Diets don’t work: So what does?


Nicki Anderson - writer, trainer, business owner -- spends her days on the frontlines of fitness. She runs the Reality Fitness facility in Naperville, Ill., and her non-celebrity clients are a mix of the overweight and the under-active, suburban “everymoms” who have 20, 30, 40 or more pounds to lose.

Nicki herself dropped 50 pounds of fat more than 25 years ago, and that’s only one reason why she’s so sensitive to her client’s issues. They are ashamed to exercise in public. Health clubs are places of humiliation. Sweat is the enemy. They’ve been on a million different diets and always gained the weight back - and more. They come to Nicki and her handpicked team of trainers, dieticians and therapists for a dose of something different, an enlightened weight-management scheme that is totally against diets.

“Diets don’t work! Healthy living does!” said Nicki, quoting statistics and telling real-life stories to back her up. “You know how most of the diet companies make their money? Repeat business!”

Knowing that most diets are the work of the devil, I went to hear Nicki give a talk on “Women and Weight Loss” at an IDEA Health and Fitness Association Conference. That’s another specialty of hers: training trainers to work with clients who need to lose weight, which is about 90 percent of women who go to trainers.

“Clients come to me, and the first question they ask is: How much weight can I lose? I tell them I have no idea!” said Nicki. “Women have been conditioned to focus on size, on being skinny, on the numbers on the scale. Well, there are no magic pills, no quick fixes. We have to inspire them to want to be healthy. If you get healthy and fit, the weight loss will happen. Trust me!”

I do trust her. That’s why I’m sharing some of Nicki’s best weight-loss discoveries. For more of her mind-body-spirited approach to motivating change, check out her website:

  • Never start a lifestyle improvement program focused on “weight loss.” The goal shouldn’t be fewer pounds. Instead, it needs to be better health, more energy, happier moods, undisturbed sleep, prettier lingerie. When those life improvements show up - and they will, Nicki knows, with proper exercise and more conscious eating -- the weight will fall off on its own.
  • You have to be really, truly (SET ITAL) ready (END ITAL) for her anti-diet approach. Many people aren’t. They still value pounds lost over health gained. Nicki politely suggests these people leave her program and go elsewhere. Don’t beat yourself up, she tells them. If you’re not ready, you’re not ready. Come back when you are. “People won’t change until they are ready,” is one of Nicki’s most repeated mantras.
  • Small changes lead to big results. Nicki believes in baby steps. “You can’t expect someone who’s been eating one particular way for 30 years to suddenly eat an entirely different way!” Slowly, step-by-step, that’s how long-term change happens - but only if the trainee feels like she is respected, appreciated and part of a community that cares about her. Phone calls, a Happy Monday newsletter, award ceremonies, weekly gatherings and something called Pink Shirt Day are just some of the many ways Nicki & Team reinforce that sense of community.
  • Shop and Chop. “It’s all about time!” she said. When you come home from the store with a load of fruits and veggies, instead of putting them away, don’t. Immediately clean them, cut them and place them in bowls and bags for instant access.
  • Nicki’s programs change with the season. Winter training - what you eat, how you play - is different from spring training. Clients sign up for 12-week cycles. Each cycle costs $2000 - OK, it’s a real commitment - and includes coming to the facility twice a week for two hours at a time: one hour for a physical workout and one hour for very personal health education! When emotional issues come up, and they will, she encourages clients to see a therapist.
OK, now you know what works. When you’re ready, please begin.

Marilynn Preston is a fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues. She welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to