One year ago, five Post staffers embarked on a 30-day diet of their choosing in an effort to reset their eating habits and lose weight. They chronicled weekly updates, and at the end of the month, despite an array of challenges, each had adopted healthier patterns and dropped pounds. But the real test is in making new habits stick, which is why I persuaded them to let me follow up a year later.
So where are they now? As a group they seem to have at least matched the odds. Research indicates about 20 percent of people who intentionally lose at least 10 percent of their initial weight keep it off for at least a year. One of the five staffers appears to have met that standard, while two others maintained smaller losses. The other two backslid somewhat but have gleaned much from the experience. They all plan to take lessons learned into 2018.
Kendra's goal of "making moderation the new normal" didn't pan out this year, although she may have inched closer to it. After losing nine pounds on the ultra-strict Whole30 diet, a plan she also did the year before, she "slipped back into bad habits pretty quickly (though not as quickly as the first time)," she told me by email.
Kendra is afraid to get on the scale but thinks she may weigh more than when she started last year, thanks in part to feasting throughout her recent honeymoon. She still has the sticky note at her desk with the reasonable five-point maintenance "food rules" she planned to abide by throughout the year, but she admitted she totally forgot about them. "I had to look at the note just now to even remember what they were." Had she been able to adhere to those guidelines consistently, there likely would have been plenty of leeway for her postnuptial week of beer, schnitzel, chocolate and waffles.
Maybe predictably, Kendra now feels like she needs to do something drastic to get her back on track, so she will be doing Whole30 again, this time with her husband. But now, at least, she has her sights on what happens after the 30-day extreme plan that diet requires, and she is using what she learned this year to refine her strategy. Having doable everyday eating goals and keeping them at the top of her mind will be central to finding the moderation she seeks.
"I know I need a sustainable plan beyond the Whole30," she says. "I'm still not sure what the plan is. I live and die by Google Calendar, so maybe send myself automatic daily reminders of my food rules? Or maybe I need to rethink the rules themselves? Or just suck it up and force myself to do a food diary? Hopefully over the next month I will come to a more solid conclusion."
"Weight Watchers is a great program," wrote Tom when I checked in with him via email last week. "As a food critic, I love the fact that nothing is forbidden. Follow the diet and you see results." But key tenets of that program — exercise and mindful eating — fell by the wayside for him this year. He stopped working out with a trainer, abandoned his routine of daily two-mile walks, and fell into a pattern of excess snacking at home. Tom pins these setbacks partly on the stress of the holidays and a months-long project looking at chain restaurants, which involved a lot of travel and fried food. He also blames a lack of sleep and no lack of alcohol — a double-whammy leading to mindless munching for him. He doesn't need a scale to tell him that he put back on the seven pounds he lost last year because "the fit of my clothes does that job very well."
Some healthy habits did stick, though, and may have prevented him from going up a clothing size altogether. He continues to eat a healthy breakfast of oatmeal with fresh fruit and moderate lunches, even when he is on a restaurant review. He manages to steer clear of the temptation that is the Post's test kitchen, and he always keeps fresh fruit in his office. While he no longer tracks what he eats in the form of points, he is still guided by the portion control aspect of Weight Watchers, negotiating with himself when he goes out to eat: "If I skip the brioche and butter, I can have a cocktail," or "I'll try the cassoulet, but only ¼ cup . . ." For 2018, he plans to get a handle on all the at-home snacking. One trick: "Brush your teeth. . . . It definitely sends a signal to my brain to stop eating. So, one of my goals this year is to break out the Crest more often."
One problem with our perception of diet success today is that anything other than a dramatic before-and-after picture feels disappointing. I can't get the scene out of my head of the contestant I saw once on "The Biggest Loser" weeping on the scale because she only lost five pounds that week. With that kind of reaction normalized, it's not surprising that when I checked in with Joe last week, he began talking about how he had failed this year. He had lost five pounds after the initial 30 days by following the Buddha's Diet's main tenet of keeping all eating to a nine-hour time window, and he had hoped to continue that and lose another 25 pounds by the end of 2017. "You visualize yourself at this new weight with all the new energy. A ridiculously stereotypical infomercial of yourself plays in your head — happy, laughing, walking on the beach," he told me.
Cut to real life. The nine-hour eating window proved unrealistic, in part because he began exercising more and became ravenous after working out. Eating at that point (9 a.m.) meant his dinner would have had to be finished by 6 p.m. He also neglected to keep up with the mindful eating that translates to eating slowly and stopping when full. So he didn't lose that additional 25 pounds. In his regret about that, he wasn't recognizing how successful he actually was. He was able to modify the plan to make it work for him, landing on an 11-12 hour eating window, which ultimately prevented him from falling back into his previous habit of snacking after dinner.
He has kept off the five pounds he lost, which is especially meaningful considering he had been steadily gaining weight for years. Reversing a trend of weight gain, maintaining some weight loss and establishing healthy new habits may not be radical enough for TV drama, but it is a bigger victory than meets the eye. Joe's plan is to continue with the slightly longer eating window, renew his commitment to eating mindfully, and toss out the scale so he can focus on healthy behaviors instead of getting wrapped up in worrying about his weight as he prepares to get married in May. "I just want to exercise, feel good and be happy. I am sure that the Buddha did not weigh himself."
Soup was not the only thing that helped Bonnie transform her habits this year, but she says "the soup thing made a difference for me." It has become a part of her diet year-round, doing the trick of filling her up and getting vegetables into her day. But adding soup was just one facet of Bonnie's overhaul this year. Beyond that, she cut the amount she was eating by focusing on one main meal per day with small bites in between. She stopped nibbling mindlessly, keeping fruit such as apples or grapes at work, which she might have with a small piece of very sharp cheddar; and not eating after 9 p.m. at home. She also began dealing with her unhealthy cravings. Where she would once give into that big bag of Cheetos at the grocery store, now she'll wait until the urge passes, or maybe get a small bag. She is also walking three or four days a week. All told, she is down 28 pounds for the year.
Bonnie had a powerful incentive: her son's wedding this past October. "I wanted to be in the best shape I could for my son and new daughter-in-law, and for that day," she told me. But even with that event behind her, her new habits have held up, even through the holiday season. Her goal is to lose another 30 pounds by continuing with what she is doing and adding some type of core workout regimen. It seems soup really got her on a roll.
Adam's good at losing weight. He has done it every year from January through April for the past five years, as part of an annual weight loss challenge with a group of buddies. His formula is straightforward: Eat healthy, exercise and dial back on alcohol. The problem is, come April, with the new baseball season, he has historically abandoned those good habits and by the end of the year gained most (but not all) of the weight back.
One of his goals for this year was to avoid that black and white, off-season/on-season mentality, and he made progress there. "I did a better job, even in the midst of eating unhealthfully, of making sure to include a healthy component like a salad. I was better at stemming the unhealthy tide." He also continued exercising beyond the April cutoff, but that routine fell by the wayside once his daughter was born in July. One of his plans for this year is to figure out how to get to the gym regularly again, and to get a baby jogger for when the weather gets better.
Adam still yo-yo'd quite a bit, gaining back all but nine of the 35 pounds he had lost by April. But each year he has been at this, the losses that have stuck have accumulated. This month five years ago, he weighed 240 pounds, and now he is at 218. His ultimate goal, he says, is to get to start a year at no more than 200 pounds, meaning he won't have to do the weight loss challenge again. At this rate, he should do that around the time his daughter starts preschool. Not very far off at all.