The diet industry is one of the most profitable and exploitative businesses in the world. It's comprised of many different branches, such as diet food and beverage manufacturers, publishing (diet books and diet-related magazines), and diet centers like Jenny Craig, NutriSystem, etc. It's this branch in particular I'd like to focus on, because in my opinion, they are truly a malignancy, fostering poor health while feeding off the trust and desperation of the very people they purport to help.
I have firsthand experience with one of these very profitable diet centers, and I'd like to share my experience with you, in the hope that I can save you time, suffering, and money.
In 2001, I decided I was finally going to lose my weight once and for all. I'd been seeing commercials on TV for the Dr. Bernstein Diet Clinics here in Canada. What sold me on it was that the very sincere-looking Dr. Bernstein was indeed a medical doctor, and that the diet was touted as being "medically supervised". Also, the fact that it boasted quick results sucked me in too. So after giving it some thought, I signed up.
Everyone was very nice and welcoming at first. "We're here to help you", they said. "Any problems, just let us know, that's what we're here for". I did my first weigh-in, told them what my goal was, and they gave me a little booklet outlining the program, the instructions, etc.
The Dr. Bernstein diet is extremely expensive. It's not covered by OHIP, so unless you have private insurance, you're paying out of your own pocket. I was covered under my husband's insurance so I was lucky in that sense. At the time I joined the program, it was (if memory serves me correctly) $120 per week. So that would've been $480 per month, over $5,000 a year. I think I was on the program for about 2 years, so that's at least $10,000 of hard-earned money that I ended up wasting on this program. I had a well-paying job at the time, and as I said, I was covered by my husband's insurance. At that time in my life, it was worth any price to lose the weight.
10 years later, I don't know the current cost of the program, but you can bet it's higher than it was in 2001.This fee includes 3 weekly weigh-ins and vitamin shots, which I was told was a fat-burning cocktail of Vitamin B12 and some other ingredients I didn't really bother checking into. Whenever I asked them about it, if it was harmful, they clucked dismissively and said it was perfectly safe, just a concoction of vitamins that proved effective in weight loss. It crossed my mind that there might be unknown long-term effects, but as I said, the weight loss was more important so I didn't give it much thought. I happily waltzed in there and let them stick their needles in my ass 3 times a week.
The diet was absolute hell. Total starvation. No bread to speak of (unless you call two thin flatbread crackers bread), no rice, no pasta, no butter, no sugar other than fruit (even the fruit was restricted). In order to supplement your body with the nutrients it needed from the food it wasn't getting, we patients were taking vitamin supplements.
I might have seen Dr. Bernstein at the clinic once. I recognized him from the commercials. The clinics are manned by a team of "nurses" and a handful of other "doctors" who counsel you once a month on your progress, or lack of. I put the words in quotation marks because I have my reservations about their professional qualifications. From what I saw, the nurses were merely women in white coats who were very adept at handling needles and checking piss.
That was another thing. You know the urine sample bottles they give you when you go to the doctor for a physical? We were supposed to bring in urine samples 3 times a week so they could check it for sugar content, which let them know whether we were sticking to the diet or not. I always dreaded those piss-checks, no matter how good I'd been. I was always afraid there wouldn't be enough ketones (fat burners) in it. And believe me, if you went over your daily allotment of food (which was peanuts, pardon the pun), even so much as eating an extra apple, your piss would give you away and you'd be questioned about it.
The diet worked like a charm at first, simply because I was very determined. For 6 months, I stuck to the diet religiously, no matter how hellish and torturous it was, and lost over 100 pounds. That's right. I worked downtown at the time too, right in the midst of every type of food temptation you can imagine. Worst of all was this amazing cookie place in my building. The cookies were the size of frickin pie plates, soft and chewy, and came in all these incredible flavours. No matter how the fresh-baked smell of them threatened to lure me every day while my stomach growled in agony, I stalwartly passed them by and opted for black coffee instead.
Inevitably, the day came when I couldn't fight it anymore and cheated for the first time. That was the beginning of the end, when I fell off the wagon and started going on a rollercoaster of yo-yoing that lasted the remaining year or so.
3 times a week, I'd go in there for my piss checks and half the time I'd be questioned about not sticking to the diet. I told them that once I'd gotten off the initial program, it was extremely difficult to get back on and stay on. It was like once you'd introduced sugar or fat into your diet again, there was no going back. Your body fought like hell to get more, thus the cravings, thus the constant failure. I'd be able to be "good" again for maybe a week or two, but then inevitably I'd get the urge for sugar or fat or whatever it was my body needed so badly.
Once a month, I'd go in for my consultation with the clinic doctor (not Bernstein, one of his underlings). I'd explain to him the awful cravings I had, the inability to withstand them, and they constantly said the same thing: "Oh well, don't be so hard on yourself. You'll get back on track. Don't beat yourself up about it, it happens to all of us. Just resolve to do better from now on." When I suggested to one doctor that it would be helpful if there were some counselling about the emotional aspect of eating, he merely chuckled. I asked him if it was possible to talk to Dr. Bernstein about implementing some kind of treatment about that side of it. He just smiled and averted his eyes and said, Well, I can suggest it, but I don't think it's likely to happen. Dr. Bernstein is more about just the physical side of the weight loss.
This went on for months. Finally, one day I was simply told that since I didn't seem able to stick to the diet consistently any longer (no matter how hard I tried), the doctor had instructed his staff to dismiss me from the program. What am I supposed to do now? I asked them. I was desperate. I felt totally abandoned. This guy was supposedly a reputable doctor. What kind of doctor refuses to treat a patient? I asked. The nurse shrugged at me. That's what the doctor ordered. I realized the reason I was probably kicked out of the program was because the effectiveness rate of the program would go down if Dr. Bernstein kept "unsuccessful" patients on his roster.
I was so furious that I filed a complaint with the medical board, but I was told that my complaint couldn't go anywhere. Dr. Bernstein knows the system, what his legal obligations as a so-called medical care provider are (turns out they're pretty lax), and patients have very few rights. I was fucked.
So here I am, about 10 years later, with a lot of the weight back on. My body has been changed forever. My metabolism has been totally fucked up, and I feel cold a lot. Even in summer, sometimes I feel so chilled I have to get under a blanket when I'm watching TV at home.
Even when I was still at his clinic, the enterprising Dr. Bernstein introduced a range of diet products to his operation. A whole range of Dr. Bernstein food products came out: protein bars, diet drinks, teas, oatmeal, etc. The protein bars tasted just like chocolate bars to me which was why I loved them. It's also why I binged on them and kept going off the diet.
It's madness. Please don't do it. If you really want to lose the weight, then do it sensibly. Go to a nutritionist and get advice about what kinds of foods to eat and the amounts you need. Exercise, not crazily, but regular, moderate exercise. Don't fall for any of these "lose weight fast" schemes and programs. It's all bullshit, all they want is your money, they don't give a fuck about you. Believe me.