The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 24, 2013

The right fit important in weight-loss programs

Dietitian says it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when only focusing on the numbers on the scale

By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer

— We’re a couple months into the new year and, if you’re like many Americans, you’ve been grappling with your weight.

You’ve also probably seen hundreds of television commercials, newspaper or Internet ads, or heard radio pitchmen trying to lure customers to one of the many diet centers available.

And maybe you’ve thought to yourself, “Mmmm ... Would a diet center work for me? Or can I buckle down and just get it done myself?”

The answer, unfortunately, is about as simple as your body’s metabolism. In other words, it’s not simple at all. Americans, however, will try anything. And with 65 percent of the population overweight, it’s not surprising that we spent more than $42 billion annually on weight-loss programs, pills and products.

But do they work?

“I believe there are some programs that people pay for and do work,” said Linda Carruthers, registered dietitian at Mayo Clinic Health System. “But you don’t need it. If you have the discipline, you can do it on your own and be healthy.”

In the Mankato area, many options exist for people interested in getting help from a diet or weight-loss center or program. There are a lot to choose from — Complete Nutrition, Jenny Craig, Ideal Weigh To B, The Slimmer Weigh, Body Beautiful Weight Loss Spa, NutriSystem, Weight Watchers.

For smartphone users, there are dozens of apps that can help you manage your weight loss — My Fitness Pal, Noom. They’ll let you log your meals and calorie intake, give you nutrition advice and recipes, even keep track of your exercise. Some will also assist in getting you in contact with other users who are fighting the same fight you’re fighting.

Weight-loss centers can be helpful.

“Paying for them can make people feel committed,” Carruthers said. “Some offer support because there are other people doing it and people available for help and support. And some programs aren’t necessarily healthy.”

One example

Among the programs in Mankato is Ideal Weigh To B. Owner Breanna Ludeman says she sees two kinds of clients: those who want to lose 5 pounds of vanity weight, and those who have struggled for years with their weight.

“They come to me for accountability,” Ludeman said.

At Ideal Weigh To B, Ludeman says they teach clients to view their weight-loss journey as a two-part story. Part one is losing the weight. Part two, which is much more difficult for most people, is maintaining that weight.

Many weight-loss programs, she said, ignore that second part and send their clients off into the world without giving them the skills they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Even the word “diet” has a specific, potentially damaging connotation.

“The unfortunate part of dieting is that a diet, for many people, is what you do before a class reunion or wedding,” she said. “But really, a diet is something you should be doing all the time.”

Her plan institutes a way of controlling carbohydrates and reining in unnecessary sugar.

“Fat isn’t what’s making us fat,” she said. “It’s the sugar.”

The average American, Ludeman said, consumes 500 grams of carbohydrates. Ideally, that number should be closer to 150 grams.

Ludeman, a registered nurse and former personal trainer at the Mankato YMCA, said there are many weight-loss programs that can be good for people. It’s important to find the one that is right for the individual, she said, even if it’s not hers.

“I’ll be the first to tell people my plan isn’t for everyone,” she said. “I have a qualifying list, and if you don’t qualify, I won’t take you.”

She said monitoring sugar has had dramatic results for some of her clients, including two who were type 2 diabetics when they came through her door and aren’t anymore.

“You have to find what’s right for you, and you have to be your own advocate,” she said.

Be smart

Carruthers said that, whatever program you choose, choose one where the nutritional side of things has been handled by someone with the proper credentials, such as a registered dietitian or a doctor.

And beyond the food, she said, people need to make sure their focus is on a healthy lifestyle, and not just dropping pounds.

When dieters focus only on the number on the scale, she said, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. A lot of diets or diet plans can help people lose weight, but they may not necessarily create a healthy individual who is happy, eating healthful foods and staying active.

“You want to make sure it’s a program you can do for the rest of your life,” she said. “Can you eat fruit for the rest of your life? Ashton Kutcher tried to do what Steve Jobs did (a fruit diet), and he ended up in the hospital.”

It’s all about balance, she said. And if it works for your personal balancing act, it may make sense to get help from a diet center or program.

“A lot of people need that support. They can’t do it on their own,” Carruthers said. “They don’t mind paying because they’re learning how to make those healthy choices.”