Spring is here and with it the annual unpacking of warm weather clothes.
By Judith Torel
Spring is here and with it the annual unpacking of warm weather clothes. Bulky sweaters can hide what shorts and sleeveless tops will not. And when last year’s shorts are cutting into your belly or (gasp!) not fitting over your hips, suddenly the motivation for starting a diet that was elusive over the winter months, kicks in like a raging brush fire!
Second only to May and New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, May marks a peak period for people seeking diet programs. An online search will yield literally hundreds of weight-loss eating plans, but only a top few attract the majority of people. What are the top diets for 2009 and the pros and cons of these particular programs? Read on to learn more.
Founded in the 1960s, Weight Watchers diet plans are arguably the most well-known and popular weight loss plans in the world! There are several programs available under the umbrella of Weight Watchers. The Core Plan lets you eat unlimited amounts of fruits and vegetables while tracking points when eating animal foods and high fat and high refined sugar foods. The Fat & Fiber Plan assigns lower points to higher fiber foods because they are more filling. The newest Weight Watcher’s plan, The Momentum Plan, emphasizes healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, lentils and beans which are higher in nutritional value while being lower in points (calories) and very filling. Weight Watchers also has a huge array of their own foods that are mass produced and available in grocery stores around the world for convenient consumption.
The core premise behind all the programs is portion control. Weight Watchers took the concept of calorie counting (which nobody likes doing) and made it more appealing by converting calories into their signature “points system”. Each participant is assigned a number of points to target on a daily basis. If you stick to your points, you will lose weight.
The cost of Weight Watchers is $35 to join with a weekly fee of $13 for meetings where weigh-ins are conducted. You can also join an online program where there are support groups. The weekly meetings are conducted by non-professionals who often times are individuals who have had great success at losing weight and keeping it off through the programs. The group support is viewed as an intricate part of the success of the program, similar to the group support offered to alcoholics in AA meetings.
Weight Watchers promotes exercise as part of the weight loss equation. They had a flex point system where the more exercise you do each week the more points you can eat and still lose weight. This Flex program has now been integrated into the New Momentum Plan and no longer exists on its own. Although Weight Watchers promotes exercise, there is no formal exercise programming and no accountability for tracking exercise within their weight loss plans.
There are a few downsides to the Weight Watchers plans. The points system many times results in participants trying to find foods that are the lowest in points without as much attention to nutritional value or health. So, a Weight Watchers dessert may be 2 points per serving, but it is chemical cuisine not fresh, real, healthy food. In addition, people often aren’t paying attention to getting a mixture of protein, carbs and fat, because many protein sources are animal-based and have higher points. The New Momentum Plan was designed to address these issues, but it is too new to have any results data (it was just introduced in the beginning of 2009).
NutriSystem began in the 1970s as weight loss centers where participants were required to go to an existing facility. This original NutriSystem went bankrupt and then was re-invented as a web-based program that ships food right to your door. In 2007, NutriSystem was listed as one of the fastest-growing companies in the US, but in 2008 their growth significantly slowed. Whether this is due to the economy or the long-term effectiveness of the program has not been determined.
NutriSystem is based on portion-controlled eating, which basically means eating less calories than you burn every day. The beauty of this program is that the food is already pre-portioned so once you eat your meal there are no leftovers to pick at, no snacking and tasting while cooking, and no gorging yourself on everything when you come home starving and have to wait for dinner to be ready.
Some people find the food is very tasty while others don’t. The food is high in sodium and is basically convenience food, so don’t expect fresh, real, natural and whole foods in your shipment.
The typical plan consists of three meals and two snacks which you pick from online. The calorie total is 1,200-1,500 per day and is comprised of 55 percent carbohydrates, 25 percent protein and 20 percent fat, which is the standard recommendation for macronutrient breakdown based on the guidelines from various government agencies.
The food will cost you about $350 per month and if you order a month’s supply shipping is free. The average person follows the program for 9.5 weeks. As with any program comprised of 1,200-1,500 calories, if you follow it, you will lose weight.
Some of the challenges to this diet plan is that many people are too hungry and end up eating their own food, in addition to the NutriSystem foods. Another challenge comes when you stop ordering their food and have to go back to preparing your own meals and making your own decisions on what to eat on a daily basis. If you haven’t worked on strategies for how to avoid picking and overeating when extra food is still available on the table, etc., then you may just find yourself with the same overweight situation, but with significantly less cash!
NutriSystem can be helpful as a method for interrupting habits of eating too large of portions or not having a plan and eating “on the fly”, which almost always results in more calories then if you have planned your meals ahead of time. I don’t know anyone who would consider following NutriSystem for life, so participants have to have a “phase two” plan coming off NutriSystem, whether they are successful at reaching their weight goal or not.
Exercise is supported through NutriSystem programs and beginner, intermediate and advanced plans are outlined and available to participants.
Jenny Craig began in Australia in 1983 and was introduced in the United States in 1985. Currently, there are 645 Jenny Craig Centers in the USA, Canada, Australia, Puerto Rico and New Zealand. If you prefer, you can do Jenny Direct and participate via phone and mail and not have to go to a center.
The Jenny program consists of a tri-level approach. The first level is the food, which consists of pre-portioned pre-packaged frozen meals. As with NutriSystem, don’t expect organic, fresh, real and natural foods. These are convenience meals, snacks and desserts that are high in sodium and preservatives. Nutritionally, the meals are comprised of 50 percent carbs, 20-25 percent protein and 20-25 percent fat, which is in line with the USDA’s 2005 guidelines. These foods are supplemented with fruits and vegetables, whole grains and reduced-fat dairy foods supplied by the participant, in addition to the purchase of the Jenny Craig foods.
The second level consists of a personal counselor whose sole job is to support your weight loss efforts and teach you how to eat for a life of slimness. The counselor determines the total daily calories based on a formula that considers your weight, height and goals. Basically, Jenny Craig follows a calorie-based approach where you eat less than you burn.
The counselors help you to use the pre-packaged food to get an idea of correct portion sizes (as opposed to the very large portion sizes the average overweight person consumes on a regular basis). Similar to NutriSystem, the participant must eventually transition from Jenny Craig foods to planning, preparing and eating their own food. The Jenny Craig difference is that you have a personal counselor to help you achieve this transition. While the counseling program is developed and directed by registered dieticians and psychologists, the actual counselors are not health professionals.
The cost of Jenny Craig? The basic program can cost up to $200 per month. This is for the counseling and the program. The cost of the food is in addition to the monthly fee.
Exercise is highly encouraged and the participants work with their counselor to integrate exercise into the daily habits with portion control eating.
Relatively new in the diet programming world, Metafast is marketed as a “Doctor approved” method of weight loss (and also a method for Doctor to make additional income!).
The program consists of pre-packaged snacks/mini meals that are eaten five times a day and supplemented with one lean-green meal that you make with your own food. The lean-green meal consists of five ounces of low-fat protein with non-starchy vegetables. The five pre-packaged snacks are approximately 100-200 calories each. As with the other pre-packaged weight loss systems, these foods are not fresh, real, natural nor whole foods, but are convenience-packed foods such as bars, puddings and shakes.
The total calorie intake per day is targeted at 1,000 calories. The cost for a month’s supply of the pre-packaged foods is $275, which is supplemented by the cost of the food you buy for your lean-green meal.
This plan is appealing because it is backed by a local doctor who carries credibility. You will lose weight on a 1,000-calorie plan if you eat nothing but chocolate, but not more than 1,000 calories worth! But this plan is not that different then the Optifast program that was covered by medical insurance and backed by the medical industry. The same Optifast program that Oprah whittled herself down to 120 pounds on while following. The major drawback to this program? Have you seen Oprah lately?
Bottom line: There are programs that will do the work of pre-packaging food for you or giving you guidelines for portions or points. You will lose weight on these programs if you follow them. It will cost you money – sometimes significant money! The success of the program must be measured by short-term results combined with long-term results. To date, the most successful method of sustainable weight loss is on-going tracking of food portions so that the total calories eaten are less then what are burned (for weight loss) and then the total calories eaten equals what are burned (weight management), combined with an hour of 75 percent of maximum capacity aerobic activity. Other programs are successful if what you mean by success is weight loss that is generally regained within two years or less.
Judy Torel is a USAT coach, personal trainer, nutrition consultant and psychotherapist. Her office is located in Planet Fitness, Loudonville. She can be reached at 469.0815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.