TARZANA — Name a diet and Jody Keeler, a Van Nuys legal assistant, has tried it. She loaded her shopping cart with pineapples on the Beverly Hills diet, dined on little boxed meals on Jenny Craig, sipped "shakes" on a liquid fast, mixed and matched menu items on the food combination diet and selected from "exchange lists" on Weight Watchers.
With each fad diet and commercial program, Keeler quickly dropped 10 or 15 pounds--and gained them back even faster. The dial on her bathroom scale inched past 300 pounds--and at one point reached 350.
Then two years ago, a co-worker told Keeler about Encino-Tarzana Medical Center's Weight Treatment Program. It didn't sound much like a diet.
For one thing, participants are told it's OK to snack on an occasional Snickers bar, ice cream cone or piece of pie. No one gets on a scale. And, get this--the group often holds meetings at delis, pancake houses and fast-food places.
Keeler signed up. Within a year she dropped more than 160 pounds. Her dress size shrunk from a 26 to a 10. "I have never weighed this low in my life," she said.
Although Keeler's situation was extreme, she has plenty of good company in her struggles with weight. Experts estimate 65 million people in the United States--including 60% of all women--are constantly dieting. American consumers spend more than $30 billion a year on weight-loss products and programs. But despite the nation's dieting obsession, about one in five Americans is overweight.
Diets fail, according to psychotherapist Debbie Rehman Lux, program director of the Weight Treatment Program, because they are usually restrictive and impractical.
"Diets try to change the location, time and quantity of food you eat," she said. "But there is nothing wrong with volume eating, eating dinner standing over a sink or eating mashed potatoes or bagels at 2 a.m. You don't have to depend on frozen foods or grapefruit and lettuce."
Rather than advocating a particular diet, Rehman Lux teaches participants about fat and calories, so they can make their own decisions about what to eat.
"We learn how to fill up with stuff we like," said Edward Scott, executive producer of the "The Young and the Restless" daytime TV serial, who dropped 20 pounds since joining the program last year. "I like barbecue, so now I have barbecued chicken instead of steak, and I put fat-free ranch dressing on my baked potato. If I want pie, I scoop the fruit filling out and don't eat the crust. I am full, I am happy, and I am losing weight."
Since dining out is a fact of life for many people, Rehman Lux teaches participants to analyze menus, and meetings are often held at local restaurants.
At a recent gathering at an Italian eatery, the group chatted about hobbies, jobs and kids, while they munched on pizza and twirled spaghetti around their forks. They looked like any after-work crowd--except for the food scales, calorie books and measuring cups strewn around the table.
Rehman Lux flitted among the diners, challenging them to guess the number of calories in a bread stick or glass of wine.
She held up a small dinner salad and pointed out that it packs a walloping 350 calories when topped with a few tablespoons of dressing, but the hearty vegetable soup contains only about 75 calories a cup. Even pasta is a pretty good deal with about 400 calories for a typical restaurant serving.
No food is off-limits.
"There is no such thing as a 'bad' food," Rehman Lux said. "Many dieters feel so bad if they eat a cookie that they say, 'I already blew it; I might as well keep eating.' But a cookie is not bad, it is just a cookie. We remove the shame and embarrassment associated with eating."
Getting rid of the guilt was the most important factor in Keeler's success.
"I learned to take the emotions out of food," she said. "Before, if I didn't stick to my diet 100%, I would think I failed. Here, no one puts any judgments on me, no one weighs me. . . .But they did educate me. I still eat everything on my plate, but I learned to eat low-fat choices. And if I want a piece of cake or an ice cream cone, I have one, and I don't feel bad."
Where and When
What: The Weight Treatment Program.
Location: Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center, 16237 Ventura Blvd., Encino.
Hours: Group meets Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings.
Price: $100 a month.
Call: (818) 995-5478.