Oddball Diet Roller Coaster Is Bound to Crash

Jan Hofmann is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

So you want to drop some of that excess baggage, eh?

Have I got a diet plan for you. We'll call it the Odd Diet. On odd-numbered days, eat only foods with the letter e in their names. And on even-numbered days, you can eat whatever you want, as long as it doesn't have the letter e in its name.

Now, on e days, eat only between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. On the other days, eat only between 4 and 8 p.m. The rest of the time, you can drink all the caffeine-free diet root beer you want, but nothing else .

Oh, and exercise is important, so you will need to spend exactly 78 minutes each day standing on one foot. That would be the left foot on e days, the right foot on the rest. In only four days, you'll start seeing results. My neighbor's cousin's mother-in-law, I think it was, tried it and lost 50 pounds in only a week. Or was it a month?

WARNING: The preceding paragraph was for illustration purposes only. Don't try this at home! The Odd Diet doesn't really exist. And neither does my neighbor's cousin's mother-in-law.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of other crazy diets out there that are all too real. And you can lose weight on many of them, at least for a short while. But because they aren't balanced, healthy programs that can be translated into day-to-day eating habits later on, these diets are most likely to backfire, ultimately leaving you heavier than you were when you started.

Ask Connie Rowland of Fountain Valley or Linda Hawkins of Placentia. They're success stories now, all active in Weight Watchers. But for most of their lives, they were passengers on the oddball diet roller coaster.

"I've had a weight problem all my life," says Rowland, 32. "I grew up in a big family, and if Mom brought home Twinkies or something, we'd eat them fast because we knew that if you don't eat it now, you won't get your share."

Rowland's mother put her on a diet when she was about 9 years old, "but it didn't really work. She'd pack my lunch with sandwiches made with that skinny bread, with cottage cheese in the middle. It was awful."

In high school, Rowland went on an ice cream and soda diet. "I would eat two diet ice creams, and drink diet Dr Pepper all day long. I lost 42 pounds, but I put it back on immediately."

Then she tried the stewed-tomato-and-hard-boiled-egg diet, living on those two foods and nothing else for weeks. "I lost 35 pounds, but then I put on 50," she says.

After that, it was the high-protein, low-carbohydrate Scarsdale diet, which promised losses of up to 20 pounds in two weeks. Rowland lost, then gained. The same thing happened with the Beverly Hills diet, the Cambridge diet and the rotation diet, "which is where you eat certain foods at certain times of the day, and you can't combine certain foods."

Then she went on to the grapefruit diet, followed by the Army training diet, and the extremely low-fat Pritikin diet ("But I never cut out all the fat"). "Some worked; some didn't," she says.

By the time she went to a nutritionist for help 2 1/2 years ago, Rowland, 5 feet, 7 inches tall, was up to 232 pounds. "She told me that when you're motivated, any diet will work. I really believe that, even though I'm a strong believer in Weight Watchers," Rowland says.

With the help of the group's "Inner Circle" plan, Rowland lost 95 pounds over a year and a half.

The trick, says Linda Hawkins, 33, is to stop thinking of diets as temporary. But when she started Weight Watchers two years ago, that's exactly how she saw it. "I only joined to lose 30 pounds," she says. "Then I was going to quit."

That was 95 pounds ago.

"They told me, 'you've got to change your life style,' and I always hated that. It was too frightening because I didn't know what my life style was."

From the time she was in fourth grade, Hawkins dieted frequently, but always with a short-term goal in mind. "I did it when I wanted to look good for something: a wedding, a dance," she says. "I didn't think I could stay with it for longer than a few weeks."

In high school, the 250-pound teen-ager bought a book featuring 40 different diets. She tried most of them. "One of the weirdest was the milk and banana diet. I chose that because the book said you'd lose weight the fastest. For two days, you had nothing but bananas and milk: four bananas and a half-gallon of milk per day. Then on the other days, you had cottage cheese, lean meat and a Fresca (a diet soda), and a large salad with a small chicken wing for dinner. I lost a lot, but I binged terribly after that."

Hawkins studied to be an actress in college, but by the time she got her degree, she was too large to be considered for most roles. So she became a large-size model instead. Only when her agent told her she had become too heavy even for that did she realize that maybe her life style did need changing.

"We were going to start a big campaign, sending out pictures and everything, to get me jobs," she says. After the first 30 pounds came off, her agent launched the push as planned. But Hawkins kept losing, and soon she wasn't large enough for the job.

Now that she's down to 147, with seven pounds yet to go, Hawkins has found a substitute for her modeling career. On April 6, she opens in the Long Beach Community Playhouse production of "The Mouse Trap." She plays Molly, the ingenue.

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