Name any given diet, and Dee Hardy has probably tried it.
The Casper woman has been dieting most of her life. She lost weight on some of the them, but always gained it back.
"I felt like a huge failure," Hardy said. "I thought, 'How come everybody else can keep it off and I can't?' "
If you're diet doesn't work, don't blame yourself, says Karla Case, who is a registered dietitian with the University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service in Natrona County.
"It's the diet that has failed you," she said.
Hardy got lasting results after joining Weight Watchers three years ago. Since then, she has lost 56 pounds, started running and became a Weight Watchers group leader.
For many, a weight-loss program that offers structure, support and accountability can be the ticket to lasting weight loss.
On the following pages, you'll get an inside look at three popular weight-loss programs. You'll learn how each works, its philosophy, cost and other information that is valuable in the decision-making process.
Each of the programs has been carefully evaluated by Live Well Wyoming staff and expert consultants: Karla Case and Alice Burron.
Case is a registered dietitian with the University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service in Natrona County.
Burron, of Cheyenne, is a personal trainer and wellness coach who has a master's degree in exercise physiology. She also owns Soapstone Fitness, an online store for home gym and wellness equipment.
HOW WE DID IT
Using the criteria on the previous page, we narrowed it down to three programs available in Wyoming: Weight Watchers, Taking Off Pounds Sensibly and the Eight-Week Weight-Loss Program at Wyoming Athletic Center in Casper.
Each of the programs evaluated has sound nutrition advice, emphasizes healthy lifestyle changes, and is reasonably priced.
Live Well Wyoming editor Carol Seavey met with weight loss leaders and participants for each program, and attended meetings when available. She also collected educational materials from the programs, such as fliers, pamphlets or books. Some programs offered more materials than others. For example, TOPS loaned us their complete weight-loss guide.
This information was paired with information on each organization's website and was studied and evaluated. We considered whether each program was sustainable, well-rounded and motivating.
Flip the page to get started.
ABOUT: According to its website, Weight Watchers International is the world’s leading provider of weight management services, operating globally through a network of company-owned and franchise operations. It was founded more than 50 years ago. It estimates that one million people attend weekly Weight Watchers meetings worldwide.
PHILOSOPHY: Weight Watchers recognizes that food is only one part of the weight-loss equation, according to its website. The keys that lead to real, lasting success are activity, healthy habits, support and smart food choices.
HOW IT WORKS: Weight Watchers teaches people to learn healthy habits and to fight temptation in the real world.
Local chapters hold weekly meetings that include confidential weigh-ins as well as motivation, support, education and tips. The leaders are all people who have lost weight with the program and kept it off. They must complete training online and a three-day training retreat.
All program materials are provided by the corporate office. For example, there are monthly themes and weekly booklets full of useful tips and recipes. New members each receive a booklet on how to get started.
Members are rewarded for participation, behavior changes and meeting goals, such as losing 5 percent or 10 percent of their body weight.
Participants can find additional tools on the Internet as well as mobile applications to help them stay on track. Attending meetings is not required, as online-only memberships are also available.
NUTRITION: The Weight Watchers 360-degree plan uses a point system called the PointsPlus plan to track food intake. Each food item is assigned a PointsPlus value based on protein, carbohydrates, fat and fiber content. Each new member receives a booklet listing foods and their points as well as other tips on exercise and dining out.
"For some, [learning the PointsPlus system] might be a challenge, but there are so many tools now, and some food labels even show points," said Dee Hardy, one of three Casper Weight Watchers leaders. "It's getting so there aren't so many that you have to learn."
The number of points one can use each day is based on age, height, weight and gender. There are an additional 45 points each week for indulgences.
Participants are encouraged to eat three meals and two snacks a day that they prepare themselves. The plan is flexible and nothing is forbidden.
"You can eat whatever you want to eat, you just have to count it," Hardy said.
EXERCISE: Members are encouraged to move more than they had before, and can earn points by exercising. Exercise is included in educational talks and online resources, but there is no specific fitness program. The Weight Watchers website says, "A little exercise can help you feel great – and we can help you take the first steps, even if you’re just getting started." Members are encouraged to find something they enjoy and can purchase an activity monitor to track their movement.
COST: Weight Watchers offers several pricing options. In Wyoming, a subscription — which includes meetings and online tools — costs $42.95 a month. A 17-week pass costs $192 ($45.64 a month). Pay as you go costs $13 a week ($52 a month) plus a $20 registration fee, and if two weeks of meetings are missed in a row, the registration fee must be paid again. Online-only subscriptions are also available for $18.95 a month and a $29.95 sign-up fee. Auto-renewal applies to online-only and monthly memberships and can be canceled at any time. Additional products are available for purchase, but are not required.
WHAT MEMBERS SAY:
"I like that you can have everything in moderation," said Kimberlee Pebbles, 51, of Casper, who lost 80 pounds with Weight Watchers. "I like the flexibility and I love the meetings — everyone is so supportive."
Weight Watchers is a great program for people who need a structured, yet flexible, nutrition program. Weight Watchers excels in its educational material — in print and online — and offers many useful tools to members. The group meetings may give people the encouragement and support they need to stick with it.
However, some may find tracking points to be tedious. Although exercise is encouraged, it doesn't seem to be a strong part of the overall program. It would be nice to have as much emphasis on exercise as there is on nutrition. Weight Watchers is more expensive than some other options, the pricing can be confusing, and the best pricing options require a longer commitment.
TAKE OFF POUNDS SENSIBLY
ABOUT: TOPS Club Inc., is a nonprofit weight-loss support and wellness education organization. It's more than 60 years old and has chapters throughout the U.S. and Canada.
PHILOSOPHY: TOPS focuses on making small, steady lifestyle changes for lasting weight loss. It helps members make changes in behaviors, attitudes, exercise habits and eating that promote good health and last a lifetime.
HOW IT WORKS: TOPS takes a "hands-on pounds-off" approach to successful, affordable weight management through healthy eating, regular physical activity, wellness information, awards and recognition and support from others at weekly meetings.
New members receive a subscription to TOPS News magazine, access to online tools and "My Day One" booklet to help kick-start their weight loss. It's not required, but participants are encouraged to purchase "Real Life: The Hands-on Pounds-off Guide," TOPS' lifestyle guide for $17 at the beginning of the membership.
Local chapters hold weekly meetings that include confidential weigh-ins, rewards for weight loss, encouragement for those who gained weight, and a short educational talk on topics such as fitness, nutrition or motivation. Leaders must have been chapter members for at least 30 days. Each chapter chooses its own motivational games and prize systems for short-term and long-term goals. Members support and encourage each other via Facebook, online chats, email, phone calls and mail.
"You have your friends, and when you are tempted, you just touch base with them," said Velda Phillips, one of three Casper TOPS leaders. "You help each other out a lot."
NUTRITION: There is no specific food plan. Rather, participants work with their personal health care providers to choose a weight-loss plan and set a weight-loss goal. For those who are interested in a nutritional plan, TOPS recommends the Food Exchange System or MyPlate.
The Food Exchange System focuses on carbohydrate, protein and fat. It was created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Diabetes Association. Foods are labeled starch, meat, fruit, vegetable, milk or fat. People are allowed a certain number of items in the Exchange System each day. MyPlate www.choosemyplate.gov is a nutritional plan designed by the United States Department of Agriculture. It focuses on portions, with a visual aid of a plate filled with appropriate portions of fruit, vegetables, grains and protein and a side of low-fat diary. People are also encouraged to cut back on solid fats, sugar and salt, watch calorie intake, and exercise.
EXERCISE: Information on exercise is included in meetings, fitness assessments are available, and exercise how-tos are included in "Real Life: The Hands-on Pounds-off Guide."
"We want our members to be active," said Avis Veach, Wyoming state TOPS coordinator.
COST: $29.50 a year if purchased online or $28 in person, plus chapter dues of about $5 a month. Other items are available for purchase, but are not required. Regional and national retreats and events are available to those who are interested for an additional fee. Families are encouraged to join together, so preteen, teens and spouses of members can join for $14 a year.
WHAT MEMBERS SAY:
"It keeps you motivated and it's fun," said Ruth Jones, 73, of Casper, who first joined TOPS in 1972.
TOPS is a great program for people who want support but need flexibility in their nutrition program. It excels in encouragement through rewards and camaraderie.
Though the website is dated, the print materials are fantastic. For example, the "Real Life: The Hands-on Pounds-off Guide" is easy to read, full of good nutrition and exercise information, and is completely updated with the latest health information. The low price of just $28 a year makes it very accessible.
Although the guide has good exercise information and proper instructions, ongoing exercise guidance is needed.
8-WEEK WEIGHT-LOSS PROGRAM
ABOUT: Jeff Miller, personal training manager at Wyoming Athletic Club in Casper, started designing this program 15 years ago. He has a Bachelor of Science in exercise physiology with a focus on nutrition and is a former competitive body builder.
PHILOSOPHY: Fad diets don't work. Adopting a healthy lifestyle garners long-term success.
HOW IT WORKS: The program focuses on nutrition, strength training and cardiovascular exercise along with the motivation and accountability needed for success.
A fitness assessment is done at the beginning of the program in order to design a personalized nutrition and exercise plan, then again at the end to track progress. Goal weights are based on body composition, because they more accurate than height-weight charts, or BMI, Miller said.
There are usually fewer than 20 people in each group, and the groups meet once a week for about half an hour. The meetings include a confidential weigh-in as well as discussion on topics such as the psychology of eating, how to change your lifestyle, dining out, fad diets, weight-loss myths and other resources, such as mobile phone applications. For example, Twyla Salazar, 40, of Casper, learned about the "My Fitness Pal" app through the 8-Week Weight-Loss Program.
"It's really easy to put in for that day," she said.
NUTRITION: The plan focuses on eating the right amount of calories in the right ratio of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Participants make their own meals, and the program teaches them how to eat and shop for better health. Some nutrition information is also implemented from "Choose Your Foods" by the American Dietetic Association.
A tracking system is used, and participants are assigned a personalized range of starches, meats, fruits, vegetables, milk and fat. Foods eaten are marked off on a meal planner or recorded on their smart phone and turned into the instructor each week. No foods are off limits, and the meal plan is flexible.
"It's not about being perfect," Miller said. "It's about doing your best and understanding the ideas of healthy eating. It's about adopting a healthy lifestyle."
EXERCISE: Participants are highly encouraged to participate in group or personal training. The professional fitness staff at Wyoming Athletic Club keeps it fresh and creates individualized programs to accommodate people of different fitness levels and abilities.
Strength training reduces stress, increases energy levels and elevates metabolism, according to Miller.
"Women will not bulk up from strength training if they're eating right," Miller said.
Participants are also encouraged to do cardiovascular training on their own to burn calories, increase cardiovascular fitness and reduce stress.
COST: Starting at $19 a week, with optional training add-ons, such as group training or personal training. A free eight-week membership to Wyoming Athletic Club is included.
LEARN MORE: The group program is offered four or five times a year, and individual programs are available year-round. The next group session starts Jan. 28. A free informational meeting will be held 6 p.m. Jan. 21 at Wyoming Athletic Club, 455 Thelma Drive in Casper.
WHAT MEMBERS SAY:
"Even though it's only eight weeks, it feels like a life-changing thing," said Paul Salazar, 45, of Casper, who did the program with his wife, Twyla, in the fall. "I'm more confident that this isn't just a fad for us."
The 8-Week Weight-Loss Plan is great for people who want a structured nutrition and exercise program. It excels in its exercise plan. The access to professional trainers is particularly beneficial, because workouts can be expertly designed to meet each individual's needs and expectations and people can use the information in the future. Personal trainers also provide great motivation, and can tweak workouts as needed. The plan also offers good nutrition tips and directs people to many online resources and tools.
The website is too vague and makes too many promises. The pricing options — while flexible — are unclear. Going to the Wyoming Athletic Center for meetings and working out may be inconvenient for some people.