Dump the doughnuts. Chuck the chocolate. The Fat Squad is coming.
It's the newest strategic advance in the ongoing Battle of the Bulge, the brainchild of one Joseph Bones (his real name), a New York entrepreneur who decided three months ago to wage the war against fat on previously unexplored turf -- your turf.
For a hefty $300 a day (with a three-day minimum) Bones' loyal band of Fat Squad "commandos" will accompany you through every hour of the day and night, with the sole purpose of keeping you on your diet.
They will go wherever you go. To your job. To your bedroom. To your bathroom. They will even eat -- a little -- with you.
But be warned. The commandos have explicit instructions to enforce prescribed dietary regimens with complete authority. All entering the program must sign a release, wherein the rules are set forth.
Among them: "The Fat Squad and its agents will not be liable for any illness, discomfort, mental anguish, or any other condition arising from a diet which you may suffer . . . "
And suffer they do, says Bones. "We've had people try to hide chocolate bars in the bathroom."
Such subterfuge is usually foiled, however, by another clause in the agreement, which gives Fat Squad agents full search and seizure rights where fattening goodies are concerned.
"Basically, these are people who have realized that they just can't do it themselves," Bones says. "If a client is eating something that is not on their diet, the commandos are there to take it out of their hands. We're finding out that people simply need to be told what they can and cannot do when it comes to their eating habits. In many ways, they're reliving their childhood."
Including, as one might expect, the occasional temper tantrum.
"We've had some people get pretty angry. But we tell people from the beginning that once you've hired us, you can't fire us. We also have intelligent commandos."
The Fat Squad, he says, is made up mostly of actors, as they take well to both the role playing and the odd hours required of the commandos, who work in eight-hour shifts at $7 an hour. They are often chosen with the life style of the client in mind. For business types, Bones assigns discreet, conservatively dressed agents, who are instructed to don stereo headphones during particularly sensitive corporate gatherings.
Or, if the client needs a more conspicuous reminder, Bones will readily assign a commando with a stronger personality. "If people prefer to be bossed, we have some pretty tough-looking characters, who are there to intimidate."
One client, a television executive who received three days with the Fat Squad as a 40th birthday present from his wife, verified the distinct presence of this "intimidation factor": "Some of these people are gigantic. And although they're very supportive, they're also very serious about their jobs."
The executive, who preferred to remain anonymous, pointed out that his wife's enthusiasm for the program ended at the bedroom door. "She made me sleep out in the living room with the commando." He added that he did in fact "lose a few pounds," but admitted that he will remember the Fat Squad more for its novelty than for its long-term effectiveness.
Another anonymous client, a diabetic, chose to enroll for a rigorous two-week program at a discounted $1,750 a week. "I lost 30 pounds in two grueling, embarrassing weeks. They frisked me. They made an inventory of everything that I had in the house. They went through my drawers, my medicine cabinet. The only thing they allowed was a candy bar, which they held in case of an insulin reaction."
The turning point for him came during a rather heated argument with one of the commandos in a Greek diner. The subject of the debate was the diner's reputable rice pudding, whose freshness he had inquired about. The commando quietly suggested cottage cheese, and the sparks flew. "Our voices started to escalate, until I began to hear how stupid I sounded. I was screaming for a bowl of pudding. Reaching that point was worth the price of the program."
The genesis of Bones' business was a joking remark made by an ex-Marine buddy. "His wife had been trying to get him to lose 20 pounds," says Bones, "and he said that it would take a 24-hour drill sergeant to do it."
Today the Fat Squad is a thriving enterprise. It has already served more than 30 clients, Bones says, and his staff of 50 commandos is "almost all busy." They will travel anywhere, he adds, if their expenses are paid, but he is quick to point out that clients must first consult with their doctors before signing up. He also sees the Fat Squad branching out into the treatment of other addictions, such as gambling and alcoholism.
Whether Bones' troop of enforcers will survive the perils of the fickle weight-loss industry remains to be seen. For now, though, Bones is content in his role as chief of the Fat Squad, whose motto may as well be the words he uses to describe his employes: "Cordial, but Strict."