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Net losses
Using the Web to lose weight and get fit
BY KIM WEIDMAN

using the internet to lose weight ó it seems counter-intuitive, doesnít it? Isnít sitting in front of the computer for hours surfing the Web what got you this gut in the first place? And increasingly, being a little chubby isnít so abnormal. According to recent statistics published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 64.5 percent of American adults are overweight, 30.5 percent are obese, and 4.7 percent are extremely obese.

To learn if youíre one of the many who are overweight, check out the governmentís body-mass index calculator at www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/. If youíre not happy with the results, you may get the impulse to dig your running shoes out of the closet right away ó but instead, consider staying online. The Web is full of ways to help you actually meet this yearís New Yearís weight-loss resolution, from online weight-loss programs and fitness software to dieting-support chat rooms.

And going online in your quest to lose weight does have its advantages, the most important of which ó for many who are embarrassed about their weight ó is anonymity. Thereís also the convenience aspect: your PC, unlike a traditional weight-loss support group, is there for you at three in the morning, and itís a lot easier to let a computer program track your progress than it is to battle through the calculations by hand.

The traditional method the Internet way

To keep up with the latest trends, most of the traditional weight-loss companies have added online options to their popular programs. Jenny Craig, for example, went high-tech in 1999 when it launched JennyCraig.com. The site is constantly being enhanced, says Gail Manginelli, a public-relations representative for Jenny Craig. "Itís a very easy site to navigate and use, and itís freshly redesigned."

JennyCraig.com outlines the various Jenny Craig programs available and offers tools that Jenny Craig clients can use to augment their weight-loss program. But even if you arenít a Jenny Craig client, you can become a member of Jenny Craigís Online Support Program for free. Members get access to an online menu planner, weight tracker, database of nutrition facts, Jenny Craig chat room, and recipes. Dieters can also receive the eJenny newsletter and special offers and coupons.

Manginelli says that because support is so important in losing weight, the message boards and chat rooms are very popular, as are the free e-cards that members and nonmembers can send each other for motivation. Thereís also a searchable collection of success stories, where those who need inspiration can read about Jenny CraigĖers such as Debbie H., who lost 137 pounds.

Entering its fourth decade in the dieting business, Weight Watchers, with its trademark point system for losing weight, is one of the biggest names in the business of getting smaller. David Kirchhoff, senior vice-president of WeightWatchers.com, says that with revenue of around $55 million last year, the site is a leader in online dieting.

WeightWatchers.com, launched in 2000 and redesigned in 2001, offers two distinct online programs: Weight Watchers eTools and Weight Watchers Online. Members who attend local Weight Watchers meetings can buy access to the eTools program to supplement the services they already receive. The eTools service is $29.95 for the first three months, in addition to the regular Weight Watchers program fee. For those who donít attend Weight Watchers meetings, Weight Watchers Online offers clients myriad services they can access from the privacy of their computers. A three-month membership is $59.95.

"Weight Watchers Online is a way to follow the point system for those who canít or donít want to go to the meetings," Kirchhoff says.

As an online member, dieters receive access to an interactive journal to keep track of points, a database of 20,000 foods and their point values, a list of restaurants with point values for commonly ordered foods, pre-made-meal plans, and more than 900 recipes. There are also chat rooms and message boards. "Itís a pretty robust set of software tools really designed to make it easier to lose weight," Kirchhoff explains. He says the biggest difference between Weight Watchers Online and other online weight-loss programs is the amount of interactivity available through Weight Watchers Online. While other sites offer meal programs, few offer their clients the opportunity to mix and match foods and choose their own recipes, all while keeping within the program.

One of the biggest names in the online dieting world is the aptly named eDiets, launched in 1996. Now, more than a million members later, eDiets is an Internet-only program that offers a variety of medically approved, specialized meal plans designed for everyone from vegetarians and people who need low-sodium diets to those with type 2 diabetes. And beyond the pre-planned meals, members can make personal stipulations, such as not eating fish. There are more than 1000 meals and recipes offered, and supermarket shopping lists are even provided for members.

Susan Burke, director of nutrition services for eDiets, says the site also offers more interactive support features than other sites. Online chats with experts such as fitness professionals are regularly scheduled, and the message boards are very active. In addition, eDiets offers animated movies to demonstrate exercises and fitness programs. "For people who donít want to go to a meeting but do want the support and motivation you get from them, weíre the best solution," Burke says.

Membership packages vary; until the end of January, dieters can sign up for a $45, nine-month membership or a $99 one-year membership. Burke says that most members stay with the program for more than seven months, the longest client-retention of any online weight-loss program. And after members reach their target weight, eDiets offers maintenance programs so they keep the weight off.

CaloriesCount.com, a nonprofit service run by the Calorie Control Council, only charges a nominal fee to cover expenses ($25 for six months). Beth Hubrich, a dietician and the director of nutrition communications, says the site aims to provide its clients with a way to maintain weight loss over time instead of promising a quick fix. "Whatís really nice about the site is that itís geared toward overall health lifestyles," she says. CaloriesCount.com evolved out of a simple online calorie calculator launched in 1997. Calculator users expressed a need for more enhanced weight-management tools, online support, more meal plans and recipes, more exercise tips, and expert chats and articles, all of which CaloriesCount.com offers. And, says Hubrich, all the information and tools conform to guidelines consistent with the national coalition of Partners for Healthy Weight Management, spearheaded by the National Institutes of Health and the Federal Trade Commission.

Compute your ideal weight

If online dieting programs seem too involved, try one of the many software programs designed to help you reach your dieting goals. DietPower is a program that recommends calorie consumption based on each userís true metabolic rate, calculated over time by using a log of your food intake and exercise. Terry Dunkle, DietPower founder and CEO, developed the scientific program in the 1970s, and he claims itís the only nutrition software that guarantees reaching a weight goal on a target date. "If you faithfully log your food, exercise, and stay true to your budget, it is mathematically assured that you will reach your goal," he says.

Because DietPower simply provides users with a calorie range, dieters on a variety of programs ó including Weight Watchers, the Atkins Diet, and the Zone Diet ó can use the program. "We donít sell a diet. What we sell is knowledge," Dunkle says. You can order a complimentary trial DietPower CD-ROM or download a free version. The full program is $49.99. And all products come with a lifetime money-back guarantee, though Dunkle says less than one percent of clients ask for a refund.

At MySportTraining.com, you can try numerous sports and training software designed to help track and improve your fitness. MySportTraining is known as a leader in fitness-tracking software for the pocket PC, and it also offers versions for standard computers. The program tracks your workout information, then analyzes the data and displays your performance using graphs and reports. Download a free 15-day trial at www.mysporttraining.com or buy the full version for $34.95.

For those whoíre addicted to the gym but canít keep track of their workout schedules, MyTrainingPlan builds a training schedule that can span weeks, months, or even years. And runners can use MyRunningLog to track running or other cardio workouts. Both are available only for pocket PCs, and a free 15-day trial version of both programs is available at www.mysporttraining.com. MyTrainingPlanís full version is $19.95, and MyRunningLog sells for $14.95.

And if you want to try a truly different method of getting in shape, visit www.biofitness.com, home of the Fitness Buddy. The Fitness Buddy is a software program that gives users predetermined results based on dependable timetables. Itís now available in an online version, though it was originally a DOS-based and then a Windows-based program. "Assured fitness. Thatís what you get when science is put together the right way," says Steven R. Zeigman, president of BioFitness Systems. Zeigman says that using scientific algorithms, the Fitness Buddy can deliver users not just a goal, but an absolute reality. The Fitness Buddy doesnít concentrate on weight loss as much as on the level of fitness achieved, and it generates workout plans customized for each user, plans that can be tailored toward swimmers, runners, those who use Nautilus equipment, or people addicted to step-climbing machines. Zeigman says most people reach their end goal within six months, if not sooner. The Fitness Buddy is $9.95 a month.

Online, but not alone

If youíre just looking for others who share your dieting pain, the Web is a great place to kick, cry, and complain, all without having to look anyone in the face. MSN (groups.msn.com/people), Yahoo! (chat.yahoo.com), and AOL (www.aim.com/community/chats.adp) all have numerous weight-loss chat rooms set up by site administrators and by dieters themselves. Youíll have to sign up for an account and screen name to use the chat rooms, and youíll have to download software, but access to all the chat rooms is free.

On a recent weeknight, six chatters were in an MSN diet-support chat room discussing their latest successes and failures in the battle of the bulge. The chatters said they didnít know each other outside of cyberspace, but they understood each other better than their friends did. They consistently logged on for support, and they welcomed new chatters to their group. Not all chat rooms are as friendly, however, and you may have to spend some time finding a group thatís right for you.

However you choose to lose weight, keep in mind that youíll have to actually get up from your computer for any weight loss to occur. The Internet can provide you with valuable information, support, and tips, but youíll have to toss the Mallomars and get moving to make a real difference.

Kim Weidman can be reached at kweidman@hotmail.com

Issue Date: january 30 - February 6, 2003
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