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RELUCTANT NOVICE

Winning at Losing : Visiting a dietitian results in a custom diet--cookies included--and inspiring words.

March 11, 1994|CINDY LaFAVRE YORKS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Cindy LaFavre Yorks writes regularly for The Times

Like many overweight Americans, I'm trying to wake up and smell the tofu, even if I'd rather have an Egg McMuffin. The extra pounds I've gained over 10 years of marriage are an unwelcome albatross around my neck, even if most of them have, ahem, settled elsewhere on my endomorphic frame. I have a file full of diet recipes and a pantry full of artificial sweetener. But my submission to Mrs. Fields, among other temptations, always seems to get in the way of permanent progress.

Having tried the liquid diet route without lasting success (like Oprah), I decide to try nutrition counseling. A good friend of mine lost 77 pounds and has kept it off for five years through exercise and counseling. She tells me the best way to get my money's worth is to seek out a registered dietitian. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, but a registered dietitian has a bachelor's degree. They are also required to intern for six months to a year at a teaching hospital. Look for the R.D. accreditation after their name.

I make an appointment with Joan Levinthal, a registered dietitian in Woodland Hills with 15 years experience. Until our appointment, she asks me to keep a list of the foods I eat for two weekdays and one weekend day, and note if my eating habits vary on Saturday or Sunday.

She also asks me to write down foods I like to eat and list any medications taken regularly, including vitamins.

This sounds easy enough. However, on the day I begin the list I find myself trying to eat only sensible foods to impress her. Even this pressure doesn't completely curb temptation, though. I still want my cookies and, agonizing with pen to paper, record each and every one.

Finally, after two days of recording my meals, I head to Woodland Hills for my consultation. I down a submarine sandwich and a Diet Coke as I drive. I park my car as I dust the bread crumbs off of my blouse. Popping in a mint to offset possible onion breath, I catch sight of the dietitian's personalized license plate: Diets 4 U. I prepare to say hello tofu and goodby pizza.

Levinthal ushers me into her office, and I am seated near her desk equipped with a computer terminal. Behind me is a table of healthy packaged foods such as butter substitutes and sweeteners. We chitchat a moment, and she works up to the dreaded question: How much do I weigh? My mind races. Do I give her my driver's license weight or the real thing?

I come clean with the truth. She then says, "Would you mind stepping on the scale?" Oh no! How can I tell her to subtract at least two pounds for my lunch? Onto her hospital-style scale I hop. YIKES! I am seven pounds heavier than I thought. I express some surprise, and think of blaming at least some of it on my lunch, but decide to let sleeping subs lie.

Levinthal explains that the only way to achieve weight loss success is to write down personal reasons for wanting to lose and posting them in critical places--on the refrigerator, in a car, at a desk. Friends and family should be supportive as well, she says, by laying off the greasy potato chips and slippery barbecued ribs. I nod, wondering how to explain this to my Fred Flintstone of a husband who knows our butcher by his first name and owns a monogrammed meat brand.

I admit to her that vanity is my primary motivation: I want to look better in my clothes. Levinthal seems pleased with my reasons and comments that they are positive goals, unlike losing weight for a concerned doctor.

She then asks to see the list of foods I like. When she sees kung pao chicken on it, she says she believes that the popular Chinese dish has as much fat in it as four Quarter Pounders from McDonalds. Ouch! Much to my surprise, however, she does not lecture me about my cookie addiction. She then calls up a program on her computer and punches out a personalized three-day diet for me that includes several of my favorite foods--popcorn, meatless burgers and even cookies! I am amazed not only at the foods in the diet but the amount of food I can eat--four times a day--and still keep my intake at 1,350 calories.

But the amount of some of the foods is significantly less than I normally eat. And the cookies I am allowed are not those I would normally buy. While the diet won't be painless, it doesn't sound unreasonable, either. I tell her I think I can do it, and she looks at me with confidence and says, "Of course you can." Hearing that helps me to believe it.

We wrap up the hour with a quick discussion about some of the fat and sugar substitutes available, many of which she has free samples to distribute to clients. I take home a plastic bag full of goodies including butter substitutes and a folder with my diet in it.

Levinthal's introductory one-hour consultation with diet program is $60. She recommends weekly visits for support in the first month, tapering off to bimonthly visits until an individual's goal is reached. Follow-up visits cost $30 each.

Like any dieter, I realize my battle is an uphill one. And while Molly McButter isn't exactly fabulous, I bet it tastes delicious if you eat it wearing a bikini.

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