The $3.50 Pencil Challenge

Yesterday was a balmy 17 degrees here in Southern Alberta. After three months of shorts, capris and anything cool it was time to scour the closet for a pair of jeans. I admit to a little vain streak when it comes to my jeans, although I don’t have what some call a “wrangler butt”, I can hold my own in a good pair of Mavi’s. But something strange happened, nothing went up past my hips. Ok, something’s very wrong here. I tried on the recent “hand-me-ups” my younger long-legged sisters gave to their older short-legged sis. Right on, they’re on all the way, now if only I can do up the buttons. Jumping, lying down, and crying couldn’t budge any of them. Cursing like a sailor, which would help my old Chevette start, wouldn’t scare the jeans onto me. Even the jeans with a touch of lycra made me look more like Peter Fonda than Bridget Fonda.

Three months ago I quit my labor intensive job at a greenhouse to be with my kids and to go back to school. Since then, so the scale claims, I have put on ten pounds. Ok, more like twelve. Fine, I have gained fifteen pounds and I can guarantee it’s not muscle. The “freshmen ten” is a common problem with new students. But what happens when the freshman is not eighteen years old anymore? I know weight loss and healthy living is a result of a well balanced diet and regular exercise. But what diet and what exercise will work for me? After questioning family and friends, and combing the internet and library, I came up with a few diet and exercise options.

The South Beach Diet

This diet was developed by cardiologist Dr. Agatston. It claims that you can lose 13 pounds in the first two weeks and “belly fat” goes first (I prefer to call it my “winter storage”). You can lose this weight by not counting calories and portions through three phases (info taken directly from web page).

Phase 1 – Detoxification. Banish your cravings for sweets and starches. You’ll lose between 8 and 13 pounds in the first two weeks.
Phase 2 – Reintroduce Carbs. Gradually reintroduce “good” carbs into your diet. You’ll lose 1 to 2 pounds a week, until you reach your ideal weight.
Phase 3 – Maintenance Continue eating good carbs and fats, and maintain your weight for the rest of your life.

This diet seems to work on the same premise of another well known diet, Atkins, (discussed below) of high protein and low or no carbs. Sounds interesting, makes sense, but why do I have to sign up to the website at $34.95 for the first six weeks and $6.95/ month thereafter? I know the difference between a carbohydrate and protein.

The South Beach Diet makes a lot of claims and I’m sure a lot of people have found success with it, but I like “bad carbs”. It seems a little restrictive that one can’t eat pasta or bagels for the rest of their life. I also couldn’t find a mention of regular exercise on their website. I think I’ll pass on this one.

Weight Watchers

My favorite out of the multi-billion diet industry. Weight Watchers stresses healthy living and gradual lifestyle changes. No “lose weight fast” claims, and no mention of “belly fat” anywhere on the website. Weight Watchers’ weight loss plan involves points. Anything that can go into your mouth and be digested is allotted a certain number of points. An individual is then given a number of points they can eat in one day, based on their goal weight. So go ahead and eat that Big Mac, chocolate cake or whatever, just don’t expect anything else that day.

Weight Watchers claims success because of peer-support meetings (also available online for those who cannot attend in person), complete with weigh ins and motivational speeches. The problem is that to join costs money and then a monthly fee (unless you have a nice friend who will photocopy all the point sheets for you). I personally know several people who have lost substantial amounts of weight with Weight Watchers, and have kept it off, so this diet is more credible for me. Also, they stress cardio and strength exercise as an integral part of healthy living. I like the Weight Watchers plan, but it does seem like a time consuming process figuring out points.


Cut out sugar and carbs and eat bacon and eggs everyday, three times a day if you want. Yummm, sounds like my kind of plan. Like South Beach (or rather South Beach is like Atkins), this diet plan emphasizes a low or no carb diet. It also introduces phases as a way of eliminating carbs and losing weight. Like Weight Watchers, Atkins uses points, but these points are based on the amount of carbohydrate in a particular food.

The Atkins plan looks good because of their emphasis on overall health and well being rather than strictly weight loss. They have lots of scientific data to back their claims and articles. A good friend of mine has just started Atkins and claims to feel better than she has in months. They also put great importance on the role of exercise. This could be an option, but like the South Beach Diet, I don’t think I could stay faithful to it for very long, but the high protein/ low-carb idea seems to be a recurring theme. It’s worth a second look.

Body For Life Challenge

I now have a new favorite in this multi billion dollar industry. Bill Phillips has introduced a weight loss plan in the form of a contest. He started this program by offering his own Lamborghini as a prize in the first challenge. Take a before picture in your underwear or swimsuit, follow his plan for twelve weeks take a picture, send it in and you could win your share of one million dollars. The before and after photos of past winners is inspiring, the nutrition portion seems easy and non-restrictive and the fitness component is easy enough to do at home.

The diet is easy to follow. From Monday to Saturday eat six meals a day each consisting of a carb and a protein (on the “approved” list), and eat as many vegetables as you want. Stay faithful to this and on Sunday eat whatever you want. The fitness component relies on intensity rather than duration. Three times a week do twenty minutes of cardio at varying degrees of intensity. Weight train for the other three times a week.

All of the information (nutrition, training programs etc.) is free on his website, plus you have the opportunity to enter his contest. Sounds great, no ulterior motives here. Wait a minute, what is all this talk about supplements, power bars, shakes and vitamins? And what is EAS? Bill Phillips also apparently owns EAS which is a supplement company. The use of supplements is heavily emphasized in the Body for Life program, so my guess is that this is where the money is made. My suggestion is to go on the website, get all the free information and ignore the supplement ads.

So there it is, four of the most popular diet programs in North America. It is up to each of us to research what will work best in our families lifestyle, but I have a challenge of my own for all you who are not 18 year old freshmen but who have still put on ten or twenty pounds. Here is the

Body For Right Now challenge:

Step 1- Give away the clothes that don’t fit and may never fit.
Step 2- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and have that piece of cake.
Step 3- Get outside everyday with your kids, spouse, dog or iguana and run around for a while.

That’s it, that’s my challenge. Follow it for twelve weeks or eight weeks or however long you want. If you’ve lost weight, that’s fine. If you’ve had fun with your family and friends and don’t care if you’re not a size 6 or 12 or whatever anymore, even better. Send in your story and you could be the challenge winner. The prize isn’t a foxy $100,000 Lamborghini, but a really cool mechanical pencil from Staples I got for $3.50 (that’s all I can afford, but it is really cool). Good luck!

Stacey Steele is currently finishing her B.A with a major in Psychology/Women’s Studies. She won the most improved math award in Grade 8 and $50 on a scratch and win once. She lives in Southern Alberta with her husband, two children, two mali uromastyx lizards, and a family of mule deer that live across the road.