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To Diet Or Not to Diet


There are about 171 days until swimsuit weather. A subtle reminder as you reach for that fourth piece of fudge, feeling invincible in your new cable-knit sweater and stretch pants.

It is the time of year when people are dusting off resolution lists. Inevitably, shedding some extra poundage is right up there at the top of the list, nestled between "keeping checkbook balanced" and "achieving world peace."

Long gone are the days when dieting was called "reducing," which simply meant trimming the crusts from bread or not eating after 8 p.m.

Today, there are more weight loss programs than flavors of Haagen Dazs ice cream.

In addition to the big fish-- Weight Watchers, Nutri/System, Optifast, North County-based Jenny Craig, and the Diet Center--there are the small fry, locally grown services such as hypnotherapy.

North County's weight control businesses are tucked between weddings and weed control supplies in the phone book. Some have rather furtive-sounding phone messages that neither mention the name of the business nor provide any information. It would be anyone's guess if they had reached a weight loss clinic or a pizzeria.

As if that weren't bad enough, many are right next door to establishments that specialize in artery-clogging cuisine. Consider the Weight Watchers center located next to a Square Pan Pizza, or the Diet Center that practically shares office space with a Donut Haven. Perhaps worst of all is the Nutri/System center in San Diego that is just a stone's throw from a Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlor and an Incredible Cheesecake Co.

More than 65 million American adults are overweight and about 20% of children between the ages of 6 and 18 are obese, according to the National Institutes of Health in Washington. The modern business of weight reduction encompasses everything from consuming liquid shakes, vitamin supplements and freeze-dried foods to undergoing hypnotherapy and acupuncture.

The thorny news is that about 95% of the people who have gone on these programs have gained back the weight they lost within two years, said Dr. Wayne Callaway, an endocrinologist and member of the current Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for the USDA. Also, 60% of the people who enroll in a weight loss program drop out after the first six weeks.

Still, there seems to be no shortage of programs or people longing to be thinner.

We checked out eight of the weight control programs available in North County. Although the programs provide information on the weight loss of participants, none offer statistics on their clients' long-term success.


The largest established Optifast program in North County is at Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside. In the past 3 1/2 years, participants have lost a total of 5 1/2 tons on the liquid supplement program there.

Medically supervised, Optifast provides less than 500 calories a day, meted out in chocolate, vanilla, cherry or orange-flavored shakes. Participants drink only these shakes for 12 weeks before going into a maintenance phase where food is reintroduced.

Through all of this, participants attend weekly support groups and behavioral modification and nutrition education classes. Each weekly class is about three hours and includes a weigh-in, private consultation with a nutritionist and the group meeting.

Optifast is for people with at least 50 pounds to lose, or who are at least 30% above ideal body weight. By setting up a fasting metabolism, the program enables women to lose 3 to 4 pounds a week and men to lose 5 to 6 pounds a week without experiencing plateaus.

Disadvantages include possible temporary hair loss, intolerance to cold during the liquid-only phase and problems adapting to real food after the liquid-only phase.

Enrollment cost is about $300, which includes a complete physical and lab work done by Optifast physicians. Monthly fees, which include the liquid shakes, are $450 to $500. Some insurance plans cover or help defray program costs.


One of this program's big advantages is how easy it is to follow. Popping a freeze-dried entree into the microwave or boiling a pot of water is about as difficult as it gets.

The program employs about 1,000 calories a day and there are no vitamins or supplements. Fresh fruits and vegetables from the grocery store are incorporated with the packaged foods, which some dietitians say makes for an easier re-entry into the "real food" world after the diet.

A free initial consultation revolves mainly around a computerized analysis. After punching in such data as your weight, height and measurements, the computer can tell you to the day just how quickly you can expect to become a svelte swan if you follow the program faithfully. The average weight loss is between 2 and 2 1/2 pounds a week.

Following its high-tech, polished image, all of the counselors wear white lab coats and white clothes and name tags. Nutri/System is not a medically supervised program, however.

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