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Why Counting Points & Eating Boxed Meals is Killing You

PrePackaged Meals, Counting Points & Medical Weight Loss… Killing Us.

…Everything that is wrong with Americans wanting to get skinny at all costs…and the mentality that is slowly killing us.

By Briana Michel, HOLISTIC NUTRITION Coach and co-founder

I’m going to tick off a lot of die-hard JENNY CRAIG (JC) and Weight Watcher (WW) fans on this blog but after hands-on experience with both companies, their programs and philosophies I don’t feel I am speaking out of turn. We claim as a society we need to get healthier and YES we desperately do. So we are enticed by these sunshine commercials with styled celebrities and are reminded again and again we can eat what we want and still lose weight. I have a MAJOR problem with this.

If what you continually want is loaded potato skins, pizza, chocolate bars and cheeseburgers, then you have yet to learn the importance of HEALTH, immunity, mental clarity, longevity, vitality and disease prevention. Our focus and priorities are so far out in left field. We are literally dying to be skinny. Some will argue with me it is more deadly to keep the fat on than it is to diet in an unhealthy manner to get the fat off. Partially true. But this shouldn’t be the tradeoff.

Why do we need to mistreat ourselves just to get the fat off right now? Why can’t we learn what REAL food is, how we feel when we eat for health instead of just quick weight loss? Why can’t we enjoy treating ourselves to healthy food and moving more each day? Why does it need to be a struggle, miserable, temporary or unhealthy process? But the diet industry is exactly what is wrong with our cultural mindset. We should be learning how to thrive with food so it serves our body and all we ask it to do. So that it makes us function better and feel great…and not serve as momentary indulgences and binges that lead to guilt and yo-yoing weight.

Let’s take for instance WEIGHT WATCHERS – eat anything as long as you stay within your points. Um… so I can have a glass of wine, a slice of pizza, sugar-free Jell-O and a donut all day and be in my points and BAM- success! Hardly! Do I even need to explain the pure insanity of that? We may lose weight initially by sheer caloric restriction, but the quality of our food is directly related to the quality of our life. I understand WW may post healthier recipes, encourage vegetables and the like, but all-in-all their message is clear – eat what you want and still lose weight.

When I was a sophomore in college, I suffered a volleyball career ending shoulder injury that left me on the sidelines and without my athletic scholarship. My weight was at a point that I had never been growing up and I was frightened by this new sense of losing control. I wanted a fresh start. I transferred schools and joined weight watchers. First off, I later came to learn that my weight was already within the normal “healthy range” for my height and so technically, a representative later told me, I should have been turned down from participation in the meetings. I was young and naïve. I was incredibly diligent about following my points program. I even gave up chewing gum because I didn’t want the extra calories. I was discouraged from weight lifting (which I had been doing since I was 13 years old – and we all know muscle actually requires more calories at rest, boosting metabolism and there are a million other reasons like bone density and skin elasticity to train with weights – so discouraging it seems asinine to me!) because they said it would interfere with my weigh-ins each week.

We got cheesy colored stars for our little weight tracker booklets when we hit certain milestones and the larger women in the group were angry I didn’t have 50+ lbs to lose. My argument was shouldn’t I be commended for nipping it in the bud before it got out of control? They didn’t think so. I was an outsider from the beginning. I became obsessed with the weigh-ins; making sure I went to the bathroom several times in the hours leading up to the meetings and limiting my water intake those days (STUPID!). It became about beating the weigh-ins and not necessarily what we all did the other 6 days of the week. As I surveyed others in the meetings I was not alone in these tactics.

My diet consisted of tuna with yellow mustard, chicken with yellow mustard, carrots and cucumbers with you guessed it… yellow mustard – so it didn’t have the sugars of other sauces, 45 calorie bread and lord knows what else since I have done a good job of blocking a lot of that time period out. I stopped lifting as much and took up running. I was once scolded in a meeting by a WW representative for lifting weights because that would make “the scale read heavier”. I lost valuable muscle I had worked so hard to build over the years. I also became less social. It was not a healthy lifestyle – I was “points” and scale driven and didn’t have a great understanding of truly nourishing my body – because no one ever talked about that in meetings!

It was all about the weigh-ins as a complete measure of success. We didn’t talk about a healthy mindset or why we gained weight to begin with. It was mostly people talking about what new processed foods they found on store shelves that were low in points so they could eat more of them… yippy..? Not quite!

Eventually I became underweight for my height range and they still allowed me to attend meetings. However the backlash from fellow attendees those who were not so “successful” made me want to leave on my own. I realized I wanted to really learn more about healthy eating and not living by the scale. I wanted a life of quality not chemical laden “diet” foods. Don’t go yelling at me if you are a WW success story… some people take a healthier approach and understand they want to choose more whole foods not just stay in the points. I am not saying WW isn’t effective for weight loss. I am saying there may be a healthier message and system to be delivered instead of “eat what you want.” We should “want” the good for us food and the mindset that comes with that!

Fast forward many moons to a stint I had in another state. I was already growing a successful personal training and nutrition business when I had to leave Florida for 6 months to help with family. I didn’t have time to start another business from scratch and knew I wouldn’t be there long enough to support private clients if I had a business in the new state, so I took a Diet Consultant position with Jenny Craig. Oh… the horror! It went against pretty much EVERYTHING I believed other than being over fat is not a good thing.

I wasn’t sure if I was more floored by just how awful the ingredients were in their prepackaged foods or the way their internal educational materials “pitched” the ingredients to reps as naturally occurring like MSG (a neurotoxin!) or just how cheery they made high fructose corn syrup and trans fats sound… like it was no big deal to have people living on these 3-5 times a day for weeks or years on end. When your dinner can sit on a shelf in a tiny cardboard box for months and all you need to do is add water and nuke… yeah…that can’t be good for you! That is “Oh Sh@t the Apocalypse is coming I must sustain myself on rations” kind of junk – not food that will help you feel good and prevent disease. They allowed for as much diet soda and sugar free Jell-O as your little heart desired. The people I worked with actually asked me nutrition advice on a daily basis; there seemed to be a general lack of knowledge about weight loss outside of the JC prepackaged meals.

One of my fellow “counselors” was 316 pounds! And she was scolding people weighing in at only 140 lbs for not drinking enough water or completing their food journals! Who is going to listen to someone who cannot get their own issues under control? Hardly a walking billboard for “Jenny Craig works as a sustainable lifestyle” now is it? They actually assigned this co-worker to me as a mandatory client. Needless to say that did not make me the most popular new gal on the block! She would go eat drive-thru food and THEN ALSO eat JC prepackaged meals. When I was at the corporate training in Nashville, even the trainers would ask me about the foods I was eating (since I refused to try the JC foods) and how I stayed lean. I would walk to the grocery store on breaks instead of opening a box or bag of JC garbage. Those employees did this for a living for years and not one of them had a body or lifestyle I envied! They did not exude health, energy and vitality.

JC reps make commission on the food they sell. Do you know why I didn’t make a lot of money there? Not because I didn’t have loads of clients (many often jumping ship from other counselors to come see me because I looked and spoke the part of someone who cared about a truly healthy lifestyle), but because my goal was to get them OFF the JC foods as quickly as possible. I was a horrible corporate employee. I couldn’t relay some of their information because I knew in my heart I couldn’t promote some of their tactics. I also never tasted the food because after in-depth inspection of all the ingredients, there wasn’t a single meal or snack I was OK with putting in my body! Clients would ask me “what’s your favorite” or “which one of these two do you like best” and I would answer “such and such is most popular” or “I have a client that can’t get enough of (fill in the blank)”, but could not tell them from my own experience. This was killing me.

How could I act happy and encourage others to do something I wouldn’t do myself, that I knew in my heart of hearts was not fueling their good health or teaching them truly sustainable weight loss. They were dependent on the “foods”. So many of them were “lifers” – they would fall off the wagon then come back months or years later to pick up some food items (usually desserts, bars and a meal or two) because yes – substituting a JC dessert at night for their usual binges MUST be the answer to their massive weight gain and failing health! (insert eye roll!) We had people proud they were grandfathered in under a certain member discount… and what I wanted to say is YOU SHOULDN’T STILL BE HERE after 10 years! It was driving me mad. I had to get out. I wish I could apologize to every person I handed a bag of that nasty non-food too. But most of them knew my motives were to teach them other ways to be healthy and lose the fat.

Fast forward another couple of years and I am back in Florida banging my head against the wall at these medi-weight loss clinics and HCG diets! How is this not malpractice?! You don’t teach people how/what to eat for sustainability of the weight loss. You pump them full of drugs and false hope. MANY become malnourished and RUIN their adrenals… then they end up at my door and I get to try to undo ALL the damage (both physically and emotionally) these money hungry ignorant “doctors” do. Just putting someone on a 500-calorie a day diet doesn’t fix the reason they mentally got to a place that allowed them to disconnect from treating their body and mind well. Five hundred calories is not a way to live with energy for work, children, fitness or great brain activity. Five hundred calories doesn’t give you room to pack in a lot of nutrients.

HCG has been linked to higher rates of cancers like breast cancer – it is a HORMONE that changes the environment in your body. Do you know how many clients have come to me and said they have taken Doctor prescribed appetite suppressants? INSANITY! Those things are legalized cocaine/speed! When was the last time a healthy nutrition plan could keep you awake for 36 hours and give you heart palpitations…NEVER! When are we going to stop desperately seeking a quick fix in the form of a box, pill or shot? When are we going to understand that life should be about THRIVING…not vanity and merely surviving?

I have yet to come across anyone who has kept the weight off or had a healthy post-medi weight loss relationship with food. In fact, most gain even more weight from when they started and now their metabolism is so twisted their bodies won’t respond to normal nutritional changes for sustainable weight loss. It takes a lot of healing after those dangerous methods.

Then there is the issue of the example we set. Our kids see mommy and daddy “on a diet.” They see us huff and puff to keep up. They see us sitting on the sidelines too exhausted and out of shape and YES, they absolutely overhear us making self-effacing comments. They start to believe their self-worth is tied to the scale. That we eat to cheat the Diet Gods and not to truly nourish our body and mind. That fast food is a reward for a job well done or a prize for being brave at the doctor’s office. Your child is WATCHING and LEARNING.Who are you creating…? Are you setting them up with the tools for healthy living success or the same miserable path you may be blaming your own upbringing on?

Why do so many people believe they can’t LOSE THE WEIGHT with good nutrition and solid support? This is exactly why I created 90 Days to Thrival™. But the challenge is getting people to understand this isn’t a DIET…this is an education and way you continue to eat and treat yourself for the rest of your life. The side effect of learning to eat well and pairing that with making other simple healthy changes little by little is FAT LOSS…and quite effective fat loss at that!

Thrival helps you make progress and opens your mind to new foods, eating styles and living life energized from nature and from within; not from chemicals. I had someone recently tell me that when people ask how she lost 30lbs and she told them Thrival eating…their eyes glazed over, but when she said her enzymes were making a difference in her metabolism people perked up and wanted to know more. She told me I should emphasize the pills on the program to get people’s attention. And the funny thing is to get people’s attention I almost have to! That makes me sad.

While I do believe enzyme therapy is a super start of health and drastically under talked about in the US, it pains me that people don’t realize that our body creates digestive enzymes every time we eat and metabolic enzymes are responsible for life itself. They think it’s a quick fix pill and boy o’ boy does that sound enticing! Do you know those pills are packed with natural enzymes that are responsible for helping us get the most out of our nutrition, digesting our food better and diminishing symptoms of food intolerances? They can be quite amazing and immediately beneficial.

As far as I am concerned everyone should implement enzymes therapy…but the funny part is people don’t care to ask why or what they are actually putting in their body…they just want me to give them the “pills.” They aren’t magic WEIGHT LOSS PILLS they are supportive and therapeutic supplements to help assist your body in nutrient assimilation and free up energy for your body to do all the other million miraculous jobs it has to do each day…like breathing, walking, talking, dreaming, you know…LIVING! It just makes me sad to think we perk up to the thought of supplements but an organic delicious, fresh nourishing meal that gives us hours of clean energy and can squash diseased cells, boost immunity, assist in bone health, build muscles and so on bores people.

I have lost loved ones to cancer and it seems a rash of new diagnoses have been going on around me. Our food chain is horrifyingly damaged, our soil is nutrient replete, we are surrounded by plastics and chemicals in our food, makeup, hygiene products, household CLEANERS, clothing, and so on. Our air quality is poor, our public water supply should practically glow at this point and sitting down as a family to a healthy meal and conversation is a luxury not a common occurrence. When will we wake up and stop the utter insanity? Take back control of what we can. Take our lives back to simple roots where food was from local farm-to-table, family was the most precious thing you could own and nothing was more important than connecting to people, getting fresh air, feeling your bare feet in the grass and the sun on your face; and having memories and experiences to cherish.

We need to fuel the lives we want…create a journey we can be proud of and leave a legacy our children can feel honored to be a part of. Think of these things before you CONTINUE to mistreat yourself. Step outside of the self-loathing microcosm you have created and open your eyes to the bigger picture. You can live your best life. We might not be able to control what goes on around us or the cards we are always dealt…but we can control what we do each day and what we put into our body to give ourselves the best fighting chance on longevity and vitality.


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