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Living the Food Life: Part 2 - Their Plates

June 16, 2013
By GLYNIS VALENTI - Staff Writer ( , Times Leader

Weight loss is a multi-billion dollar industry and yet, according to the Center for Disease Control, more than one-third (35.7 percent) of American adults are considered obese. In Ohio, the obesity rate is 29.6 and in West Virginia 32.4. About two-thirds of American adults are overweight.

How can this be? What feeds the weight loss industry is human nature. "Dieting" is restrictive, and the results are temporary. People may be able to lose 10, 25 or even 50 pounds or more, but the real results are in maintaining that lower weight and lifestyle. This is how many weight losers become "yo-yo" dieters. The initial weight is lost, but old habits return, the weight quietly creeps back, the dieter (now a few years older) returns to the diet plan and struggles a bit more with the effort. Sadly, if one isn't exercising regularly, the subsequent weight gain is in fat and changes the body's composition. Once the new pounds are lost, they are most often gained again, and the cycle repeats over and over.

As most people have become more educated about crash diets since the 1980s, weight loss companies have adjusted their programs toward the lifestyle approach rather than dropping pounds a.s.a.p. Three companies - Medifast, Nutrisystem and Weight Watchers - have developed their own, albeit similar, strategies for helping people achieve weight loss goals. All three have been in business for more than 30 years and have evolved with medical, food and audience trends.

Article Photos

Nutrisystem, Medifast and Weight Watchers all include at least one meal per day that includes
vegetables or fruits. Nutrisytem and Medifast give members a list of recommended items, while Weight Watchers allows as many fruits and
vegetables as the dieter wants, assigning 0 points to them toward the daily count.

Medifast (www.medifast1. com) touts its 70 "nutrient dense, low-calorie, low-fat, low-glycemic meal replacements" on its clean, clinical-inspired website. Days are based around a "5+1 Plan" consisting of five of their prepackaged meals and one "Lean & Green" meal that the dieter prepares. All of the Medifast meals contain 24 vitamins and minerals, two types of fiber and approximately equal amounts of carbohydrates and protein. Since the meals contain no more than one teaspoon of sugar each, and they are eaten every two to three hours, Medifast says the plan is safe for diabetics, though it recommends discussing the plan with a doctor before beginning.

For the "Lean & Green" meal - breakfast, lunch or dinner - the dieter is allowed five to seven ounces of lean protein, three servings of vegetables and two servings of healthy fats from a list provided on the website.

In fact, Medifast provides many tools and guides through the website. There is a printable diet journal to keep track of meals and activity. They offer printable PDF guides for "Dining Out," "Exercise," "Vegetarian," "Teens," "Gout," "Events" and using Coumadin with the plan, among other topics. An 87-page PDF on "Product Nutrition Details" should answer most questions about what foods are gluten-free or contain peanut, soy, milk and other ingredients for special diets.

Dieters stay with the "5+1" until reaching their weight loss goals then a "Transition" phase begins where, over six weeks, dieters add more calories and servings of various food groups and move away from the pre-packaged meals. The last phase is "Maintenance" with individual plans for keeping the weight off and healthy recipes.

A package of 140 meals (enough for 28 days) costs $339. Dieters can order a pre-selected "favorites" package or ones in "gluten free," "no prep" or "chocolate lover's." Be aware that the serving of Medifast Cheese Puffs and products like it are considered a meal, though all of the packaged foods contain similar nutritional value and use a lot of whey protein isolate, found in body-building preparations.

Nutrisystem ( is also based on the low-glycemic carbs with lean protein regimen and six meals per day. The diet offers 70 percent less of the added sugar and 50 percent of the sodium found in the American diet. It does not use saccharin, aspartame, MSG or trans fats. Plans are determined by using the online or phone consultants who can recommend meals and six servings of grocery items that dieters need to put together six meals per day. The company's strategy involves portion control, meal planning and increasing activity.

They offer 150 food choices in plans for women, men, vegetarians and seniors and have a gourmet and frozen food program called "Select" with choices developed by professional chefs. Members can access online and mobile versions of progress trackers for calories, goals and activities. In addition the site holds online classes with registered dietitians and offers daily tips and phone counselors.

Twenty-eight days of breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert are available through the "auto delivery" option ranging from $230 for the Basic to $320 for the Select programs. Meals are available on a month-to-month basis but range from $310 to $500 for 28 days.

Weight Watchers ( is the oldest of these three programs and was built on its weekly informational support meetings with members. The latest version of the plan, the "360 degrees" using the "PointsPlus System," has dieters tracking their food through point values, tracking activities for extra points, making their environments more conducive to weight loss by removing temptations and encouraging new routines that become automatic.

Members begin with a weigh-in and consultation that calculates their points allotments based on weight loss goals. The allotments change as the dieters lose pounds. This program also encourages dieters to prepare their own meals with company published cookbooks that lay out the points for each recipe. Under the new system fruits and vegetables are 0 points, therefore unlimited servings daily, and dieters have a discretionary 49 points per week to use as they like. There are some pre-packaged items available, though, and Weight Watchers produces the Smart Ones line of frozen foods.

At a recent meeting in St. Clairsville, members laughed, shared with and encouraged each other as they discussed June's lesson (eat breakfast every day) and talked about handling emotional eating. Each gets a weekly mini-magazine with tips, a recipe and helpful articles. Company statistics show that those who attend the meetings lose an average of 50 percent more weight than those who don't.

Leader Amber Snider, who joined in 2001 and lost 60 pounds, says the average person makes 200 food choices per day which is why so many people find it difficult to diet and maintain successfully. Weight Watchers tries to address hedonic hunger - hunger that starts with an influence like a television commercial and develops into an urge to eat. They try to give members the tools and education to make better choices and meet their goals. She adds that these principles apply to everyone.

"Our members come from all walks of life and are all ages. I've heard a 20-something talking to a 70 year old about items they found at the grocery store," she notes. "We've all had bad weeks. We've all gained and lost and gained - because we're human. This is like a family. It's very cool."

St. Clairsville members echo her enthusiasm and say they've joined because the environment is so positive and supportive, not to mention the program's variety of food choices, and feel that it works for them.

"It's really been wonderful," one member adds. "You eat well, have more energy and you don't starve."

Weight Watchers offers online assistance such as counseling, 3,800 recipes, a list of 161,000 food options and tracking food, weight and activities. A mobile app is also available. The E-Tools package costs $14.95 per month. The program itself has various levels. There is a registration fee of $20. Meeting-goers can pay by the week (around $12) or by the month (around $40.) Online-only membership is less expensive. No food is included in any membership. There are also workout DVDs, serving size spoons, the cookbooks, gadgets and other items for sale.

Cautions about these three programs in particular include Medifast's significantly low calories in the first few weeks of the program. notes that the program is best monitored by a doctor and that dieters may feel hungry, irritable and have headaches during the first few days. Nutrisystem warns that its program is not for anyone under age 18 (though they have a separate program for teens), nursing or pregnant women, those with eating disorders or people on special diets because of food allergies.

At least two of the diets suggest drinking no-calorie beverages like diet sodas and powdered soft drinks, which contain artificial sweeteners that have not only been proven to increase hunger but could be linked to allergies and illnesses. The pre-packaged foods, even with the companies' claims of "no preservatives," do contain some ingredients that are genetically modified or derived from GMOs.

Finally, while WebMD's evaluations of these diets rated them all effective in providing weight loss services, something to keep in mind with commercial diets is illustrated on the Nutrisystem website: "With the addition of an exclusive contract with the QVC network in 2001, Nutrisystem earned an even larger presence within the weight loss industry, and now boasts superior earnings and increased brand awareness through this favorable affiliation." According to a report by ABC News, celebrities pitching these programs are paid between $500,000 and $3 million for their endorsements.

People who want to lose weight should research thoroughly or consult a doctor before embarking on any weight loss program. Keep in mind that no programs are as easy as commercials and websites lead one to believe, and the mission is to capitalize on dieters' dreams. Whatever the program, it is always up to the dieter's drive and dedication to realize those dreams.

The next article will discuss diets that eliminate food groups.



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