Magda proves commercial diet programs are a waste of money.

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According to the Australian Women’s Weekly actress and comedian Magda Szubanski was paid $32,692 per kilo to lose 26 kilos in 2009 ($850,000). It appears the solution was temporary so now Magda is reportedly receiving $1.25 million to have another go.

Magda joins a long list of celebrities who’ve fallen off the Jenny Craig wagon. But continuous failure doesn’t seem to harm their brand at all. Indeed failure seems to sell more, Magda’s first attempt increased Jenny Craig sales by 307 per cent.

So, does Jenny Craig work (for people who are not celebrities)?

The Jenny Craig diet has been tested in only one randomised, controlled trial.  That is a little surprising (and dare I say, suspicious), given it is one of the largest diet programs in the world.

In this kind of trial, the participants are randomly assigned either to a group following the diet or a group not following the diet (the controls), and the progress of each group is directly measured against the other. The trial compared Jenny Craig with what they called a ‘self-help group’. The self-helpers were given information on losing weight and offered a follow-up counselling session with a dietitian, but otherwise left to their own devices.

The study was funded by Jenny Craig, who also provided all the meals and counselling sessions free of charge. Participants also had access to free weekly one-on-one counselling sessions with a Jenny Craig consultant. If they’d had to pay for all this luvin, it would have cost them $718 for the counselling and $6,240 for the food. Because of all these factors, the study is not a completely real-world example. Throw in $1,500 a month for a personal trainer and a million dollar pay day and you might almost replicate the experience of a celebrity dieter.

In the real world, we’re supposed to pay for the diet, not the other way around. Given that, this study probably represent the best possible scenario in terms of keeping people motivated and sticking to the diet for the entire length of the study, which was two years. Even so 9 per cent of participants had dropped out by the end.

After two years of free Jenny Craig meals, intense calorie restriction (the diets were between 42 and 68 per cent of their normal calorie intake) and weekly counselling, the average dieter managed to drop from 92.2 kilograms to 84.8 kilograms (which means they were still obese – in this trial defined as anything above 81 kilograms). Even the self-helpers managed to drop 2 kilograms!

The good news is that if you can convince Jenny Craig to pay for your food and weekly counselling (don’t hold your breath), you can expect to lose about 7 kilograms in two years. If you started out obese, you’d still be obese and you’d have been starving for two whole years but your pants might fit a little better.

And it seems this astounding lack of success is not a one-off observation.

A 2007 UCLA review of 31 credible long term weight loss studies found that most people on calorie restricting diets (such as that promoted by Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers) initially lost 5 to 10 percent of their body weight. But they also found that the majority of people regained all the weight (plus a bit more) within 12 months. Sustained weight loss was found only in a very, very small minority of participants.

Clearly Jenny Craig understand that since their diet doesn’t work very well, people need to be assured that their inevitable failure is something shared by the best and brightest (by that I mean celebrities, in case it wasn’t obvious).

All of this relies on the punter buying into the myth propagated by the Health and Diet industry that being fat is a character defect. They need us to believe that we put on weight because we are weak willed or lazy (or both). This means that any failure of a diet product is those character defects overcoming our willpower and not that the product was a load of rubbish.

This is, of course, utter nonsense. We are fat because we are addicted to a substance (sugar) which makes us fat. This addictive substance is embedded in everything we eat by the processed food industry so they can move more product (if they could use nicotine they would, but sugar will have to do). We are not fat because we are gluttonous or slothful (or any of the five remaining deadly sins).

If a product doesn’t actually work as promised and the company selling it knows this, then we are well on the way to outrageously unethical (if not downright immoral) corporate behaviour. But I won’t hold my breath waiting for any corporate regulator to do anything about it. Luckily we don’t have to. We have a choice. We can buy into the latest Jenny Craig (or any other diet program’s) weightless yo-yo. Or, we can just stop eating sugar.

Image by Eva Rinaldi from Sydney Australia www.evarinaldi.com (Magda Szubanski) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Great post. It makes me laugh that on the ads, Magda says “I know it works”.

    Quite sad, really.

  • As a nutritionist and medical herbalist, I have always known there is no magic pill or diet for long term weight loss. If you really want to lose it and keep it off, you need to test for and correct the specific deficiencies in metabolism that affect fat burning and also affect mood, food cravings, and motivation.

  • Elaine Worner says:

    Agree with you spittin chips, it is quite sad but what is sadder is that others who have gone through what Magda has will probably go through this all again. The add also vindicates what has been said about the total waste of time these “diets” are. Going sugar free is the only way to lose weight and this is a lifestyle change.

  • megan billington says:

    I could not agree more, I tried light n easy for nearly 12 months and all I lost was 5000 dollars

  • Sue says:

    David – are there any randomised trials of the weight loss method you recommend?

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