Like most of America I am overweight, my body mass index is 26, one point over the threshold of 25 that defines overweight. However unlike most of America I’ve been loosing weight for the past 3 years. Furthermore, I have a professional interest in the subject as I do medical research on the health consequences of sedentary lifestyles and overweight and obesity. A recent clinical trial compared the Atkins, Weight Watchers, Zone and Ornish diets and concluded that it was a dead heat, no one diet beat out the others and that those who stuck to their assigned diet, what ever diet, lost more than those who didn’t stick to the diet. My take on the results is that the most important factor is sticking to a diet and what ever works for you, works the best. I’ve done both the Atkins and Weight Watchers programs and thought I’d share with you my experiences on both.
In the best of all worlds we could all make the many food and exercise choices each day that result in a healthy diet and body weight. For me I just can’t make all of the diet decisions required, each day, to maintain a healthy weight. I need a system.
I did Atkins first, coming down from 230 to 205 and then bouncing back up to 210. The Atkins diet worked well for me because there is only one decision, don’t eat carbohydrates. In some ways the Atkins diet was a lot of fun, my buddy and I would regularly eat ½ pound Hawaiian burgers (burger, cheese, ham, and onions) with out the bun at a Jackson Hole on the upper west side, or order in roast pork egg foo young without the sauce. Because of this sort of behavior though, I think the Atkins diet gets a bad rap. It bans eating carbohydrates, but doesn’t advocate loading up on burgers. In truth I ate lots of leafy green salads, spinach salad with bacon, cucumbers, hard boiled eggs and red onion with oil and vinegar dressing is fair game, so is salad niciosse (with out the boiled potato). Breakfast was omelets with ham, cheese and spinach. The down side with the Atkins was the dehydration, even with upping my water intake I figure 5 lbs of weight loss was water weight, and worse were the cravings. I got the worst cravings for rice and potatoes, just devastating cravings. In addition, the first 72 hours are hell, the worst hunger pains, it is really hard to get enough calories without eating carbs and it takes about 72 hours before your body starts living off it’s fat stores. The other problem was you couldn’t drink beer, being a New Yorker I go out 3-4 nights a week and not drinking beer was a big loss. You can have one or perhaps two light beers, for me Amstel Light was the best compromise on taste and carb count and really that was a big compromise. Another thing about the Atkins was that, try as I might, I couldn’t get below 205 lbs, although if I went off the diet and exercised daily, I could stay at what ever weight I was at when I quit the diet.
I was going to go back onto Atkins but my girlfriend convinced me to try Weight Watchers. I pointed out my joy at eating burgers, but she played the ace of spades, she pointed out that I could drink beer on Weight Watchers. Initially I had terrible visions of having to do meetings, weighing in and sharing my feelings. I don’t do meetings I have no interest in sitting around and listening to people’s problems and how these issues make them want to eat. As Dennis Leahry says “Shut the fuck up and get a helmet”. Thankfully these days Weight Watchers is online. You punch your weight into the web site and you are assigned a number of points that you can spend on food during the day. The web site’s database has the point listings for most foods and you use the site to keep track of your diet. I got 26 points a day and 35 discretionary points I could spend over the week. In addition you can earn points by working out.
Their program worked really well, I went from 210 to 193 lbs (and counting). The best part is that there have been no crazy cravings and no brutal hunger. The plan tends to push you towards being a vegetarian, because a lot of the meats are very point costly. But a sandwich with ¼ lb of ham, tomato slices, lettuce and mustard on wheat bread is only 6 points. Sushi works really well, it costs very few points, and sashimi is even better, so I find that I can do all you can eat sushi and still stay within my budget. Beer costs 3 points a bottle and an hour of squash gives you ten points. So Thursday night is often an hour of squash and then out for beers with friends. Even if you end up doing six beers you can stay within the plan. The experience has been pretty educational and I have fixed a number of problems with my diet, it also has a game element to it that I like, figuring out how to optimize my point spending.
For me the bottom line is that I couldn’t make Atkins work past 205 lbs and Weight Watchers has been effective and not particularly onerous, plus there is beer.