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DIY dieting

An entire, profitable industry has been built on the notion that people need expert guidance to achieve weight loss.

But do we really need all that help?

I've been puzzling over this since I watched the TLC reality TV show "One Big Happy Family" (which I write about in this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column). In the show, a family of four -- two adults, two teens -- each of whom weighs more than 300 pounds, attempts to lose weight. Part of the show's premise is that the Cole family will do this on its own, with no "The Biggest Loser"-style coaching or other outside guidance.

It can be painful to watch Tameka, Norris, Amber and Shayne Cole stumble and fumble along the road to weight loss. They commit to clearing their house of all the junk food they've come to rely on, but they don't seem to have a firm grasp on how to prepare healthful foods that are tasty enough to satisfy them. And their ambles down the street don't look as though they'd burn enough calories to make a difference.

But apparently they're doing something right. None of the Coles is, at the end of the six-part series, exactly what you'd call thin; in fact, they're all still obese. But the family has lost a total of more than 200 pounds. They seem to have a good attitude about the weight-loss experience and are motivated to keep at it. Most of all, though they tease each other a lot, they're supportive of each other's efforts.

Watching the Coles on TV and then interviewing them for my column was an eye-opening experience. As a nutrition writer, I'm acutely aware of the number of diet programs, books and devices on the market, each claiming to be the only solution you'll ever need for your weight problem.

But what if the real solution lies within each of us? What if we decided to disregard all that advice and guidance and simply let common sense lead us to weight loss? Might we then be able to sidestep all the lingo and stick to what we know in our hearts must work-- consuming fewer calories, moving our bodies more -- though it sounds boring?

I don't know about you, but I find that notion liberating.

I'd like to hear from readers who have carved out their own approaches to weight loss, without joining a program such as Weight Watchers, buying into Jenny Craig or following the advice of a certain book or Web site. (I'd also like to hear from those who have tried such programs!)

Here's today's poll:

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  January 19, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Genetic screening: Can we handle the truth?
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DIY is the ONLY way to heal the body from obesity, even with the aid of tools such as surgery. Much of the worsening struggle of obesity exists as a result of the current paradigm of obesity treatment. We are treating obesity the same as overweight, as if it is a simple thermodynamic caloric imbalance. Overweight is a lifestyle issue - diet and exercise are effective and even fun interventions.

Obesity, even BEFORE the manifestation of endstage disease, is an illness of chronic inflammation, pain, nutrient deficiencies, altered genetic expression, disordered metabolic pathways and neural chemistry.

The food becomes a form of counterfeit energy to move an extra 150 lbs across the room, regulate mood, alleviate pain. We throw rigorous diet and exercise at very ill people, and then seem surprised when it doesn't work.

If we change the paradigm, and the timetable, and treat obesity the same way as brain injury, we develop a self-regulating system of slow, gentle, adaptable changes in diet and exercise. This includes addressing the syndrome of overfed and undernourished that is the essence of obesity. Treatment consists of correcting the nutritional deficiencies, optimizing medical treatment for weight loss, teaching relaxation along with movement, and improving the quality of food. Over a course of years (not weeks or months, the person experiences continual steady weight loss of a few pounds per month.

Everyday a small change- as we adapt to one, make another. No pain. No drama. Just a better life.

Not really a plug for industry, I'd say!

Sara L. Stein, M.D., Author
Obese From The Heart: A Fat Psychiatrist Discloses (2009)

Posted by: sarasteinmd | January 19, 2010 8:42 AM | Report abuse

No, I don't think that "common sense" is enough. Most of us don't know enough about nutrition to just follow what we think is common sense. It sounds like common sense to say "eat low-fat products" but if we don't read the labels, we might not realize that the product is full of sugar and still high in calories. So the middle ground is to get some education and keep up with that. My husband and I have lost a lot of weight and we use sources such as "Cooking Light" to learn about healthy eating. So yes you can DIY but with some outside information to help you make the best choices.

Posted by: drl97 | January 19, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

In theory, yes. Anyone can lose weight by eating less and exercising more. We don't need any fancy equipment or complex diets.

I think the part where it gets difficult for people is the commitment and accountability piece of the equation. Especially if your entire sphere of influence is overweight or not interested in eating healthfully or exercising.

One of the key pieces of losing weight and keeping it off is a support system. A combination of cheerleaders, buddies, and also people that can help you achieve success by babysitting for you while you exercise!

Even those of us that are slimmer and just trying to maintain or lose just 5 lbs are tempted by friends that eat out together at unhealthy places or choose goign to the bar over going to exercise.

So, I think people could do without a trainer or a nutritionist IF and only IF they found at least 1 buddy to help them stay committed and accountable AND if they have children, a babysitter to help watch the kids when they want to exercise.

Posted by: miriz | January 19, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

There is a distinction, however, between where you get your strategy for dieting (Weight Watchers, some other plan, DIY) vs. getting medical advice on the status of your health as you embark on a diet. People who are obese should not "go it alone" in that respect.

Posted by: mcarroll2 | January 19, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

I absolutely think people can lose weight on their own. However, education is key. That's where health and fitness professionals can make a difference. As a personal trainer, I consistently remind my clients that diet and exercise are the keys to losing weight. Because this solution is not glitzy or shown in an infomercial, the public is not getting the right message. If people know where to find the right information - instructional blogs, websites, and books, they can learn to make their own decisions without spending extra money.

Posted by: sara2dave | January 19, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

I was able to lose 20 lbs in 6 weeks by DIY. I was motivated by my doctor telling me he'd put me on statins for the rest of my life because of my high cholesterol. I was 32 at the time. I convinced him to give me some time to get my cholesterol down myself, and he gave me six weeks. I got every book, hit every website, read everything I could about lowering cholesterol, and most of the stuff was only marginally helpful. A few tips I really took to heart were keeping a food journal, keeping off red meat, eating everything high in fiber. It's been about 3 years, and I've gained about 10 of those pounds back.

Posted by: tbantug | January 19, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

For effective dieting, you need to create a diet diary as described on

Posted by: gstallkamp | January 19, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse


You can beat the weight loss industry on your own. I am 5'8" and in one year I went from 212 lbs to 157 (the weight I was in high school). My plan was simple. I did exercise but discovered half way through that even that was not necessary. You really don't have to diet to lose weight!! It is not easy at first but my program has worked for me.

I decided to eliminate both breakfast and lunch. If I got intolorably hungry I would eat non fat foods. I ate a normal dinner,including fresh vegetables and fruit
I estimate that I ate about 1100 calories a day. In the first month or two I lost a bunch of weight but setteled in at a loss of 5 lbs a month. My doctor approved of my plan and was impressed by my progress. You can do it!!!

Posted by: Dagsboro2 | January 19, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

OOps this is the first time I ever posted anything so let me correct my previous statement. My plan is most certainally a diet. Interestingly if you stop eating breakfast and lunch in about a week you will not even get hungry until late afternoon. You burn your fat which you are actually genitacally programed to to Throw out all you diet books and the jenny Craig Crap and get healthy...BTw sorry I'm not a great speller

Posted by: Dagsboro2 | January 19, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

I think guidance is helpful but any "Biggest-Loser" style training doesn't last if the recipient is not willing to inquire/learn and dedicate.

Really, its pretty simple:
1) Eat lean proteins, fruits, vegatables, nuts, and high-fiber whole grains. Don't eat white bread or other processed carbs, don't eat much sugar, don't eat FAST FOOD and especially not their french fries, and do not drink soda.
2) Exercise. And make it a variety of excercises if possible - strength training and cardio are important, and more effective if varied. Don't turn into "that guy" at the gym who has a huge chest and arms from all his bench press/bicep exercises but he looks like a hunchback because his shoulders are always hunched, and has a big belly from his horrible diet.

See - really simple.

Posted by: ImaLawyer | January 19, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

As others have said, common sense is not enough unless you have the knowledge about nutrition and healthy eating to be able to make "common sense" decisions.

I attended Weight Watchers for a couple of years, and lost most of my excess weight on what was then called the Core Plan. It is an excellent, very filling way to eat - and extremely healthy. I no longer attend meetings, and have made some adjustments to the plan that suit me personally and are still very healthy.

I have maintained a loss of 50 pounds now for several years; I still write down everything I eat, and weigh myself daily. Weighing daily is not for everyone, but for me it is like keeping check on my blood pressure or my glucose level (if that were necessary).

I learned a new and healthy way of eating at WW - and now use my common sense to stick to it, with only minor changes.

The WW Core Plan is now called "Simply Filling". I can't recommend it highly enough for someone who wants to lose weight in a healthy way, and there are NO forbidden foods on the plan.

For most people, resolving to get as healthy as possible and working toward that goal will take care of their weight problem. Good health should be the desired outcome - not just weight loss.

Posted by: DESS1 | January 19, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

I created a DIY weight loss program because I got tired of people telling me it has to be THIS way or that I have to do THAT form of exercising. I HATE exercising! Don't tell me how great yoga is - booooring. If watching TV as I run on my elliptical works, why should I try something else?

And why should I always have to eat so-called "healthy food" if a dinner every now and then of chicken nuggets fits into my calorie plan? (Which it really does - 500 cals, baby.) And so what if I choose to eat a Weight Watchers ice cream bar for breakfast? It's 100 calories, versus who knows how many in a pastry I would otherwise eat. And no, I will not make a healthy breakfast of egg whites and whatever because I'm supremely lazy in the morning and give myself 15 minutes to get ready and leave for work.

Which is also why I exercise late at night - don't tell me I have to do it in the morning. If I do, well then forget it.

And I can tell you my way has worked. I lost 40 pounds before my wedding. Now, I gave it all up and went back to being a complete lazy bum, so I gained it back. But I'm back on my own plan and am slowly but surely losing weight. I have added a heart rate monitor, which has helped me to increase what I do when I exercise, but that's about it. I did not need any books, diet plans, special training programs, etc. I did what works for me. And it works.

Posted by: shauch | January 19, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

P.S. I will say knowledge is key. Reading nutrition labels has become my No. 1 diet tool. It was easy to convince myself certain foods were fine, only to find out they had a ton of calories in them. And vice versa. And I also thought I was pushing myself pretty hard exercising, only to find out my heart rate was relatively low. So I would say my two biggest weapons are nutrition labels and my heart rate monitor. Keeps me honest.

Posted by: shauch | January 19, 2010 6:34 PM | Report abuse

I've lost 75 pounds in the last 4.5 years, doing my own thing. Education is key, as was understanding that I didn't get fat overnight, so I wasn't going to lose it all overnight either. I think a lot of people see quick weightloss programs and don't understand that they're not a sustainable way to lose - that you have to come to an understanding of your own habits, metabolism and desires in order to be successful.

Posted by: TheNorthWing | January 19, 2010 7:40 PM | Report abuse

I will say that the #1 reason people cant lose weight is they are unable to control their own actions.

Its called willpower.

The only time I would agree that someone will have a next-to-impossible time losing weight is if they have had their Thyroid removed or have a thyroid problem in general since it controls 90% of metabolism.

In that case, you are a bit screwed...

Posted by: ProveMeWrong | January 19, 2010 8:32 PM | Report abuse

Through most of my life I was overweight. I tried many diets, but most of them were very restrictive and I never saw the pattern of eating within those diets as sustainable over time. Therefore, I became a "yoyo dieter," often losing then regaining up to 75 pounds. I finally reached 300 pounds and several friends began harassing me to lose weight. I replied that I never again would attempt to lose weight until I found a way to do it in a sustainable way. That occurred when I in 1989 when I was 51 years old. I am a university administrator and was filled with stress. That year I had a seven-month sabbatical and during that time attended a weight loss program that had group sessions and an auxiliary exercise program. Two epiphanies occurred during that program: (1) a male member of the group mentioned that he worked two jobs and really had no time for pleasure, except for the candy he ate while working; (2)the leader of the group once said "If you eat three Snickers bars, can you cut back to two?" This provided me with two insights that have proven key to slowly losing weight without regaining it: (1) purposefully develop other ways of finding pleasure than food . . . for me these became such things as taking time to explore a new shop or activity; and (2) seeing "dieting" as not an all or nothing activity. During the sabbatical I lost about 35 pounds and sustained the loss. I have a severe back problem due to degenerative disk disease and had repeatedly been put into traction, at one time for six months. Then, the mode of treating my problem changed to strength and endurance rather than rest, and I was able to add considerable exercise. Over time, I tweaked my diet in ways to make my intake more healthful. I always resisted very prescriptive diets, but came to look at food in terms of nourishment. So, for example, I came to see something such as a doughnut as fat, sugar, and carbohydrates with little of no contribution to health. Of course, I still at time eat some food that is non-nutritive, but I have lost 130 pounds over time, dropping from a high of 300 pounds to 170 pounds. To summarize, I have found most commercial programs too restrictive and needed to learn more about nutrition and find foods that met my nutritional needs as well as my preferences. For the first time in my life, I can say that I have no fears of gaining weight and believe that I can lose additional weight if I so choose, using the tools I have gained through self-education. Eating well is now a lifestyle that I view as loving myself, not a denial of my wishes.

Posted by: DorothyF | January 19, 2010 9:29 PM | Report abuse

Why do some people overeat, I don't think it is just will power. I firmly believe overeating is just one of many addictive compulsive behaviors some people have. Some people carry their pain in the fat they carry on their bodies. The fat insulates the individual from certain aspects of life. Some times it takes healing a mental or spiritual pain before the body is able to heal itself physically.

Posted by: cheryl_robinson49 | January 20, 2010 3:20 AM | Report abuse

In the poll you don't provide the option that maybe losing weight is impossible, either on your own or with guidance. Both attempts are generally useless and often harmful. 95% of those who lose weight (either on their own or with help) will regain all the weight and maybe more. There are a few exceptional individuals who beat the odds and lose weight and keep it off. BUT, how many of them either develop eating disorders (maintaining a weight loss through the 10-lb yo-yo binge/diet syndrome, for example), gain it all back within five years, or substitute alcohol or drug use for their previous food addiction?

It's hard to hear, but once you've put on weight, it's almost certainly yours for life. Probably the best that overweight humans can do is focus on maintaining; avoid gaining even more.

Posted by: Nutmeg2 | January 20, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Most diet plans fail because they ask people to change too drastically... I can understand if someone is in a health crisis and needs IMMEDIATE changes but I think most people could sustain weight loss if they made small changes to their lifestyle and continually built on those changes.

My very first step was to stop ordering foot long subs from subway lol. I had to learn how to be satisfied from a 6 inch sub rather than stuffed by a foot long.

Then I started noticing that Quarter Pounders from McD's really didn't taste that good to me... I usually inhaled it so fast I couldn't really taste it. So I gradually had it less and less often.

Then I started replacing my soda's with water... and started gradually drinking more and more.

Started exercising more... started tasting new veggies and fruits and incorporating them into my diet.

Overall, the gradual changes over 2 years have helped me to maintain about 20 lbs of weight loss and I will likely continue to lose even more.

Posted by: AJohn1 | January 20, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Most overweight people I know actually have a fair amount of common sense, so I don't think it's that simple.

People are just busy, and stressed. Americans today work longer hours, get less vacation time, have longer commutes, have more electronic noise in their lives, have less of a sense of connection to others and have higher material expectations for themselves than people from other places and other times in history. All of this contributes to stress. Pleasure is a wonderful anitidote to stress, and eating is pleasurable. You can't keep weight off until you reduce your stress level, either by eliminating stressors or finding other ways to bring stress-reducing fun into your life. You have to train people to find pleasure in healthy food and activities. This means learning how to cook differently and how to find enjoyment in activities besides eating and watching TV. But learning new habits is time-comsuming. And you have to get past the initial psychological obstacle of feeling uncomfortable and insecure that comes along with starting anything new. This is why it's so hard, its tough to find the time to learn how to cook and prepare good tasting healthy foods. It also takes time for people to develop the skill and confidence needed to gain pleasure from doing unfamiliar things like exercising, gardening, scrapbooking, socializing etc. that keep them more active and away from the refrigerator. I agree with AJohn1, you really are learning a whole new set of skills and attitiudes, therefore gradual is better.

Posted by: tiggertime1 | January 21, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

As a formerly overweight teenager who has maintained a normal weight for seven+ years, I strongly believe that well-motivated individuals can lose weight and keep it off in the long run. While everyone's body works differently, I've found that my most effective way of weight management is to eat lean protein and use my brain more often. The brain primarily uses carbs for energy, and it burns them very rapidly when it has to work under pressure for sustained periods of time. That's why people feel hungry after taking difficult exams or giving a presentation they are nervous about. Once I entered high school and started dealing with a heavier load of schoolwork, I naturally began losing weight. Coupled with some small diet changes like cutting down on red meat, I lost twenty pounds in two years, and have kept them off since. Never once have I tried a fad diet or consulted a nutritionist.

Posted by: toodlepip | January 22, 2010 1:04 AM | Report abuse

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