When Losing Weight Is Your Job

What happens when celebrity spokespeople struggle to succeed on commercial diet plans?

Call it the Kirstie Alley Curse: Sometimes, when a commercial diet plan like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig partner up with a fat famous person, they don't ride off into the newly-svelte sunset to live happily ever after.

Sometimes, the celebrity in question falls off the portion-controlled bandwagon, regains the weight and is perhaps a less-than-ringing endorsement for the diet plan they once touted. And yet, as Taffy Brodesser-Akner explains in this fascinating New York Times story, we never, ever blame the diet: "If they don’t do good on it, it doesn’t mean the product doesn’t work,” Zalmi Duchman, chief executive for the Fresh Diet, told the Times. “It just means that they’re not sticking to it.”

In fact, as their own research shows, commercial diet plans can offer a moderate weight loss, at best: An average of 8 percent of total body weight -- over the course of two years. For a 165-pound woman, that's just 13.2 pounds. Not exactly the dramatic bikini body reveals that these brands were hoping for when they signed up Kirstie, Jennifer Hudson or even Carrie Fisher.

Furthermore, commercial diet plans sell the idea that you can lose weight on autopilot, just by turning responsibility for every bite you take over to them -- follow their rules, eat the meals they prescribe (or sell you), and voila, weight loss. Except even if this works, it doesn't teach you how to listen to your own body and make your own decisions around food. Which doesn't bode well for anyone hoping to eventually eat under their own steam and still "keep the weight off for good," as diets always promise.

Maybe seeing celebrities struggle and even fail, Kirstie Alley-style, is good for diet brands because it reassures their non-famous, struggling customers that they aren't alone. As Carrie Fisher tells the Times: “It’s really important to recognize that it’s just as hard for a celebrity as it would be for any other person losing weight.”

Too true. But we also need to recognize why it's so darn hard for everyone: Because these plans don't work. Or at least, not nearly as well as they claim or for as long as they promise. The flip side of the "they're not sticking to it" argument is that these companies have failed to design a product worth sticking with. Turning yourself into a point-counting robot who always says no to a second helping might work for some -- but most people are going to get bored, get hungry and want to take their food decision-making power back.

So instead of blaming yourself when your next diet fails, or Kristie or Carnie Wilson (who, Duchman sniffs to the Times, "might have eaten the meals, but she ate the meals with a lot of other stuff"), put the blame where it belongs: On diet companies who take your money, fail to deliver on their marketing hype, and try to make you feel bad about yourself for all of the ways they're dropping the ball.

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