Archive for Monday, March 31, 2008

Public increasingly drawn toward weight-loss tales

March 31, 2008


— Kaeli Madill is obsessed with dieting.

She subscribes to magazines like Self, Shape and Runner's World for their "I-Lost-40-Pounds" success stories. She watches pound-shedding transformations on "The Biggest Loser." She flips through diet books, and buys those with glowing testimonials.

"It makes me feel like I can do it," says Madill, 26, who lives in Saskatchewan, Canada and is trying to lose 60 pounds. "If I get discouraged, I look at one of those stories, and say that person did it. That person had results, so in time, I'm going to have results, too."

These days, Madill has plenty of places to find inspiration. Personal weight-loss success stories are cropping up in magazines, on television, on blogs and in long form memoirs, and seem to be resonating among the more than two-thirds of Americans who are overweight or obese.

Actress Valerie Bertinelli, who lost 40 pounds on Jenny Craig, was No. 1 on the Publishers Weekly best-seller nonfiction hardcover list last week for "Losing It: And Gaining My Life Back One Pound at a Time."

"Part of what draws you to a memoir is your ability to empathize and relate to these people and their lives," says Liz Perl, vice president and publisher of Rodale Books, whose many titles include "South Beach Diet."

"Clearly many Americans can empathize and relate to what it's like to lose control of your weight and your health."

While diet experts acknowledge the stories can be inspiring, they say reading and watching so many testimonials can also be problematic.

Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, says he sees both opportunity and risk. The narratives may inspire people to shed pounds themselves - but the weight-loss techniques shown in books and elsewhere may not be nutritionally safe.

There is no "one size fits all" approach to weight loss, says Dr. Robert Kushner, medical director of's premium membership, who worries people may try to pattern themselves after the successful dieter.

"You can follow one program after another and none of it works for you," he says. "You can end up being more frustrated. There's no filtering (with these stories). There's no one saying, 'results vary, this may not work for you, read it with caution."'

To their credit, some of the memoirs don't endorse diet and exercise plans.

Most of this obsession stems from frustration, say diet experts. About 41 percent of Americans are trying to lose weight, according to a Consumer Reports telephone survey conducted last year. Most people who lose will regain. So when someone loses a large amount of weight, it's almost as though she has broken a code.

Yo-yo dieter Trista Blouin, 35, of Pensacola, Fla., has been dieting since she was 16. Her library of diet books dates back to Susan Powter.

"It's very discouraging," says Blouin, whose goal is to lose 70 pounds. When a new book comes out, "I think to myself, 'maybe this will be it."'


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