What’s the Skinny on Diet Programs?


By Todd Calongne, Executive Coach

In short, most multi-billion dollar diet programs work. Companies like Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, South Beach, and Jenny Craig can’t be in business without 80-90% success rate for their programs. The claims of Marie Osmond and Oprah’s weight loss are true. Anyone can have the same results claimed by the big diet industry if you stick to a plan in its entirety.

As a business coach, I often work with my client’s weight loss goals alongside business growth. I coach an underlying philosophy of five components to weight gain. 1. Food intake, 2. Movement, 3. Hydration, 4. Sleep, 5. Stress. If you have some of these in check but not all, we examine the culprit and to get better results. Most popular diet plans focus on food. Based on my work with clients going through these programs and my interest in weight loss/gain here are a few critical points for a successful weight loss plan:  

Weight Loss is More Food than Exercise

Many diet plans explicitly state that during the beginning phases of their program “you may feel tired” and recommend light workouts or walking as exercise. The same programs guaranteeing a 13-15 pound weight loss in the first month recommend low activity -- yes you heard that right. The majority of people are overeating, and begin with massive exercise. This vicious cycle is both unsustainable and causes dieters to want and even need to eat more. Forget the workout and focus on food until you are closer to your goal weight.

Suggestion: Don't try to make a diet work better by amping up the exercise!

Calories Consumption is King

If my client tells me they gained 2 lbs in a week; I’ll quickly type their stats into a handy calorie calculator. Our conversation sounds a bit like this: “You need to eat 3,351 calories a day to gain 2 lb in a week. What have you been eating?” Conversely, this person would need to consume 1,851 Calories/day to lose 1 lb per week. That’s a HUGE (1500 calorie) difference. It doesn't matter how you consume these calories either. My client might rationalize all this “healthy food” as not a problem. I have to remind them that it is the “all this” that is the problem.  

Suggestion: Know your calories each day, and you will know when you are off track!

Spacing Out Food is Vital

Try looking at your consumption of calories on a normal food day and then stop at 1500 calories a day to lose weight:

  • Breakfast (435 Calories): bread, 2 eggs, cheese, coffee with cream and sugar
  • Snack (200 Calories): Kind Bar
  • Lunch (680 Calories): Chicken Caesar Salad Wrap, Chips or pretzels, lightly sweetened iced tea
  • Snack (160 Calories): fruit or cheese stick
  • THAT’S IT! That was all the calories for a 1500 calorie day. By the time evening rolls around you are gonna say,“f@#k this, I am going to eat just one slice of pizza” (you can add + 600 calories for the slice).

It doesn't work. It's nearly impossible to stay within a calorie goal without planning out your food intake. That’s where diet companies come in. Their products are portioned out for your success on the plan. They help you avoid a “f@#k this” moment during your day. You can even do this too without a company charging you. Space out food so you can be successful.

Here is the key to a sustainable 1500 calorie a day diet:

  • Breakfast - 300 calories

  • Snack - 150 calories

  • Lunch - 350 calories

  • Snack - 150 calories

  • Dinner - 400 calories

  • Snack - 150 calories

Also worth noting, be sure to eat all your allotted food each day. It tells your body, “hey, more food is coming soon, you can safely burn some of those fat cells.” Plus, there is no need to wake up starving.

Suggestion: Wait for the next snack or meal, even if you are hungry, you’ll not give up because you can usually wait for the next calorie intake (it’s never more than an hour or so away).

Drinking Calories is Sabotage

You need to get enough water each day. Staying hydrated by drinking water alone will shift your weight. Be careful what you drink as it’s effortless to drink calories and get off your plan.

I was talking to a client about why he had trouble losing weight. Once he took me through his typical day, we realized he drank three 16 oz cups of coffee each day. Each one is at about 200 calories with cream and sugar. Once he shifted away from the additional 600 calories a-day sabotage, he lost weight.

Look out for wine, fruit juice, soda or any other calories you are drinking. Replace these beverages with water. Artificially sweetened drinks -- while they are low in calories, they respond the same way in your system to sugar. This chemical reaction can create or continue the same sugar addiction or “fake sugar” addiction. You will find yourself craving that afternoon diet coke and if you can't find it, maybe a piece of chocolate as a replacement.

Suggestion: Replace calorie drinks with water!

Food is fuel

My dog is thrilled to eat when we feed him. He does not send his food back to the chef because it has a little flavor or the taste is off. He gets the same thing each day and licks up every scrap from his bowl. We, humans, have gotten spoiled. We have created a very refined taste pallet that’s not always a help in weight loss.

Find foods that fit into your diet and embrace them. For example, there is nothing wrong with buying a box of protein bars (150 calories) and have the same bar at snack time every day for a week. Or dieters can cook a large piece of salmon or chicken and portion out the same meal in containers for lunch each day. You don’t need the variety; you need the fuel. You can be just as happy with using food as fuel, especially when you know it’s safely on your diet plan and you see results. Let the “I need better taste” or “I need more variety” centers of your brain take a break for a few weeks as you get food under control. The good news, you will love the taste and variety even more during times you splurge, and the brain centers will love you for it.

Finally, it’s fuel. Food is NOT entertainment, comfort, joy, excitement, the bright-spot-of-your-day, or companionship. If you lack those things, get them elsewhere, not through food.

Suggestion: Figure out what foods work and stick to them for a while even if it bores you.

I ask my clients, "If you have a sick child, what are you going to feed them? If you are the sick child, what are you going to feed yourself? What do you deserve to feel stronger and look healthier?"

Successful dieters can take up to a year to shift their body, thinking, and lives into a sustainable existence alongside food. It takes time to create a habit and understand your body’s limits. The sooner you begin this slow journey, the sooner you will feel better. I’d start by committing for a month and see where it goes. Then make another commitment to yourself -- and keep it, as would to a boss, spouse or friends.

Hang in there just don't hang on to the old habits!