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The "diet" dilemma

How many weight-loss diets have you tried? Did any of them work?

As I write in this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, the market research firm Marketdata Enterprises, Inc. estimates that America has about 72 million dieters. We certainly have plenty of diet plans to choose from: Check out this list, which features a handy review of each of about 75 diet plans, from Atkins to The Zone.

Marketdata Enterprises projects that this year the U.S. weight-loss market--everything from diet drugs and the services of physicians, nurses and nutritionists to weight-loss books and sugar-free foods--will total $68.7 billion.

That's a big number. But is it money well spent?

I'll soon be embarking on a little weight-loss project of my own, and I'm still trying to figure out what my approach will be. Like many Americans, I have tried my share of formal diet programs in the past. As a nutrition columnist, I have easy access to plenty of expert advice. But this time, while I'll certainly include some of that advice in my game plan, I think I'm going to cobble together my own weight-loss program, based on what I know works -- and doesn't work -- for me.

But I'm still thinking things through, and I'd love to hear from you readers. What weight-loss plans -- books, DVDs, Web sites, programs such as Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig -- have you tried? What did you think were their strong points, and what didn't work so well for you? Please share your experience with me and other readers.

And don't forget to follow me on Twitter! http://twitter.com/jhuget.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  February 2, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity  
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Comments

I am 54 years old and was slender until about 10 years ago. I successfully used the formal Weight Watchers program -- meetings, etc. -- to lose 40 pounds in 2002. (I am a runner and have run 7 marathons and over 100 shorter races since then.) I keep a close watch on my weight, and go back to the WW plan when it goes up more than 5 lbs. I have also tried Atkins and South Beach. I can lose weight rapidly with no hunger on those plans, but I find I do not have enough energy to run after a few days on them. Plus, I hate the bad breath that comes with the first phase of those diets.

Posted by: Nanaofone | February 2, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

I'm just about 30 and work on the "eat what I like, but small portions and go to the gym" method. Exercise is really the key component to all of this. A friend who's 37 says about every other year he has to rebalance his work out time to eating ratio. Actually, pretty much everyone I know works out solely to be able to eat what they like (in moderation).

Posted by: em15 | February 2, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

The most success I have ever had was from a food exchange diet attributed to NASA nutritionists but never certified because no astronaut needed to lose weight. It was reported in one of the Consumer Reports Diet evaluation books. It was simple and never left me hungry. I lost an average of 2 # a week. I have tried to find the diet again but no luck. My spouse and I used Suzanne Somers' method and lost about 30 pounds but gradually put it on. Intrigued by an interview of Dr. John McDougall, I'm now on a largely vegetarian diet with some meat, milk and cheese and seem to be firming up. Next is the treadmill.... Good luck

Posted by: cornwallocculator | February 2, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

BurnIt free app on Iphone! Totally works.
Count the calories and work out.

Helped me realize how much I could eat more and how much to work out to maintain my overall calorie intake per day. I have been using it since Jan second week and I have lost 3 pounds since then. I am watching my food and also working out 5 days a week. Aerobics plus weights!

Posted by: easttowestgal | February 2, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

My best advice isn't about food or nutrition; heck, you write about this stuff all the time, you know more than me! More importantly, what works for me won't necessarily work for you. My big "breakthroughs" were more on the psychological side. I had to pay close attention to what I was thinking about my food choices, so I could deconstruct them and build in healthier habits.

Downfall no. 1: restaurants. Yes, we all know about portion size, ingredients, etc. (once you've seen a professional chef make a bisque, you'll never again think soup is a "light" meal!). What surprised me was how I thought about them. Growing up, we were poor; restaurant meals were a real treat, reserved for special occasions -- a great opportunity to set aside the rules, loosen up, and eat what I wanted. Now, we eat out or do takeout several times a week -- but in my head, I was still that 13-yr-old that my mom took out to celebrate my straight-As. And what good is a celebration without dessert, right? :-) Once I realized that, it made my new rule both obvious and easy: if the only reason I'm eating someone else's food is because I didn't want to cook it, I have to choose my meal and portion sizes as if I had.

Downfall 2: travel. Partly for the same "special" aspect (I get out to NM maybe once a year, and you can bet when I'm there, I'm having sopaipillas!). But mostly for what I call "preemptive eating" -- you're about to get on a plane, you don't know when you'll eat again, so you grab a sandwich. Then they serve you (junk) food on the plane, so you eat it, too. Or, for me, the big struggle is the all-day business meeting: they order in lunch, and I think, well, I probably won't get dinner until 8:00. And that's a big deal for me, because I tend to big blood sugar drops when I go more than 4-5 hrs without food. So I stuff myself silly so I can "last." Then, of course, they bring in the cookies 3 hrs later. . . .

So, again, new rule: I always have a snack with me -- usually something like a pre-packaged diet bar that I actually like. That way, when food comes, I just remind myself to eat my normal "light" meal, because if I get hungry before food appears again, I don't have to worry about it. Used it last night at the airport, as a matter of fact -- had a flight that meant dinner would be around 8 PM, and I was ravenous. But I walked right past the Popeyes, grabbed a bottle of water, and had my Atkins bar -- which not only tided me over, it filled me up enough that I was able to pick and choose the bits of the airline food that I really wanted, vs. inhaling it all.

Posted by: laura33 | February 2, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

PS -- forgot to mention, exercise didn't work for me as a weight loss tool. Seemed like the more I exercised, the more my appetite ramped up to match -- we're talking the crazy-hungries, not just a little peckish. So I exercise now as part of trying to stay healthy overall, but not because I think it's going to help me lose weight. I actually lost about 25 lbs starting in the fall of 2008 watching my food more carefully; I then took off another 10 with serious exercise and willpower, but that popped right back on the minute I eased back on both even slightly. Still working on it -- but at least I'm in the "normal" range now, if still @ 15 lbs above where I'd like to be!

Posted by: laura33 | February 2, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

I recommend Calorie King - an online program. It is calorie counting, but there are a series of lessons that you work though, boards for discussion and goal setting tools that worked well for me. I have lost about 35 pounds since July. Logging my food helps stop me from eating mindlessly, which is my downfall!

Posted by: LoisHK | February 2, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Did Atkins about 10+ years ago. Dropped the weight. I've been able to keep it off as long as I continue to exercise (daily) & monitor what (no junk) & how much I eat (no overeating). It's really not that hard once you get used to the change in eating behavior. Biggest thing for me - absolutely no sugar & regular feeding times - as I will eat too much if I go too long between meals (I also get rather cranky).

Posted by: notamullethead | February 2, 2010 6:16 PM | Report abuse

I follow Dr. McDougall's plan mostly. Strict vegan but I do eat oil when someone else is cooking. I love this plan and have been on it/vegan for close to 15 years. Oh, I also have an occasional alcoholic drink of some sort, try to avoid anything sugary.
There is a huge mental element for me though, I have to stay present with my appetite and how my whole body is responding to food. Mindless eating, even if vegan is a pitfall for me.
I have stayed within 10 pounds of my goal weight for these 15 years.

Posted by: fernva | February 2, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

I used Weight Watchers, and succeeded in losing weight- about 50 pounds. Unfortunately, I had to deal later with a bout of serious depression, and gained it back. Now that I'm feeling better, I'm using SparkPeople successfully, and have lost about 15 in about 3 months. I feel confident that my second diet will be successful, like the first one was.

I think that dieting can work, for people who choose a plan they can live with and make the hard choice of keeping with it every day.

Posted by: ladymacbeth977 | February 2, 2010 7:48 PM | Report abuse

LifeForm, a software program available from Fitnesoft.net, is a great program that you keep on your computer, rather than online. It includes nutritional counts for foods that allow you to follow exactly what, and how much, you eat, including being able to add new foods and break down recipes. LifeForm also lets you keep a medical history, exercise and measurement logs, etc., that can be graphed so, whether you're trying to lose weight, get fit, or simply maintain your good health, you can follow your daily, weekly, monthly or annual progress.

Posted by: Lynette2 | February 2, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse

I've tried many weight-loss plans through the years, but the one that has worked best for me - and most long-term - is Weight Watchers (the Core Plan, now called "Simply Filling"). I have maintained a fifty-pound weight loss for several years.

The thing about WW is that it just teaches you to eat healthy - it's not really a "diet" where any foods are forbidden, or where you have to eat certain things (except for a few things that are necessary for good health, such as getting adequate fat, etc.)

I am nearly 70 - I do not have high blood pressure, and my cholesterol numbers are excellent. I give a lot of credit for that to the way I eat, which I learned about at WW.

Posted by: DESS1 | February 2, 2010 10:07 PM | Report abuse

Reading these comments is fascinating - I know people who have lost weight on most of the plans mentioned, although WW seems to have had the best long-term track record.

For me, I find I don't need to watch my calories when I'm getting about 90 minutes of exercise a day (about 1 hour work out and various bits of walking). When do check the calories, I find I eat less when I'm exercising regularly (and drink less and sleep better). It seems to be a simple matter of improved outlook - I find I'm rarely feeling depressed when I get that much exercise.

Perhaps this is why programs work for some and not others, or sometimes work and sometimes don't for the same people. If the program helps improve your mood by measurably bringing down your weight without making you feel deprived, then you are likely to succeed with it. If it's not working soon enough, or you are just too depressed about your weight, stressed about your job or otherwise not mentally upbeat, you're not likely to succeed.

Posted by: drmary | February 3, 2010 7:35 AM | Report abuse

I'm 78 years old, and I recently lost 130 pounds of blubber through a somewhat severe regimen of reduced claories and exercise, and I'm now roughly as lean and as strong as I was at age 22 after a three-uear stint in the infantry.

But exactly why I was able to contain my raging appetite and my aversion to exercise this time around and largely failed to do so before with a similar regimen is a mystery to me.

I must at least tentatively conclude that it was largely a matter of good luck.

Posted by: YondCassius | February 3, 2010 7:53 AM | Report abuse

At this point, I've lost 37 lbs since September 2009 from a morbidly obese high of 383. I still have a long way to go. I'm doing it by just cutting back in general and limiting sweets and fried foods. I don't believe that any food is bad just use high caloric foods sparingly. My motivation was simple. I was told to lose weight or die. Very good motivator.

Posted by: georgettec28 | February 3, 2010 8:19 AM | Report abuse

I went on my own diet which I named "The eat less diet". It consisted of smaller portions, less meat and dairy, more fruits and vegetables, fewer restaurant meals, and no desert. Not all that hard and it really worked. I lost 30 pounds in about 9 months.

Posted by: bruce18 | February 3, 2010 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Up until having my first child I was always thin & semi-athletic, but after my first child my weight went up over 200 pounds & I went up and down between 170-210 pounds for 17 years & two more children. I have tried every "diet" there is and even hired a personal trainer and was working out 6 to 7 hours a week and still the scale would not go past 188 pounds and I was still a size 14.

When I was back at 204 pounds a friend introduced me to a Nutritional Cleansing program that I have been on for the last 6 months and I am now 166 pounds (as of this morning)& in a size 8. I have never felt better in my life! For the first time I understand why I couldn't drop the pounds & now have something that I can maintain the rest of my life without feeling deprived or having to exercise myself to death.

Posted by: girlfridaycda | February 3, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

I would highly encourage you to pursue something that encourages a healthy lifestyle as something that will help you to lose weight. I think the pursuit of health happens to result in weight loss, if that is what you want.
I use a free online food journal at www.nutrimirror.com. I strongly recommend it, and can guarantee it would be an enlightening experience. This is not a gimmick. If you put the time into it, it will work for you too!

Posted by: kellybeaudoin | February 3, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

There’s an interesting post over at the Health Journal Club that makes the case that people should just not eat anything that wasn’t a food 100 years ago. Gets rid of the aspartame, bleached GM flour, high fructose corn syrup garbage they try to pass off as food these days. If interested you can read on it here,

http://healthjournalclub.blogspot.com/

Posted by: LincolnsWisdom | February 3, 2010 9:06 PM | Report abuse

I'm almost 57. I've been on every diet known to humankind. I gave up on them because they seemed to slowly but surely, one step skinnier, two steps fatter, ratchet up my weight. So when I heard people on the Oprah show say they had done Dr. Oz's YOU on a diet say they lost weight without suffering feelings of deprivation I didn't believe them. Well, I've come to discover, they were right. I have lost over a hundred pounds. I wii fit plus strength train about an hour every other day and when the weather is good I walk an hour aerobically every other day. I feel better and look better than I have since I was a teenager.

You can lose weight on ANY diet. The question is, which diet can you 'enjoyably' live with for the rest of your life? For me, it's the Oz way or no way. I think I'd be a fan of volumetrics too. Bottom line: really healthy foods, large volume, high fiber, high flavor, reasonable amounts of healthy fats daily... (cause without enough fat your body holds onto it's fat and that's a real life diet nightmare), and track calorie intake and burn at a site like the daily plate. Every empty calorie you eat is a calorie your body will crave to be fed with real nutrition before the day is out. I haven't eaten a twinkie since 2007.

One last thought, if you don't track your calories, I'll kiss your elbow if you're not either eating too many calories to lose weight or too LITTLE fat to lose weight. One or the other!

Posted by: lolliedotcom | February 6, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

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