Undoing wreckage of holidays

January 10, 2002|By Kevin Cowherd

IT'S THAT TIME of year again, that uplifting season when we're all reminded of how incredibly fat we are and what pigs we were over the holidays.

So once again this January, you can't pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV without seeing an ad or commercial for this hot new diet or that weight-loss program or this gym.

And the ads still trot out those ever-popular "before" and "after" shots where stout women in oversized T-shirts and baggy sweatpants are magically transformed into impeccably coifed vixens in size 6 tennis outfits, while pasty-faced men in loud swim trunks with beer guts the size of small landfills morph into tanned, lean hunks in aviator shades and color-coordinated cabana wear.

Oh, you gotta love "before" and "after" ads.

There was a classic in the paper the other day for Gold's Gym, which has, I don't know, 90,000 outlets in the Maryland, D.C., Virginia area.

The woman in the ad was not identified - there was no vague tagline of "Sherry T., Fort Lauderdale, Fla." or "Elaine N., Rochester, N.Y."

In the "before" photo, we see a woman in a skimpy black bikini who is, OK, a few pounds overweight, but nothing terrible.

Her hips and thighs are probably bigger than she'd like. But this is hardly someone who's going to step on the bathroom scale and send it crashing through the floor to the basement.

(Why any woman who's overweight would allow herself to be photographed in a skimpy bikini is another matter, which we won't get into here.)

In the "after" shot, she's wearing another black bikini, only obviously a few sizes smaller. But now she's lost so much weight that her arms are the size of twigs, her ribs are sticking out and her waist looks like an 8-year-old's.

Me, I'm thinking: Aren't you supposed to look healthy from working out? This woman looks like she was marooned on a desert island for three months.

By the way, the Gold's Gym ad also features this curious blurb: "Come in today to register to win a big-screen TV!"

Yeah, that's what someone with a weight problem needs: more time in front of the TV.

It's a wonder the ad didn't say: "Win a big-screen TV and a large pepperoni pizza!"

This is a chain of gyms, for God's sake. Shouldn't they be giving away treadmills or sets of barbells or something?

Wonder what their spring promotion will be: "Win a La-Z-Boy recliner and box of eclairs?"

Everywhere you look, you're bombarded with ads for the Zone Diet, the Atkins Diet, the Hollywood 48-Hour Miracle Diet, the Grapefruit Diet, Optifast, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, etc.

Speaking of the Zone Diet, I defy anyone without an advanced degree in nutritional studies - and maybe mathematics - to figure out how this diet works.

Listen to this from the promotional material on its Web site: "According to the Zone Diet, the ideal ratio of carbohydrates, proteins and fats is 40-30-30 respectively. Ideally, a Zone-favorable meal or snack will have this macronutrient ratio every time you eat."

Are you kidding me?

Am I supposed to sit down with tiny scales, a nutrient chart and a calculator every time I eat?

I'd be so stressed from figuring out the macronutrient ratio of each meal I'd probably take up smoking.

Even the Giant supermarket chain has gotten into the weight-loss act with full-page ads in newspapers blaring the headline: "This New Years, resolve to trim the fads from your diet."

According to Janet Tenney, manager of nutrition programs for Giant, the ads aren't designed to tweak the ridiculous fad diets that ensnare the feeble-minded year after year.

Rather, she said, they're to promote Giant's commitment to health and nutrition issues and for, as the ads put it, "helping [consumers] lose weight the scientific way."

Indeed, Tenney, a registered dietician for 25 years, sounds like the voice of reason in a world gone mad over dieting.

For one thing, she says, holiday weight gain isn't really the huge issue most people think it is.

"Creeping weight is really an issue all year round," she said over the phone from corporate headquarters in Landover. And research indicates most people gain only 1-to-2 pounds during the holiday season, even if they're the types to practically set up a tent at the buffet table.

"The problem really in this country is that, year-round, we simply indulge in too much food," Tenney said.

Doesn't it amaze you, I asked her, that so many dopes try these far-out diets that can't possibly succeed in the long-term?

"I've been in the business so long nothing amazes me," she said with a laugh. "There's always a desire for a magic bullet. The first thing you grab at is something exciting. If your friend down the street tries something and loses weight, then you'll try it."

All diets will help you lose weight, she said, at least initially. It's keeping the weight off that's the trick. The trick few of us master.

That trim guy in the color-coordinated cabana wear?

I want to see him a year from now, when he stops running five miles a day and goes back to inhaling Whoppers at lunch every day.

We're looking at another "before" shot, is what I'm guessing.

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