The Ten Percent Solution?

The Thinker by Rodin

One of the reasons to read The Huffington Post is to get your celebrity kicks. I have to confess I don’t care too much about what celebrities are doing, Jewel Staite being the possible exception. Yet, it was on Huffpost that I read about the latest celebrity yo-yo dieter, in this case the actress Kirstie Alley. For a while Alley was a spokesman for Jenny Craig, which was not only financially remunerating for her but also allowed her to lose seventy-five pounds. She eventually parted ways with Jenny Craig to come up with her own diet and sell her own dieting book. She would be wise not to write any for a while. Alley put the seventy-five pounds she lost back on, and an additional eight more pounds to boot, for a total of eighty-three pounds. Now she plans to take it off again and get back to the svelte 140 pounds or so she was when she did Cheers. Good luck Kirstie.

Alley is an egregious example of a yo-yo dieter. She has plenty of company but the rest of us struggle with our weight without the glare of publicity. I too have struggled, though thankfully I never got more than twenty-five pounds above a healthy weight. I have tried a number of diets over the years too, including the Carbohydrate Addicts Diet and the South Beach Diet. For a time, both diets looked like solutions for me too. Both were ultimately a waste of my time and money.

It is too early for me to claim victory. I have claimed it before only to find myself slacking off and find the pounds had returned. However, I have reached a milestone, losing ten percent of my weight in about five months. No, I was not on Jenny Craig, which would make little sense in my case as they market primarily to women. Nor was it Nutrisystem. I am on Weight Watchers. I have this simple advice for Kirstie: if you really want to lose weight and actually keep it off, try Weight Watchers this time. There is no guarantee you will succeed with Weight Watchers either. However, I can say that after following their program these last few months I can see the results on my scale and in the extra number of free belt notches. Moreover, I have a realistic expectation that this time I will keep it off for good.

Here is the problem with virtually all the diets out there: they may succeed in helping you lose weight, but they will do little to help you keep it off permanently. That is actually fine with the diet industry. They do not want you to keep it off permanently. If you do, they have lost another customer. No, they would much prefer you take it off, get sloppy, put it back on, then give their diet another go around. If you cannot, well, there are plenty of other diets to choose from, and they need your money too.

Any diet will let you lose weight if you follow it. Only a few though have a decent track record helping you keep it off once you have lost it. Weight Watchers is a big commercial company too, and I am sure they get their legions of yo-yo dieters too. Nonetheless, if you want to lose weight and keep it off, you should stop the Jenny Craigs, the Nutrisystems and the Slim-Fasts and do Weight Watchers instead. After you lose the weight, you will at least have a decent chance of keeping it off permanently. This is because Weight Watchers is one of the few diet companies out there whose business model involves not only helping you lose weight but helping you keep it off once you have lost it.

How hard was it for me to lose ten percent of my body mass? You might expect I spent much of the last five months eating celery and carrot sticks, but that is not the case. Mostly I ate things I already liked. In many cases I ate less of what I already liked, and changed portion sizes and ingredients so that what I ate was less caloric, higher in fiber and lower in fat. Did I suffer? If I had to rate my suffering level with Weight Watchers compared with any other diet plan, with 1 being no suffering to 10 being massive suffering, Weight Watchers was about a 3. Most of the other diet plans were in the 7-9 range.

How was this possible? Mainly, I watched what I ate, exercised portion control and kept track of what I was eating. With Weight Watchers, you learn to practice a few simple rules like “eat the filling foods first”, manage hunger through small snacks, assess the impact of what you are eating through their Points system, and eat your daily point allocation. If you want to eat more, exercise more. They have a way to calculate your bonus points via your exercise level. There are also extra points you can use over the course of a week on those days when you feel you are suffering too much. Truly, it is not that hard. Are you listening Kirstie?

Since you can eat at least some what you want, you may find yourself like me getting creative. I eat the filling foods first, but I also find creative substitutes for other foods I enjoy. Whole wheat bread is healthy, but still has more calories per slice than I would prefer. A high fiber English muffin though is only 100 calories. Cut in half, with a teaspoon of butter on each half and you have something quite tasty and dense in your stomach for less than 200 calories. It comes down to choices. The big greasy slice of pizza may be out but an occasional Lean Cuisine pizza may be okay. After a while you may find, like me, that you don’t need to count points anymore because you eat many of the same sorts of foods you used to and you know what and how much you need to stay on track. In any event, the weekly weigh in helps enforce discipline that may be lacking. I think it is essential in keeping you honest.

I am not entirely there yet, but I am close to the point where my new eating habits are becoming automatic. I now find that although I could have fancier things to eat for lunch, I want a salad. I can dress it up in a way where it is filling and satisfying. My weight loss coach was very pleased when she recently announced that I lost ten percent of my weight. She said this is a key indicator of people who can develop the habits to keep the weight off permanently. By the way, unlike many yo-yo dieters you should lose weight slowly. About a pound a week is ideal. Have patience. If you lose a pound a week, in a year you weigh fifty pounds less and you are much more likely to keep it off too.

I am planning to keep losing weight even though I passed the ten percent threshold, with the goal of getting my weight down to the day I was married, which was probably the last time I was at that weight. Then I will do my best to stay there. I will use my blog, in part, as a reminder to keep at it.

I hope you can learn from my experience. I think celebrity diets are a waste of time. Find a diet program that works with your eating habits and has some track record for helping you keep the weight off once you have lost it. There is no painless approach to weight loss but plans like Weight Watchers are the only ones that have any realistic chance of succeeding in the long term.

If your freezer is full of food from Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem, you might as well chuck it because these diets at best will only succeed in taking off weight for a while. Keeping weight off permanently and developing new habits, like eating better and exercising more, is what you really need. A diet is only one component for reaching this goal. You need long-term health. This is a completely different game, but it is the only plan worth having.

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