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5 Diets, the take-aways: How our 5 staffers managed, and what comes next

The five dieters , from left: Food and Dining editor Joe Yonan, Local Living editor Kendra Nichols, food critic Tom Sietsema, deputy Food editor Bonnie S. Benwick and sportswriter Adam Kilgore. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

A month ago, five Post staffers embarked on a 30-day diet, each looking for a way to reset their eating habits. Now, they’re turning the page, but this is much more than a tidy endpoint: It’s the beginning of making their new, healthy habits stick.

This month-long challenge wasn’t a contest per se, and there is no one winner; all the staffers made their chosen plans work for them, and each has good results to show for it. Collectively they’ve freed themselves from unhealthy habits and adopted positive ones; they have been enjoying more nutritious foods and less hyper-processed, sugary stuff; they have been eating more sensible amounts more mindfully; and they feel better and have lost weight.

But, predictably, life also got in the way of some of the goals they set — with house moves, IRS audits, traffic jams, travel and irresistible parties interfering with their best intentions. I spoke with each of them to get their main take-aways from this diet experiment, and help them strategize all-important next steps. I also managed to convince them to let me check in with them next January to see how they have fared a year later.

If you started a diet on Jan. 1 like they did, or otherwise made resolutions to live healthier, this is an invitation to pause, reflect on your successes and, perhaps, dreams dashed over the past month and recalibrate your plan so you can keep moving forward. Hopefully, the insights shared here will inspire and inform your own next steps.

Kendra Nichols (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Kendra’s wise words to those thinking about the Whole30 diet is to be smart about planning when to start. For her, this challenge was smack in the middle of a move, making it more stressful and difficult than it otherwise would have been. Being between homes and unable to locate the right cookware amid all the boxes, she found it nearly impossible to achieve one of her main personal goals: trying an array of new recipes. She also told me she was “crankier than usual,” to the point where her co-workers dubbed her diet persona “Whole30 Kendra.” But she admirably stuck it out, and lost 9 pounds in the process. Along the way she learned, among other things, that it suits her to eat a hearty breakfast so she isn’t hungry again until lunchtime, and that she can live happily without a vending-machine sugar fix or the 20-ounce diet soda she had been drinking daily.

Kendra has done Whole30 before, and does well with a strict set of rules to follow. The downside has been that when the diet is over, she is left rudderless and winds up returning to her old habits. Last time she did Whole30 she skipped the reintroduction phase (in which you gradually add back the forbidden foods) and went straight to cake. This time she is thinking more long-term. She’s going to view the suggested reintroduction as an extension of the rules, following the specific 10-day transition the book offers. Even more, “I’m going to make myself a little rule book” to follow thereafter. This personal, formalized structure will go a long way toward helping Kendra achieve what she called her ultimate goal: “making moderation the new normal.”

Tom Sietsema, who prefers anonymity. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Tom sees food though a somewhat different lens after following the Weight Watchers program for the past month. The plan “makes you aware of the consequences of different choices,” he says. Having been allotted 36 points a day, Tom quickly learned that some foods, like what became his go-to snack, almonds and clementines, offer more satisfaction for fewer points than, say, peanut butter-filled pretzels. And that sometimes you have to choose between a cupcake and a second glass of wine.

While he won’t continue to track his points, he says, “Doing it a full month, it gets drilled into you. . . . Now I know what to do.” Besides making smarter choices, he also knows that exercise is a key component, and he is committed to keeping it up regularly.

He also knows it’s okay to go off the rails a bit once in a while. Confronted with some fabulous restaurant meals (as he frequently will be as the Post’s food critic) and a once-in-a-lifetime charity event, he indulged, but even did that mindfully, choosing oysters instead of prosciutto and staying conscientious about portions. In alignment with the Weight Watchers philosophy, he says: “You can splurge — just get back on track right after. Enjoy it, mindfully, then forget about it. Don’t feel guilty.” Sure, Tom could have lost even more than seven pounds this month without those splurges, but I believe the experience of being able to get back on track, and the knowledge that you can continue toward your goal weight and indulge, is an even more valuable achievement in the long run.

Joe Yonan. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Joe is the only one of the five who plans to continue his diet indefinitely, a testament both to the flexibility of Budda’s Diet — with its only limitation a nine-hour time-window for eating — and Joe’s balanced approach to it. I worried he would be weak from hunger at his morning workout (so he could eat a later dinner) or eat a 5 p.m. dinner alone at his desk rather than with his significant other, or get pulled over for speeding and try to explain to the officer that he had to rush home to eat on time. But although Joe did skip eating before his workouts, he felt fine doing it, and although he had to pass on grabbing a late bowl of ramen with friends one night, he found it easy enough to plan ahead so as not to sacrifice the social pleasures of mealtime. His sage advice: “The overarching philosophy is to have a mindful relationship with food, so don’t get too anxious about a few minutes here or there. The worst thing would be to let the deadline make you scarf your food down.”

In the past 30 days, he has broken the habit of mindlessly munching after dinner, has realized he doesn’t have to grab for food at the slightest twinge of hunger and has lost five pounds. “I couldn’t have done this without tea,” he says. Tea helped slow his pace and calm him as he sipped, and because it is allowed outside the nine-hour window as long as it doesn’t have sweeteners or milk.

Another key strategy was preparing food ahead, stocking his refrigerator on the weekends with “building block ingredients such as blanched and roasted vegetables,” so he could quickly pull meals together on the weekdays. Once Joe reaches his goal weight (he has another 25 or so pounds to go), his maintenance plan is to add a second “cheat day.” From what I can tell, Joe has landed on a sustainable way of life that fits him perfectly.

Bonnie S. Benwick. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Bonnie is officially “sold on soup.” “The words ‘soup diet’ sound a little crazy,” she says, “ but it’s a food that everyone should eat every week — it’s a good go-to.” This month has helped Bonnie reach her main goals of eating more vegetables and getting portions in check. At first she worried the soups wouldn’t be enough, but found the opposite to be true. (The volume of vegetable-based soups and the fact that their heat slows you down make them especially filling.) The big takeaway is her realization that she can be satisfied without overeating, and she now is more in touch with how food makes her feel. She also has stopped eating past 9 p.m.

Her long-range plan is to make soup every week so she always has it on hand. She is also going to pay attention to how she feels as she eats, savoring slowly, and tuning into her level of satiety rather than continuing to eat just because her mouth wants more. Bonnie wasn’t weighing herself this month, but she recently bought a scale so she can track her weight as an incentive and an indicator — and if she gets off track, she will do another week of the SouperGirl “Cleanse” to reorient her. She also has an exciting event to inspire her to maintain these healthy changes: her son’s wedding in October.

Adam Kilgore. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

The notion that you can “slip up and then move on” gives Adam’s plan the potential for longevity. He did that a few times this month, with restaurant meals and vacations that drove him off-plan. But his core changes — focusing on healthful whole foods, limiting alcohol and exercising more — still led the way, and he has dropped 16 pounds as a result. His positive attitude of embracing the good choices you are making rather than yearning for what you are missing also goes a long way toward his success.

Adam told me that the realization that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing — that he can see results even if he dips off his plan here and there — gives him a good template for how to keep this going after April, when he typically returns to his weight-gaining spiral. I pressed him to come up with specific strategies to put into place at that time, and he outlined this sensible three-pronged approach: 1) weigh in at least once a week; 2) exercise at least twice a week; 3) avoid alcohol for at least two days a week. Adam’s overall advice to those embarking on a healthier way of life is simple but profound. It’s something we could all make our mantra year-round: “Whatever choice you are making, make it a good choice. Then do it again.”

5 Diets, the take-aways: How our 5 staffers managed, and what comes next


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Is intuitive eating the anti-diet to end all diets?

A diet where you eat what you want and stop counting calories sounds would surely lead to massive weight gain? Maybe not – if you eat intuitively.

Intuitive eating is a system thought up by US-based dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. The idea is to abandon the idea of dieting altogether and take a long-term, rational view towards food and nourishment. 

The official website explains the method enables a person to create a healthy relationship with their food, mind and body to “distinguish between physical and emotional feelings” and “gain a sense of body wisdom”.

This, admittedly, sounds a bit odd until you study the 10 eating principles. These include, perhaps most importantly, “rejecting the diet mentality” and latching onto plans that “offer false hope of losing weight quickly, easily and permanently”. “Honoring your hunger” and “making peace with food” by allowing you to understand that urges are natural and no longer labelling food as “good” or “bad”, which simply reinforces negativity and bad habits.

Balancing this is “respecting fullness”, and knowing to stop when you feel satisfied rather than stuffing yourself. It also teaches “honoring feelings without using food”, in order to find comfort outside of gorging on chips or cake. Intuitive eating also promotes healthy levels of exerciseThese sound simple, but for those chronically dieting these can be liberating statements. And these are approaches dieticians are well-versed in. 

Diets and constant restrictions don’t work partly because of our neuroscience. Our brains are trained to regard our current weight as the standard, and a drop in that is computed as the body going into starvation mode and try to get back to our previous weight. So we simply put the weight back on, and sometimes more. 

“Most nutrition professionals will discuss aspects of intuitive eating with their clients as it is generally accepted that this a good way for people to approach their nutrition as chronic dieting and sustained restriction are not recommended,” British Dietetic Association spokesman Rick Miller told The Independent

“In fact, some national dietary guidelines, such as Brazil, are placing more emphasis on the qualitative, intuitive principles of nutrition, for example how and whom we eat with, as well where we buy our food and how we prepare it, and less emphasis on the quantitative. For instance, how much, specific balances of nutrients such as fats, protein, carbohydrate. 

“People eat food, not nutrients,” he adds.

“It is positive in that this approach starts from the standpoint of the psychology and physiology of eating, which can provide a lot of comfort and perhaps answers for those who struggle to maintain a healthy weight in the past. The focus is on the ‘how’ to eat, removing the emphasis on body shape dissatisfaction and keeping active, rather than exactly ‘what’ to eat, promoting ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods, adding labels to foods such as ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ or promoting unrealistic changes in body shape.”

However, warns Miller, intuitive eating isn’t a magic bullet either. Of course it takes a certain amount of will-power. 

“I would be concerned if an individual with diagnosed medical concerns, such as diabetes, heart disease or other conditions, adopted this approach without seeking advice as it will not work in all instances, some personalisation and being specific amounts may be needed.

“Some at-risk groups such as pregnant women, young children, the elderly and those following a vegan or vegetarian diet should also have a slightly more prescriptive approach to ensure they meet their nutrient requirements.”

Miller explains that when he deals with his clients, he considers whether they have a positive relationship with food; if they are in touch with hunger signals; where they eat; and if they realise what they are eating. This enables him to tailor a specific diet. 

“There is no ideal diet and it completely depends on the person,” he explains. 

“Even if you take two individuals within the same remit as my nutrition speciality, sports performance nutrition,  with exactly the same goal – the advice and the foods they are advised to eat could be completely different. Everyone is built uniquely, have different medical concerns, perhaps food intolerances or their relationship with food and eating behaviours are influencing what they eat, so it must be personalised.”

His advice for anyone wanting to change their eating habits is to firstly ask themselves why they have chosen what they are eating. 

“Even this first step can help you understand what is driving you to choose certain foods and help you reestablish control and reduce the stress associated with eating.”

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Jackie Conn

Jackie Conn

Jackie Conn is married and has four grown daughters and four grandchildren. She is a Weight Watchers success story. She’s a weight loss expert with 25 years of experience guiding women and men to their weight-related goals. Her articles on weight management have been published in health, family and women’s magazines. She has been a regular guest on Channel 5 WABI news, FOX network morning program Good Day Maine and 207 on WCSH.

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Bay Area diet doctor peddles extreme weight loss, loses license – KGO

“Lose 30 pounds in 30 days,” sounds like an amazing diet, but a San Lorenzo doctor has lost his license in connection with the program after a state undercover investigation.

The diet involves eating just 500 calories a day, and that can be a serious shock to your system. The bottom line–make sure a doctor is directly overseeing your diet if you’re going to try something this extreme.

There is a connection between a medical office in San Lorenzo and a spa 400 miles away. People from both locations now have criminal convictions in connection with the A Slim Me diet plan.

“We had no clue that what we were doing was incorrect,” said Maryanne Kuzara who works on the program. “It tells the body to take every single nutrient that’s locked in the fat, flush it into the blood stream to be utilized.”

HCG is a hormone produced by the placenta during pregnancy, and in prescription form, it’s normally used for fertility treatments. The FDA has not approved HCG as a diet aide saying, “There is no substantial evidence that it increases weight loss,” and that they’ve received reports of “pulmonary embolism, depression, cerebrovascular issues, cardiac arrest and death” associated with HCG injections for dieting.

“Cause really, if you want to do a self-injection, we’ll do one today,” said Kuzara’s sister Therese Rickard, who was caught treating a patient on hidden camera.

When asked what the worst case scenario is in a situation like this, Cassandra Hockenson of the Medical Board of California said, “Somebody could have died.”

When the state medical board received a complaint about A Slim Me’s HCG program, they sent an undercover investigator.

The owner’s sister offered prescription HCG injections without a doctor having seen the patient, as required by law.

“An individual could be diabetic and they don’t know it and who’s checking, you know, I mean who’s looking at them to see if there’s more that they need, that’s why it’s so important,” Hockenson continued.

Investigators learned that the spa’s doctor lived 400 miles away in San Lorenzo. Allen Fujimoto, 83, declined to speak with us on camera, citing health issues. In his interview with investigators, he admitted training A Slim Me’s owner and her sister once in 2009 and that they purchased HCG using his license.

“They dispense the medication and then I sign it late,” he said.

Fujimoto also claimed he visited the spa every two months to review charges and that he rarely saw patients at A Slim Me during the past seven years.

The California medical board took away Fujimoto’s license, effective this past New Year’s Eve and he pled guilty to aiding and abetting an unlicensed practice of medicine. So did Kuzara. Her sister pled guilty to the unlicensed practice of medicine–all misdemeanors.

You would think a criminal conviction that brought a $1,000 fine, suspended jail sentence and three years of probation, Mary Anne Kuzara would be careful about how she runs her business now.

We asked an orange county woman to call A Slim Me for an HCG appointment just two-and-a-half weeks ago.

“And they said, ‘Okay, well the doctor will be in at 12.'”

When Taylor arrived, no doctor. She tells us it was Kuzara, who described the supposed benefits of HGC and then a physician’s assistant offered an injection right then and there.

“Other than him telling me he could inject me, that was like, the end of our conversation,” Taylor said.

Kuzara says she has a new doctor and that his assistant spoke with Taylor that day. If she had decided to go through with the injection the physician’s assistant would have done a more thorough medical exam.

“And that if they had decided to get on the program, he would have written them a prescription and he would have filed it for them,” said Kuzara.

The medical board tells us a health care professional should actually do the consultation from the start so they’re taking another look at the spa and how it works.

Kuzara says she has just sold most of her interest in the business. By the way you can take HCG for weight loss if a doctor approves, but it’s considered an off-label use.

Compelling New Evidence That Exercise Won’t Help You Lose …

Trending News: New Evidence Suggests Exercise Won’t Help You Lose Weight

Long Story Short

A new international study provides more compelling evidence that exercise isn’t key to controlling weight.

Long Story

The United States is the midst an obesity epidemic. That much is clear. What hasn’t been so clear in recent years is what’s causing it: for years, governments in Western countries such as the US, Australia and the United Kingdom have been focusing on exercise — or the lack thereof — among young adults and teenagers.

But more recent evidence has suggested that it’s not so much about how much we exercise, but how much we eat, that has the major effect on our weight. In particular, science seems to be swiftly moving its focus away from fat and towards sugar as the major culprit when it comes to rising rates of obesity.

Now, there’s another blow for those who claim exercise as the panacea for all our weighty woes. A new international study led by Loyola University Chicago has presented new evidence that neither exercise nor sedentary time is key in controlling weight.

The Loyola study is just one part of what’s known as the Modeling the Epidemiologic Transition Study (METS). For METS, researchers followed adults aged 25 to 40 living in five countries: the United States, Ghana, South Africa, Jamaica and Seychelles.

Close to 2,000 participants, both male and female, aged 25 to 40 wore accelerometers on their waists for a week, while researchers also measured weight, height and body fat. The participants were then asked to return one year and two years later.

Perhaps the most striking result of the study was that total weight gain in every country was greater among participants who met the U.S. Surgeon General’s physical activity guidelines. For example, American men who met the guidelines gained a half pound per year, while American men who did not meet the guideline lost 0.6 pounds.

There was no significant relationship between sedentary time on the first check-up and subsequent weight gain or weight loss. The only stats that lined up with weight gain were weight at the initial visit, age and gender.

“Our study results indicate that physical activity may not protect you from gaining weight,” said lead author Lara R. Dugas, PhD, MPH, in a news release — perhaps a little too frankly.

It’s yet another result to suggest that simply upping your exercise won’t necessarily lead to weight loss. Physical activity no doubt has proven benefits, ranging from reducing risk of certain diseases to improving mental health and mood. But as the news release points out, while physical activity burns calories it also increases appetite, and people may compensate by eating more or being less active for the rest of the day.

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Today in the United States, two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of children struggle with being overweight and obese.

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