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Slim Hopes : Bizarre Diets, Silly Widgets--Anything to Shed Holiday Heft

December 24, 1988|PATRICK MOTT | Patrick Mott is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

After having to face a holiday season laden with fruitcake, Christmas cookies, sugary frosting, rum punch, Rice Krispies squares, sticky mulled wine, cinnamon buns, fudge brownies, Gummi Bears, lollipops, heavy gravy, honey-roasted cashews, caramel-coated popcorn balls and chocolate-covered everything, Diane Humrich could easily have been forgiven for embracing any bit of quick and easy dieting advice that came her way.

The miracle weight-loss tip she got, however, was something less than scientific. She was told to hug a few trees.

Several years ago, Humrich said, at a dimly remembered dieting seminar, the speaker suggested that "if you felt like eating, you should go out and hug trees, get back to nature, become more involved in life. The way it was expressed was rather funny to a person who would rather eat than hug trees."

She decided to give the idea a pass.

Humrich, who lives in Costa Mesa, finally found a strategy that worked--she said she has lost 93 pounds on the Weight Watchers program--but for millions of weight-conscious holiday party hoppers, the final weeks of each year painfully illustrate the basic yin and yang of conspicuous holiday consumption: Indulge in December, bulge in January.

So, in an often-frantic effort to carve off the external manifestation of a 1-month buildup of internal yummies, legions of festive feeders become diet Ninjas when the New Year arrives.

There is more than a little madness in some of the dieters' methods, however. Often, those in search of the perfect, speedy, simple, magical diet that will miraculously melt away the evil holiday pounds embark on regimens that are odd at best.

Kathleen Roberto, a county spokeswoman for Weight Watchers, said those who enroll in the program have often embarked previously on such quirky regimens as:

Suspending themselves upside down to "displace their fat."

"The Astrologer's Diet," which promoted different foods for each sign of the zodiac.

Dressing in a suit filled with crushed ice, supposedly to increase the wearer's metabolic rate.

"The 120-Year Diet" and "The Philosopher's Diet" (or "How to Lose Weight and Change the World").

Wearing a headband that is supposed to promote negative thoughts about food.

Using a fork that lights up "when too much food is placed on it."

Supposedly flaying off the fat with a device known as the Mea Culpa Flagellator. According to Roberto, the mail-order device is supposed to "reduce cellulite in 3 minutes a day," but she said she didn't know how the flagellator worked.

All these schemes have one thing in common, county diet professionals said: They don't work. At least they don't work permanently, and therein lies the great holiday dieting paradox, an apparent inverse relationship between hard work and weight loss. The more frantic your efforts to lose holiday weight, the slimmer the chance is that you'll actually do it.

Eating tofu because you were born under the sign of Pisces or clunking around in a jumpsuit filled with crushed ice may help you knock off a couple of quick pounds. But, the diet pros said, because dieters locked into such regimens are often miserable in the process--and learn no new, more healthful eating behaviors--they are almost certain to gain back the weight quickly.

The formula that works? Eat less, eat right, exercise. And do it all the time.

"The worst thing people can do," said Vince Brantley, operations manager of the California Coast Club, a health club in Irvine, "is to do something inconsistently, to try this for a little while and then try that for a little while. The body needs to know what you're going to do to it.

"I tell people to eat like they were pregnant. Pregnant women generally feel pretty good because they eat properly--four or five small meals throughout the day, which makes their metabolism work all day long. If people would just stay with that and a good exercise routine, they'd see results."

Still, such a disarmingly simple solution isn't nearly as attractive to many Christmas party animals as, say, the lose-10-pounds-in-3-days diet that Pamela Daniels of Orange once tried. Daniels, who is enrolled now in a weight-control program at Diet Center in Orange, said the quickie diet she tried during a previous holiday season involved "eating beets every day, and I hate beets. I had to force myself. And you also have to eat steak every day at dinner. It was supposed to be a combination of chemicals that made you lose. I lost a couple of pounds, but I gained them right back in 3 days."

Nancy Langton of Santa Ana, another Diet Center client, said that during one holiday season she began a "miracle soup" diet that was guaranteed to melt pounds off like magic. The soup, she said, was a basic vegetable soup, "but you had to eat it all day long. It was torture."

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