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Weighing the options for weight loss
By Roberta Sotonoff | Daily Herald Correspondent
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Published: 6/3/2010 11:16 AM

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Oral surgery restricted me to a soft food diet. After five days of Jell-O, broth, yogurt and ice cream, I anxiously stepped on the scale. My torture and bland diet were rewarded by bloat and 2 extra pounds. Not that I should be surprised. I've struggled with my weight all my life.

In my journey through dietdom, I tried endless programs including three popular diets that have been around for more than 25 years: Pritikin, Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers. Though all emphasize exercise, low fat and high fiber, each speaks to different people with different needs.

For example, if you are short on willpower and long on cash, a visit to the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa can be the perfect solution.

On the other hand, if you are inspired and don't have a lot of money to spend, Weight Watchers may be the answer. Fall in the middle? There is Jenny Craig with its meals and food police. Take charge people can do these diets and save money with online WW and Jenny Craig programs.

I've tried all three of these, and they all helped me lose weight (at least until I rediscovered my love of cookies). But there are upsides and downsides to each one.

Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa

Located in Miami, Fla., Pritikin offers a very structured environment that includes accommodations, medical facilities, a fully equipped gym, spa and a golf course.

The diet is low in trans fats, cholesterol, refined sugar, salt and grains. You can eat as much as you want.

My Pritikin day was filled with exercise classes, a spa visit plus nutrition and lifestyle lectures. I rolled my eyes when one over-the-top enthusiastic nutritionist gushed about the cute peaches in the produce section. And I wasn't convinced tofu was a chicken substitute.

I did lose weight. But the words the program spoke - no salt, alcohol, fat, caffeine and sugar - were not those I wanted to hear.

Weight Watchers

With Weight Watchers, you nibble and sip your way to slimdom. You can eat and drink anything - pizza, beer, chocolate cake - but only in small portions. The program uses a point system determined by calories, fat and fiber. Each individual is allotted a certain amount of points according to age, gender and figure. Veggies like broccoli and lettuce are zero points. One slice of whole wheat bread is 2 points.

At weekly group meetings, I got on the scale. Never hit milestones - such as 10 pounds, or another one, 5 percent of my body weight. So, no one ever applauded me or gave me a reward gift, like a bookmark.

I was not a WW success story. I don't like group therapy, have lots of bookmarks and was too proficient at scoring. My allotted 23 points per day were easily consumed by low-fat chicken with pasta (17 points), and a low-fat brownie sundae (7 points). Going green was then my only option - broccoli, spinach, lettuce or wandering outside to graze.

Jenny Craig

Jenny, as I call this regime, is perfect for the person who doesn't want to count calories or worry about what to make for dinner.

Me.

About 18 years ago, I joined and lost 30 pounds. Size 6s were loose on me.

But, over the years, the 30 pounds crept back and blanketed my former svelte self.

Some meals are not bad, but be forewarned: the pictures on the food boxes are almost to scale.

The plan focuses on portion management, exercise and Jenny Cuisine.

Lifestyle habits are reinforced by a weekly visit to a counselor who weighs me and is my cheerleader - even if I lose one-tenth of a pound.

She suggests strategies like "a social event need not be an eating event."

That put many of my friendships in jeopardy. They enjoy eating more than my company.

The counselor always asks the same questions: Did I drink eight glasses of water a day? What kind of exercise did I do? What is my next week's strategy?

Jenny people take themselves very seriously.

One week I told my counselor that my new exercise was "reach for my mate instead of my plate" and that my husband was now weak. She didn't think I was funny.

After experiencing these diets, I learned a lot about myself.

For me, losing weight without help is not an option, but neither is the group thing.

Diet food has to be somewhat appetizing, exercise is a given and an occasional sugar cookie a necessity.

My body no longer is covered with rolls of blubber.

Those old size 6s just about fit. But after 18 years, they are terribly outdated.