Think Thin

Training for triathlons, Delphi Medina ate piles of pasta and potatoes. And she burned off the carbs, no problem. "Now I'm eating carbs and I'm not burning shit off," she says. "I've been such a slacker. I'm supposed to be doing the half-marathon in January. I need to get my ass in gear." During Christmas 2003, Medina weighed 20 pounds less than she weighed in Christmas 2004, she says. She tried Atkins, and she lost weight, but she didn't like the bread-pasta-rice-and-potato-free diet. "It's hard," she says. "I totally gained what I lost."

She bought the South Beach Diet book because one of her friends was on that plan. "But it reminds me a lot of Atkins. And I want to do something different," she says.

Then came a late-night infomercial. Medina, a 35-year-old addiction therapist, saw Michael Thurman's six-week makeover diet on TV. She watched the show twice before she called the 800 number. "You're gonna eat and you're gonna eat and you're gonna eat a lot," she says, describing the diet. "His deal is that you eat and you lose your weight."

So for her New Year's diet resolution, she made a blueprint of her ideal body and sent away for her customized diet. Just before New Year's, she received a green mesh bag with a Franklin Day Planner-style diet aimed to reshape her body into a Barbie hourglass. The diet kit included eat-healthy recipe cards for entrées such as turkey meat loaf and plates of fresh fruit sprinkled with artificial sweetener. It also came with 18-minute workout videos. "You don't have to go to the gym. You only target the areas he's telling you to target," Medina says. "I want to lose between 20 and 30 pounds." And after two months, if she doesn't lose 30 pounds, she says, the diet offers a money-back guarantee.

Like Medina, hundreds of Houstonians are struggling to shed those post-holiday pounds. Too many butter-soaked rum cakes and fresh gingerbread cookies can make your favorite jeans not want to zip.

Around town, Starbucks offers Atkins- and Sugar Buster-friendly beverages. And even Niko Niko's will swap out its standard french fries, rice or potatoes for grilled vegetables for the carb-conscious.

Most people looking to shed pounds have tried a laundry list of diets. Among the dozens to choose from, there's the late-night infomercial order-away diets like Medina chose, the diabetic-style diets where people stay away from sugar, and the South Beach Diet Medina almost did, which Houston nutritionist and "healthy lifestyle coach" Marian Bell says is best for vegetarians because it uses tofu and nuts. Or there's the Fat Flush Diet, which includes cranberry juice and organic meats, Bell says.

They might sound different, but these diets have a lot in common. Instead of the eat-only-cottage-cheese or the gorge-on-just-grapefruit diets of Christmas past, today's diets emphasize a healthy balance of sugars, proteins, carbs and exercise. What most of the diets share is planning what to eat and avoiding refined sugars and "bad" carbs. They seem to be variations on the same theme. That's why instead of creating her own diet from scratch, Bell has picked the best parts of the diets on the market and melded them into her own plan. She teaches clients to eat when they're hungry, to eat healthy foods and to exercise. She has clients carry snacks with them, and advises them to always know what's going to be their next meal -- no surprises.

"Marian Bell has been a great guru for me," says 38-year-old Stephanie Barker, a Houston sales rep for an international import-export business. "I've given up on dieting." Instead, Barker tries to have a few carbs but eat as many vegetables as possible, splurging if she feels like it.

Others folks need more of a regimen. They can't be told to eat whatever they want or to just eat when they're hungry. Some people always feel hungry. They need something like the Weight Watchers points system to limit their intake. And that program has changed with the times. The new Weight Watchers Core Plan limits which foods a dieter can eat, but not how much they can eat. For example, dieters can have all the brown rice they want, but no white rice.

Liz Skirving, another Houston dieter and a 52-year-old executive director of Energy Wellness in Sugar Land, says she needs a diet that both controls her and gives her control. She can't eat one piece of chocolate; she has to finish the entire box. Skirving went on Extreme Makeover last year; there were complications with her surgical procedures, and when she returned to Houston, she needed several more performed. Since she was taking so many antibiotics, she got yeast infections. So it made sense for her to go on the Yeast-Free Diet, which also cuts out sugar.

"It bloats you up," she says about yeast. "Yeast makes the bread rise. It's the same thing in your body."

Skirving says the sugar-free diet has curbed her candy cravings. "I have a really, really sweet tooth," she says. "But after the first week, I haven't had the taste for sugar. And there's never been a diet yet where I haven't had the taste for sugar...I'm an addict."

Obviously, the dieting options are endless. But no matter which one you choose, Bell has advice on the best way to get started. She instructs clients begin with the end of the diet before diving into a new regimen.

"They go on these crash diets and they don't have a clue what goes on after the first two weeks -- if they make it the first two weeks," she says.

The first two weeks of a diet are usually the most difficult, she says. These are the ones where you starve yourself and lose all the water weight. Instead of starting the massive curb-your-appetite hard part of the diet, she instructs dieters to first try the maintenance part of the diet to see if they like it. That eases them in more gradually.

"It's like someone training for the marathon. You don't go off and run the marathon and then train," Bell says. "The first two weeks is almost a sprint. And then they die off in the sprint because they didn't practice before they sprinted."

Of course, diving in works better for some people. Houston dieter Sonia Quinonez is a fan of the South Beach Diet. After eating the six different types of buttery cookies her roommate baked for Christmas, Quinonez plans to go on Phase II of the South Beach Diet (which is less rigorous than Phase I) in the New Year.

"It has quick results, but not unhealthy-quick results," she says. "It's not a drastic diet, but it really works."

Quinonez also tries to exercise five or six days a week. Almost every day she does yoga or Pilates or takes a walk around Rice University.

"You can see results within a couple of days. You feel better and you look better," she says. And best of all, your favorite jeans fit.


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