Monday, May 16, 2011

Diet Programs

On a LinkedIn forum board for the United Health Group Career Network a participant asked for input about diet programs. She had read the Consumer Reports ranking of Jenny Craig as best and wanted input from other people's experiences. I started to respond and quickly got a much longer entry than appropriate for a message board. So I'll put it here instead. Here's my experience with a weight loss program.

I think it's important to recognize that while "eating lifestyle" is the correct term to use when describing one's "diet", when weight loss programs use the term "eating lifestyle" it really is a euphemism for what we generally understand as a "diet". In order to get the results most people want from a diet, the change in eating lifestyle is going to be pretty drastic.

For example, when I did Weight Watchers, rigorously following their suggested point system, I changed my eating lifestyle from nearly 3000 calories a day to about 1600. In the support sessions our instructor talked about how great it was to be in control of our eating habits, to be able to put whatever we wanted on our menus, even going out to restaurants. The reality was that my eating habits changed dramatically. There were foods, like peanut butter, fried cheese, candies, that I love eating, but pretty much cut out because I couldn't eat them and still adhere to my point allocations.

I was hungry all . . . the . . . time . . . and cranky. I seriously learned to empathize with dogs growling at anyone coming near their food bowls. The relationship between diet and exercise was introduced a few weeks into the program, but I couldn't wait. I read ahead to figure out how many extra points I'd get and started exercising just to get them because I wanted the extra food so badly. And it was hardly anything! Like an extra 1/4 cup of refried beans or something, but man! At that few calories per day, those beans were magical.

My results were fantastic, though. I dropped from 220 pounds to 170 in about six months.

Then I dropped out of the program. The aspect of Weight Watchers I most appreciated was the education about the relation between diet and weight. Common sense stuff put into easily understood explanations and illustrated through application. I understood it, was happy with my results and didn't want to pay for support sessions anymore. So I decided I'd solo the maintenance program. I did okay for a while, but over the next 3 years or so got progressively more lazy about following it and slowly crept back up to nearly 200 pounds.

Consumer Reports lists Jenny Craig as the best diet program in part because after two years particpants were down an average 8%. Looking at my results as a percentage, they look pretty good. Remember I started Weight Watchers at 220 pounds, so 200 pounds is still down 9%. However, in actual numbers, not exactly the results I want.

Another thing Consumer Reports liked about Jenny Craig was that 2 years into the program, 92% of the participants were still with it. Obviously, dropping out after six months, I wasn't still in Weight Watchers after 2 years. By that time I had totally stopped calculating points. I don't think I gave any serious consideration to my eating lifestyle anymore. I've got to say, if Jenny Craig has developed a system that motivates people to stay with it long term, then maybe they do deserve the Consumer Reports ranking. I think the Consumer Reports senior program editor's comment rings most true: "Of course, the best diet for you is the one you can stay on."

With that in mind, and maybe there is part of the Weight Watchers education contributing to my capacity to accomplish this, as I approached 200 pounds I was motivated to change my "eating lifestyle". I will never again change it as drastically as I did while participating in Weight Watchers. I was miserable. I hated it. As wonderful as my results were, I also gained a profound appreciation for the role food plays in our society. How enjoyable it is to not just eat, but to share in the eating experience socially. However, I can also be careful about my portions. Eat smaller meals, light snacks, that type of thing.

And the lifestyle change should definitely include exercise. The best exercise program is going to be one you can stick with, too. So once I get an actuarial job and get settled into a place where I know I'll be long term, I want to get back into martial arts. In the meantime, based on my sister's review of the program, I've been doing Tony Horton's "In Home Boot Camp" from Beachbody. Since mid-January I've dropped about 10 pounds. Not quite the drastic results I got following Weight Watcher's program, nothing that's going to get me on any before and after infomercials, but I'm a lot happier with the small change and at least I'm going the right direction.

I never want to discourage someone from following a weight loss program they're interested in. Despite my avowal to never do it again, I am very glad I did participate in Weight Watchers. So there it is. That's my experience.


  1. Mark and I have been changing our lifestyle eating recently as well. I've never liked the word "diet" and have never tried to count calories, points, or whatever. However, we've been watching our portion size, eating lighter snacks and have been working out to a exercise video for the last 2 months or so. Not a huge difference on the scale (I think I might have lost 5 lbs) but the video is getting easier and my metabolism is up because I get hungrier faster. I can also see more toning and I guess I'll be happy with those results for now.

  2. Yay for you! I am so happy to see my children participating in exercise programs and being aware of the types and amounts of food you are eating. I would also add that keeping track (like writing it in a food journal) or everything that goes into your mouth (even one bite of a cookie or licking the whipped cream beaters) really helps you realize where the calories are coming from and helps cut out the grazing and piecing that are so easy to do between meals and planned snacks.