Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On Diets

Recently, a friend posed a question on Facebook asking what the pros and cons are to joining Weight Watchers.  I made several attempts to succinctly describe my feeling on the matter, then gave up for the sake of not wanting to post an entire novel in the little "add your comment here" box. 

My thoughts on Weight Watchers are much like my thoughts on any diet... they don't work.  I recently wrote an article for LIVESTRONG specifically about the Jenny Craig diet, but I feel the same way about WW and much of the diet industry as a whole. Usually, dieters end up taking more weight off their billfolds than they ever wanted off their bodies. 

My aversion to diets started at a very young age.  When I was a kid, my dad tried every diet in the known world.  He did Atkins, he did The Zone, he did the South Beach Diet.  He even did a cabbage soup-only diet where our entire house reeked of cabbage for weeks until he got bored with that and moved on to the "Anything That Will Fit On A Rice Cake" diet... Spam on a rice cake, Dad?  Really? 

Despite the failed efforts of his younger years at finding the perfect diet, my dad--now in his 70s--manages his weight somewhat successfully through daily exercise, eating healthy and using portion control (with the occasional splurge at the cruise ship buffet).  Through the years and the pounds gained and lost, I learned the same thing my dad did:  When it comes down to it, setting a specific number of  "points" or daily calorie limits is really just a combination of willpower and a basic understanding of how to identify the nutritional information of various foods.  The big secret?  Expend more calories than you take in. 

It's hard, and some days it really sucks, but it's still better than being on a diet. "Why?" You may ask.  My biggest gripe with popular diets like WW and Jenny Craig is that they tend to steer dieters toward eating a lot of packaged foods.  While I think eating portioned, packaged foods can be helpful for someone who is significantly overweight and needs to get started with their weight loss, it can be a rather miserable existence.  (I know, because I've been there.)  Eating frozen microwaveable meals every day is no way to live!  Aside from the scary chemicals you're ingesting, these "meals" tend to be not very tasty and low in protein, which cause you to be hungry and unsatisfied after your meal. It's--ironically--the opposite of what you would want to be eating to try to lose weight.

In addition to helping the significantly overweight begin a weight loss program, I will concede that some diets can provide certain tools to help users succeed.  I actually like to borrow certain ideas from different diets to use in my every day life, such as focusing on having four good eating days each week. (I'm can't remember which diet that's from, but I like the concept.)  However, I still think these diets pale in comparison to developing your own system of eating.  While I've never actually been on a specific diet, I know the difference between how I feel now eating wholesome, unprocessed foods like fresh salads, soups and sandwiches and how I used to feel after I ate mystery meat with soggy, rubbery vegetables.  What's also different about what I do now versus "a diet" is that it's sustainable.  I've developed a way of eating that doesn't revolve around nuking my lunch in a plastic container, paying $1 per pound, or weighing in at my local center.  I can eat out--anywhere--and enjoy eating what I want, when I want.

Weight Watchers and the likes have certainly come a long way since these 1974 atrocities, but when it comes down to it, the diet industry is still not nearly as concerned about your waistline as they are with taking your money.  In my opinion, most people can do better on their own... and then have the money leftover to buy new, smaller clothes.

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