte Fairchild, a friend of Chung who lives in Hiram, Ga., said she was introduced to the two-pound rule by Chung and said no blame for Markea Berry's death should be pointed in the direction of the doctor.

"If you were to eat two foot-long Subway sandwiches which weigh a pound each a day could you ever die of anorexia? No, you'd have to be running marathons. I wouldn't even go that far," Fairchild said.

After being on a number of diets, Fairchild said doesn't understand why the "Be Hungry" plan is causing any more outrage than other programs.

"You cannot name a diet I have not been on," she said. "It's just stupid to think that weighing your food is more dangerous than eating nothing but meat and not have any roughage. We call that Atkins. It's because of the concept of hunger people just don't understand."

Chung has more than 5,000 friends on his Facebook page, where he frequently posts scripture and has shared photos of his meals on a scale.

In one picture, his lunch--a sandwich, chips and a cookie-- weighed in at 15 1/8 ounces on a food scale, half of his daily allotment.

But Ayoob worries adherents of the diet, especially children, are missing out on nutrients and are being sent a potentially detrimental message that being full is equated with guilt.

"The bottom line is that you don't get enough nutrition," he said. "I make recommendations based on sound science and these are not."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events