There are three ways to start this story, even if it's not one easy to admit, even as I grapple with the compromises I make. I'm not entirely proud – except that I’ve taken charge of my body weight albeit AGAIN.
In these words, I hope, is a story of Choice and Hope and Compromise.
INTRO NUMBER ONE: The Dr Phil Effect.
Back before Dr Phil was Somebody, before Oprah, before the Dr Phil Show day-time trash, before the Britney Spears intervention, my sister asked, “Have you heard of this guy, Dr. Phil? When you repeat the same behavior again and again, he’ll ask, ‘How’s that workin’ out for ya?’ It’s absurd to expect different results from the same behavior.”
And the truth is, even though I believe in it, Weight Watchers hasn’t been working for me. But wait, let me put that more carefully, more honestly: despite numerous hopeful starts and re-starts, for the last few years, I haven’t been working Weight Watchers. It’s not the fault of Weight Watchers, it’s mine.
INTRO NUMBER TWO: The Billboard Effect.
“Floss Only the Teeth You Want to Keep” read a campus billboard when I was in college. It was an “aha moment” that changed my morning routine forever.
Fast forward thirty years, when a close contact was diagnosed with out-of-control diabetes and the diabetic counselor quoted a heart-stopping statistic. “You can reduce diabetes risk by 60% by losing just 5% of your body weight.” The numbers hit me like a billboard. Small loss, big benefit. I felt new resolve.
[For the record, the counselor didn’t get it quite right, but still, the statistics are powerful. The CDC says, “Research shows that modest weight loss and regular physical activity can help prevent or delay type 2 diabetes by up to 58 percent in people with prediabetes. Modest weight loss means 5% to 7% of body weight, which is 10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person. Getting at least 150 minutes each week of physical activity, such as brisk walking, also is important.” Source: Center for Disease Control]
INTRO NUMBER THREE: The Friend Effect.
More research. If your friends are fat, you’re more likely to be fat. If your friends are thin, you’re more likely to be thin.
My book club friends are some of my longest, closest friends. We see each other at least once a month so it’s easy to keep track. Over the years, the tallest three of us got heavier than healthy, not obese-heavy, just carrying way too much excess weight.
Early last year, my friend Ann lost 30 pounds with Weight Watchers, her story was compelling. (Remember Weight Watchers, Meet Michael Pollan? Afterward I re-joined WW and lost 10 pounds pretty easily.
Another friend, that’s Denise from Eat Laugh Love dove into Weight Watchers with her husband. Both are looking so good!
Along the way, another friend Georgia, motivated by her daughter’s upcoming wedding, lost 65 pounds. How? After first losing weight on her own, she switched to Medifast. When our book club met in September, I noticed Georg across the pool: she had knees, pointy knees!
WHY I SWITCHED FROM WEIGHT WATCHERS TO MEDIFAST
Weight Watchers wasn’t working for me. I needed a reboot. A brand-new approach. Some new way to think about food and weight.
Diabetes prevention was suddenly more important.
My friends were all looking so good!
BUT IT WAS A SLOW & AGONIZING DECISION
Over about nine months, all this was whirling around me. I kept thinking about Medifast, without really knowing much about it except the processed food – the basis of Medifast’s weight loss program – all that processed food.
But then my friend Kathy hit me over the head. Now you have to know this about Kathy. She’s another book club friend and more than that, one of those “sensible” people. She and her husband are great real-food cooks, they love to cook for themselves and their families and friends. She’s tiny-small and crazy for hard exercise. Last year, Kathy was diagnosed with breast cancer (a real shock for all of us, she was the first in our circle) and went through two surgeries and radiation therapy. She’s also a successful lifetime Weight Watcher and the friend who coached me when I first lost 30 pounds with Weight Watchers in 2002. Kathy too, I learned later, had become unhappy with Weight Watchers, in fact, unbeknownst to me, had become a Medifast health coach.
Here’s what she said, when I was disdainful about Medifast. “Being overweight is so harmful to your health, the importance of losing weight trumps the importance of real food. If losing weight takes processed food, it takes processed food.”
Those words stuck with me, even as I made another fresh start with Weight Watchers, especially as I looked at the round face in the mirror and felt horrified at photographs – who was that fat person???
[For the record, the words above are mine, paraphrasing Kathy. When I asked her the question again this week, she answered, “Overweight people have bigger fish to fry than worrying about processed food. When you are overweight, you damage your body with toxins and inflammation. The important thing is to get the weight off to rid your body of these toxins and the inflammation – and then worry about real food, organic food, etc. Plus many overweight people are already living on a steady diet of low-nutrient processed food. Medifast replacement meals may be processed food but they are nutritionally sound.”]
AT LAST, A DECISION
The week before Thanksgiving, I started Medifast with three goals:
To lose 30 – 35 pounds, maybe 40, without screwing up my metabolism.
To “think less” about food (that’s hard, as a food writer, long-time cook and someone who l-o-v-e-s to cook for others …)
To invest in myself not only for my own health and well-being but for those who love me.
EIGHT WEEKS LATER, I’VE LOST 20 POUNDS
I’m in my eighth week on Medifast and have lost 20 pounds, that’s 2-1/2 pounds a week. I feel strong and energetic and most of all, empowered. I lost the twenty pounds over the holidays and felt few temptations to “cheat”. I think there are three reasons why it’s working.
I am highly motivated. I was just ready.
I am blessed with loving personal support, I couldn’t ask for more, it’s means the world.
Like all the major weight-loss programs, Medifast works when you follow the program.
LESSONS – why Medifast is working for me
Medifast features which I expect to long continue.
Small, Frequent Meals Medifast calls for eating every 2 to 3 hours. I fixed on a routine where I eat first thing in the morning, then set my phone alarm for 2-1/2 hours later, then repeat throughout the day. (If my day starts early and ends late, I stretch the time between meals to 3 hours.)
The 5 & 1 Plan During Medifast's weight-loss phase, you eat five "replacement meals" (each about 100 calories) and one "Lean & Green" meal (about 300 calories) plus an optional daily snack.
Five Convenient Meal Replacements During Medifast’s weight-loss phase, eating every 2 to 3 hours works out to five small meals a day. This is the packaged food, what Medifast calls “meal replacements”. Each packet takes just a couple of minutes to fix, no thinking required, no wondering “what to eat” or “what to cook”. For me, treating food as fuel removed the distraction and fascination of food preparation.
Medifast says that the Medifast meals contain at least 24 vitamins and minerals and are "nutrient-dense, low-fat, low-calorie, low-glycemic meal replacements that help you lose weight by promoting a mild fat-burning state and limiting your calories" (those are their words, not mine).
One Small “Real Food” Meal Medifast calls this its “Lean & Green” meal. I find this meal most satisfying, a large serving of lean protein plus 1-1/2 to 2 cups of vegetables. If you've ever felt hungry for protein on Weight Watchers, this meal will really appeal.
I keep my Lean & Green meal really simple, following the prescribed amount of chicken, fish, beef of eggs (the amount varies) plus a cup of lettuce or spinach plus a cup of chopped fresh vegetables with a little olive oil, vinegar and salt and pepper. For the first few weeks, this “real food” kept me sane, now, later on, I look forward to the real food but don't feel so starved for it, in part, because I am eating only the Medifast meal replacements I like.
Meal Before Bed One of the five Medifast “meals” is scheduled shortly before bedtime. I know, I know, this really contradicts what we learn elsewhere, that we shouldn’t eat after 6pm or three hours before sleeping. Medifast sees it differently, that it’s important to maintain consistent calories and glucose levels throughout the day, to make the “fast” before breakfast shorter rather than longer. This really works for me!
Optional Daily Snack Medifast also allows an optional snack, three kosher dill pickles (swoon ...) or three pieces of celery or a few almonds. I use these every so often to stretch the time between, say, the 4th Replacement Meal and the Lean & Green meal.
Easy Restaurant Choices The Lean & Green meal is easy to eat out, so long as you choose the right restaurant. Just order a piece of fish or a steak (plain chicken would work too but is harder to find, out) with a small salad and a vegetable. The Lean & Green meal can be used at breakfast, lunch or dinner but I found that dinner was the easiest.
Medifast Off-Limit Foods During the weight loss phase, basically everything else is off limits. Dairy. Bread. Sweets. Liquor. Fruit.
Liquid, Lots of Liquid Like many weight-loss programs, Medifast calls of a large liquid intake. Plain water comes hard for me, so I returned to this summer’s wonderful coffee replacement, hibiscus tea, served hot.
Meal Replacements I Actually Like Eating-wise, the first weeks on Medifast were the hardest, because I was still experimenting with the various meal replacements eaten five times a day. I hated a LOT of these and disliked MANY of these.
But I actually LIKE the shakes – especially the chocolate shakes – in the mornings made with coffee otherwise with water. At first, I made shakes in the blender with ice cubes, like a chocolate milkshake. Then I started mixing shakes in the blender, then transferred the liquid to a quart jar for warming in the microwave, yum, it’s like hot chocolate.
I also like the “bars” – especially the peanut butter bars, the caramel bars and the chocolate crunch bars. These are easy to carry in your purse for when you’re out and about without access to a blender.
LESSONS – why Medifast might not work for others
The Expense Medifast is expensive. Each meal replacement costs about $2.36, five a day means almost $12 a day, that's the equivalent of about $83 a week or $350 a month. For those who eat out a lot, you might actually save money. (Note: with new-customer discounts, my first two orders averaged $1.93, the equivalent of $68 a week or $291 a month, about 22% less. All website access is included, as are one-on-one consultations with weight-loss counselors. I haven't used these.)
Few Healthy Habits Medifast doesn’t teach personal long-term healthy eating habits, at least in the weight-loss phase (maybe those lessons will come in the later phases when the program transitions participants off meal replacements back onto real food, I’m not there yet) plus there’s no collateral “healthy eating” for our families when we begin cooking healthy food.
Unrealistic Expectations Medifast teaches us that food comes in paper packets and can/should be prepared in five minutes with little/no skill or clean-up.
Points the Wrong Direction Medifast feeds a “sweet tooth” and a “carb tooth” even while dis-allowing sweets and carbs. The meal replacements lean sweet- and carb-ward, heavy on pancakes and puddings and pasta to say nothing of brownies, cheese puffs, breakfast cereals, shakes and candy bars.
MY EXPERIENCE SO FAR
Hunger Over eight weeks, I've felt “hungry” just once. It happened when I accidentally left the house without a meal replacement and crossed not only the three-hour mark but the five-hour mark. For the rest of that day and the entire next day, I felt hungry, really hungry.
Temptation Surprisingly, I felt little to no temptation over the holidays. We even hosted a small dessert party. Out and in, I drank lots of club soda instead of wine. Buffets were easy, I just put a little food on a plate and then didn’t eat it. When friends invited us for dinner, I ate protein and salad and a vegetable. When it would have been awkward, I ate a couple of bites of dessert and then left the rest. Honestly? If anyone noticed, I didn’t notice. Twice, though, sandwiches almost undid me, making turkey sandwiches for others after Thanksgiving, hungering for a ham sandwich with leftover Christmas ham.
The Low Point A low moment occurred this past weekend. I felt "safe" with all the holiday madness gone and then hit the twenty-pound mark – I was elated! Then something happened and I fell into a mad-sad-disappointed emotional state and found myself suddenly out of control – a leftover Christmas cookie and a homemade marshmallow were consumed in short order with zero pleasure. Small slips, maybe, but still, I was not in control. How did I stop it? I gave myself the night off and sat down to dinner with friends, enjoying a glass of very good wine and a small, low-calorie dessert with dinner. It was wonderful! But the next morning I got up and threw a Medifast shake into the blender: I want to get OFF Medifast and back to real food.
AND SO, ALANNA, WHAT’S NEXT?
I can't, of course, know where this story will end. I just know that it’s been eight weeks, I’ve lost twenty pounds and feel great. I’m down at least one size and am digging into back closets for clothes that fit. I’m back to vigorous exercise every day. A new box of Medifast arrived on Saturday. And that fat face in the mirror?
WHY I TELL THIS STORY, WHY I'D LOVE TO HEAR YOURS
When Weight Watchers works for us, when our other healthy lifestyle choices work for us, wonderful! But when something in our lives isn't working, maybe it's time to consider a new approach. Expecting different results from the same behavior is absurd. So a fresh start is hopeful. It's resourceful. It's not giving up, it's taking charge, even when unexpected and unhappy compromises are required. And that, Kitchen Parade readers, is why I write this story, one I could easily have let happen in the background, no word to the wise.
This go-round, I've been so lucky to get great support day in and day out. But we're not all so lucky. Are you looking for Choice? For Hope? Do you need to tell your story? I'd love to hear it ... write to me, leave it in the comments anonymously or with just your first name. Are you taking account, taking stock? Do you take hope?
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