In battle of bulge, find allies on Web

Diet: Online weight-loss resources offer privacy and camaraderie.

January 08, 2001|By Frances G. Taylor | Frances G. Taylor,HARTFORD COURANT

It's that time of year, when thoughts turn to that perennial subject of dieting. For many, it's an issue that never really goes away, but returns in full force as remorse over holiday eating sets in.

So what haven't you tried yet? The Atkins Diet? Weight Watchers? Jenny Craig?

You could read more books about dieting. There's "Dieting for Dummies" by Jane Kirby; "Dieting With the Duchess: Secrets and Sensible Advice for a Great Body" by Sarah Ferguson; "The Turbo-Protein Diet: Stop Yo-Yo Dieting Forever" by Dieter Market; "The Skinny: What Every Skinny Woman Knows About Dieting and Won't Tell You" by Patricia Marx; and "When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair" by Geneen Roth, to name just a few.

Or you could go online. The Web is a vast resource for diet and nutrition information, including virtual "diet centers" that are among the newest trends. Instead of enduring those humiliating weigh-ins at the diet center or watching your best friend's eyes glaze over when you talk about your latest diet, you can log on for diet info in the privacy of your own home and chat with a community of fellow dieters anytime. was one of the first online diet programs, founded in 1996. Members fill out a detailed questionnaire about their health, lifestyle habits and weight-loss goals. For a monthly fee of $10, subscribers receive a weekly meal plan, a daily checklist, a grocery shopping list and a biweekly newsletter. It has 170,000 subscribers.

"Our in-house dietitians manage and maintain the program," said Merrilee Kern, marketing communications manager for "And we have support-central, where members can go to interact in chat rooms and bulletin boards, to get the support they need 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Online diet centers offer convenience and privacy, Kern said.

"There are some distinct advantages to doing it this way. You don't have to drive to a center or weigh in publicly, and you can interact with people while still having anonymity." has chat rooms aimed at members with various interests, such as those over age 50 or those seeking to lose more than 100 pounds. There is one just for men, since so much diet talk is among women. There is also a coach-rookie program where members who have met their weight-loss goals are paired with someone just starting out.

"It's like an e-mail buddy system," Kern added. "It helps the old member feel empowered and the new one gets encouragement and personal connection along the way." launched in June. Members log on to receive menus, recipes and tips about weight loss, fitness and health at a monthly cost of $10.

Virtual diet centers typically have more male members than those in the real world, said Christine Senft, editorial director for Members weigh in once a week and maintain an online journal. "We also have an 800 number where members can speak with one of our client services representatives," Senft said. "Weight loss can be hard sometimes and we have someone there that they can speak with directly if they are having a tough day. It combines a lot of things that might be missing from more conventional weight-loss methods. It's a resource that can be used at any time."

Diet and fitness experts are also offering their services online.

Pam Oliver, a weight-loss consultant in Rocky Hill, Conn., now offers her Body Transformers program at www.bodytransformers. com.

"I was once a professional yo-yo dieter. I lost over 100 pounds, and have kept it off. I went from a size 24 to size 10," Oliver said. "My program is the one that I used and the one I use with clients."

Her program is based on four-week units, costing $100 a month.

"Variety is what keeps people going. If I say, you can't have a doughnut, you'll wake up in the morning wanting a doughnut," Oliver said.

"So we let you have a doughnut, just not every day."

Her program also urges clients not to weigh themselves.

"I tell them to sell the scale at a tag sale," she said. "I don't believe in it. Instead I suggest that every couple of weeks they try on a pair of pants that don't fit. After awhile, those pants are going to get looser, and one day they will fit."

Oliver receives e-mail from clients all around the country.

"It's been tremendously rewarding. People keep going, and they stick with it. If there is something they don't like on the diet, I can talk about alternatives with them. It's weight loss at your fingertips."

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