Monday, July 12, 2010

What I Learned From Jenny Craig

(Update: My views have changed immensely since I wrote this. You can read my apology to my clients  over here at my new website.)

Yes, you heard me right. I'm talking about that Jenny Craig. The Jenny Craig of Valerie Bertinelli fame, of Jason Alexander fame, of Sara Rue fame (and yes, I knew who she was before she joined the program), of Kirstie Alley...well...infamy. Jenny Craig, the most effective weight loss company in the U.S., at least according to the ads Weight Watchers sued them over. Jenny Craig, my employer for the last three years.

I never wrote about Jenny Craig here (or JC, as we call it), other than to note that I worked as a weight loss consultant. I know many of my readers knew where I worked, but for a number of reasons, I felt it was better to keep JC and The Daily Dietribe separate. Foremost was the fact that this is a gluten-free blog, and I haven't had a bite of JC food since I stopped eating gluten. Second was the fact that I promote eating fresh, whole foods, and JC is based on eating packaged, frozen meals. Not that I don't eat frozen meals for convenience on occasion, but an eating plan where breakfast, lunch, and dinner come out of the freezer is not one that I wanted to follow myself. Truth be told, working at Jenny Craig was always somewhat of a conflict of interest for me. I loved the work I did with my clients, but hoped that they would see the program as I did: as a stepping stone for learning correct portion sizes, how to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diet, and of course losing those extra pounds. If I could help them to lose weight, I felt good. If I could help them to eventually transition off the packaged food, start eating their own homecooked meals, and keep the weight off, I felt I had succeeded.

Now that I've left Jenny Craig and am getting ready to start school again in the fall (for my MS in nutrition at Bastyr), I often think back on my years at Jenny Craig as my own stepping stone. It might not have been the career I ultimately wanted, but it taught me many of the tools I'll need in my career. It also taught me more about weight loss, weight maintenance, and the emotions involved than I think I could ever learn in school. Here's what I learned at Jenny Craig that I'll take with me when I'm doing my own nutritional counseling:

  • You have to be ready to change, and you have to be willing to do the work. You can pay for a trainer, therapist, weight loss consultant, etc. but you're the only one who can do the actual work. It's sort of like being back in school. If you show up for classes, but don't do the homework, you're not likely to get anywhere. But if you do a little every day, you'll find it much easier to get where you're going. 
  • Quick weight loss schemes don't work. They never have. They never will. You'll only end up gaining the weight back, plus some. 
  • The best way to lose weight is to find a healthy way of eating that you can stick with longterm. Think about it this way. Whatever you do to lose weight, you're going to need to keep doing to keep it off. So it better be something that feels right to you. 
  • You may not feel like you're doing much when you're walking, but the more you walk, the more weight you'll lose. So if you don't have the energy to go for a run, don't think a walk isn't worth the time. It's just as valuable. And besides, it gets you away from the TV and the kitchen!
  • Variety is key to exercise. Don't let your body get used to what you're doing. Try switching it up between yoga, running, walking, dancing... You can read my post on exercise here for more ideas.
  • All of those tips on what to do when you want to eat but know you aren't hungry? They work! But only if you do them. Taking a walk helps; so does calling a friend; so does brushing your teeth. I keep my list of things to do when I want to binge on my fridge. And every time I use it, it works. But sometimes I pretend it's not there and ignore it. Make your own list and put it somewhere that you can't ignore it!
  • Portion control is key...except with vegetables. Eat as many non-starchy veggies as you want. That's pretty much all of them except potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and peas. You'll never gain weight from eating too much broccoli. Here are some tips on how to liven up your veggies.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast. It will start your day off right and keep you from having sugar lows later in the day. Here are some healthy, gluten-free breakfast ideas. 
  • Finally, don't let yourself get too hungry. When are you most likely to overeat? When it's been too long since your last meal. Everyone has a different amount of time they can go without eat before they go overboard at their next meal. For me, the limit is about three hours. Keep track for a couple of days and you might notice that every time you overeat, it's because you went X amount of time without a meal/snack.
I can go on like this forever but I'll stop here. I often saw over twenty clients a day at Jenny Craig, so eventually these little pieces of "weight loss wisdom" started sprouting out of my ears. Do you have any weight loss wisdom tips of your own? Questions? Thoughts? Disagreements? Have any of you tried Jenny yourself? What was your experience like? (And don't worry... I won't be offended by positive or negative ideas on this subject.)


Valerie @ City|Life|Eats said...

This is a great post - I have often wondered how people who work as weight loss consultants feel about their jobs - especially when those companies involve a lot of pre-packaged foods. I do like the idea of using them as a stepping stone to learning portion control etc.

And I SO agree about the portion control being unnecessary for most veggies -it never ceases to confuse me when people get on my case about eating 3 cups of kale and "think of the calories" - it's kale for crying out loud!

By the way, I posted a recipe for gluten-free flatbread on my blog today.

hunterslyonesse said...

I always tell people to eat a healthy, hearty breakfast, too. :) Planning and prep is important when fixing fresh meals from whole foods. Always make sure your meals and snacks include the food trinity: protein-healthy fats-carbs(which includes fruits and veggies). Then I ask them (if they are really grumbling about making changes), how bad do you want it? Turns out, they usually don't really know.

Thanks for sharing, Iris!

briogusto said...

Super interesting, you bring up a ton of good points! Thanks for sharing your experiences! I imagine you must have learned a lot about yourself while coaching others. Very cool. I can't wait to hear what's in store for you at Bastyr (and on the West Coast - woo!) :)

Chelsey said...

What a wealth of wisdom. I can see why you would have been at odds with your job at JC. You are most definitely a fresh kind of girl! It's good to see you move forward and pursue your passion for nutrition.

My biggest tips for staying on track and losing weight are to make my lunch and afternoon snack the night before. That way they are planned (as well as something I like), and I never get too hungry while deciding what I'm going to eat...Because when I'm hungry, I can tear through my pantry like a wolverine!

Tasty Eats At Home said...

Great tips! It's funny, most of these things I already know, but sometimes, really driving them home and revisiting them is important. I finally broke myself of my plateau by revisiting #1 - after all, isn't doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results the definition of crazy? I was doing the same workout, eating the same way, and was wondering why my body wasn't changing. I decided I REALLY wanted it, and started a different workout routine, and it's made a difference. Also I find that your lean protein suggestion makes a big difference - I'm not really eating that many more calories, but I'm not always hungry! Used to be I'd feel hungry all day and then end up overeating at night. Now, not as much. Hooray for protein.

Alea said...

Great tips! I find that to keep my family suportive they can not feel deprived. One trick I have is to buy them "treats" that I don't like. I don't like cheese crackers, cereal bars, oreo style cookies. So I can keep some of those in the pantry for them and not be tempted.

To keep myself from feeling deprived I have a one bite rule for desserts. I allow myself to savor a small piece when I bake for the family. After they have each had a piece, I cut it up and put it in the freezer, to put in their lunches. Since it is not sitting around I am not tempted to "even up the edges".

Britt said...

Great post, Iris! And thank you--this was coincidentally well-timed for me, personally. I've been putting off getting to work on losing weight for the wedding. I started our relationship (almost 4 years ago!) at a good place and managed to gain way more than I am comfortable with as we got more and more comfortable with each other. I've finally decided that, at four months to go, I have to take control of this. And it's more than vanity now, I just don't FEEL good anymore. Sorry to spill my baggage here, but I just wanted to let you know that this was inspiring and thank you for sharing your thoughts, tips, and stories so openly. You've added another dose of fuel to my fire! :)

Aubree Cherie said...

Awesome post! I admit I was a little hesitant by the title, but because it was you I knew I didn't want to miss whatever it was you had to say. I'm glad I didn't! I need to write down some of your tips to help with binge eating. I still struggle with it terribly. And exercise variety; ugh. (hahaha!) I definitely need to work on that too. Thanks so much for your insight though, its very encouraging to me :)

~Aubree Cherie

saxifrage said...

Great insight! It sounds like in spite of its shortcomings, the JC experience turned out to be a valuable one for you. I like the idea of the list... I have a list, too, but it's in my head, ha! Makes it much easier to ignore when I'm not in the mood to exercise control/choose a healthier outlet than eating ;-)

I think my biggest weight loss "tip" is the use of a food journal. I don't use one anymore, but when I was at my heaviest and completely clueless about the food-feelings connection, that journal seriously tapped me in. Now, I'm all about the healthy outlets: running, walking, talking, singing, writing... anything that burns off the anxious energy and keeps me from stuffing my face in a moment of weakness!

Farty Girl said...

Thanks for the tips! Your stint at JC says a lot about how much you care about nutrition. You were willing to compromise your beliefs just to help people. That's pretty commendable!

I look forward to hearing about Bastyr!

Kimberly said...

I have never tried Jenny Craig or any other 'program' like weight watchers etc. I lost weight when my daughter was about 2yrs. old (she is now 14) by eating whole foods and exercising. It was NOT a quick fix, but I have kept the weight off. I like your list of tips--especially the brushing your teeth one :)

Porch Days said...

Thanks for the tips. My husband has to loose a major amount of weight and finally he is committed to doing it. We have changed the way we eat but always need ideas.

Ricki said...

Thanks for this post! I've been working on a similar post for about a week now and can't seem to round it off. . . lots of "food" for thought here. I've never tried JC but my best friend was on it for a year, and I tried a couple of the "foods"--honestly, everything she gave me tasted gross! Or maybe my taste buds are so different now that I just can't eat anything pre-packaged.

gfe--gluten free easily said...

Wonderful post, Iris! I bet you were one of the best counselors there because of your belief that it was a stepping stone, and all your common sense advice. I can't even imagine eating the pre-packaged processed stuff any more. I can still remember how sad other weight loss meals were. I've got weight to lose, but I'll do it by overeating on veggies and eating lean protein (a must for me) plus doing reasonable exercise instead. But, you're right, you have to truly decide first that you are committed, and that's true no matter what the goal is.



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