Post-holiday dieters urged to avoid special weight loss programs

By Justin Boron

The aftermath of holiday fever may be a few extra pounds. But dieting may not be the answer, say local fitness experts and a study of several weight-loss programs.

Instead of resorting to extreme diets, Henry County residents looking for fitness should embrace healthy eating styles and a workout routine, said James Viar, the owner of three Gold's Gyms, in Ellenwood, Eagle's Landing and McDonough.

"Diets are atrocious," he said. "Fat diets – throw them out the window. They do not work."

A review of 10 of the nation's most popular weight-loss programs came to a similar conclusion.

The study, published Tuesday by Annals of Internal Medicine, found insufficient evidence to support the claims many of them make about helping people shed pounds and keep them off.

Of the programs researchers examined, only Weight Watchers had strong documentation that it worked – with one study showing that participants lost around 5 percent (about 10 pounds) of their initial weight in six months and kept off about half of it two years later.

The success is a rarity, Viar said.

"[Many] people that diet, gain the [weight] or more than the weight back in one year or less," he said.

However, the researchers who conducted the review published Tuesday stressed that the lack of scientific evidence should not be viewed as an attack on diet programs.

"We hope that doctors and patients will use this information to make more informed decisions," said Thomas Wadden, a University of Pennsylvania weight-loss expert and the study's co-author.

One of the weight-loss programs reviewed in the recent study was Jenny Craig Inc., which typically provides prepared meals and diet and exercise counseling.

Lisa Talamini, chief nutritionist for the company, based in Carlsbad, Calif., said Jenny Craig will soon start a large study of the sort urged by the review authors.

She also cited a recent analysis by The Cooper Institute, a research organization that focuses on exercise, that found people who followed Jenny Craig for a year lost 15 percent, or an average of 22 pounds, of their initial body weight.

But Carol Stringer, a registered dietician at the Henry Medical Center, said Jenny Craig does not teach behavior modification, putting its clients at risk to gain the weight back.

"It doesn't teach you how to eat for yourself," she said.

Viar said regaining weight creates a higher propensity for obesity because the cycle of weight-loss removes muscle tissue that does not return after a person puts back on the pounds.

After losing 10 pounds, a dieter may drop about three pounds of muscle, he said.

But if the person puts back on the weight after about a year, they just get ten pounds of fat back, he said.

"You have gotten fatter and less lean muscle," Viar said.

Another dieting detriment can be cost.

About 45 million Americans diet each year and spend $1 billion to $2 billion per year on weight-loss programs.

Gold Gym-member Sonia Kindle, 39, said she has dropped of the dieting train even though it did produce some results.

"Cardio is what I needed and the toning, you're not going to get from dieting," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.