(ARA) - Susan Fishelberg grew up on processed food packaged for speed and convenience, so it's no wonder she quickly developed a weight problem as a child. She spent her adult years trying to shake those pounds, falling time and again for the quick fix and "miracle" cure.
Fishelberg counted points, ate premade, portion-controlled meals and gobbled up 100 calorie snacks that were passed off as "healthy" and "natural," though she had no idea what exactly was in them.
She kept her calories as low as 1,000 per day. She hit the gym with reckless abandon.
It all worked -- for awhile.
When the pounds inevitably began to creep back, she worked out harder.
"I would get up every day and work my butt off, figuring that's the way you lose weight," says Fishelberg, of Plainview, N.Y. She attacked the elliptical trainer with a vengeance, pushing her heart rate until she felt nauseous.
Fishelberg finally decided to talk to a personal trainer and nutritionist at Life Time Fitness. Their advice shocked her: She needed to slow down, and eat.
Metabolic testing showed that Fishelberg, who is petite but about 17 pounds over her desired weight, needed to increase her calorie intake and decrease the pace of her exercise. She was starving herself fat on diet food.
Fishelberg is not alone. Almost one-third of U.S. adults are overweight, another third are obese. Americans spent an estimated $46 billion on diet products, much of it wasted on prepackaged food and fads. Forbes Magazine examined menus from the most popular diets and discovered dieters also spent 50 percent more per week on food, but 97 percent gained all the weight back in five years.
Now Fishelberg thinks she's found the key. Working with her Life Time trainer and nutritionist, Fishelberg underwent an assessment that measures a person's resting oxygen rate to help them tailor their exercise to fit their body. With help, Fishelberg received a personal program - she won't call it a diet, it's a new healthy lifestyle - and in 13 weeks has lost 11 pounds and, more importantly, 5 percent of her body fat.
Fishelberg replaced packaged foods with organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and fish. She takes herbal supplements to help with stress. A typical day's menu might include a protein shake for breakfast, a snack of organic beef jerky and pistachios, a lunch of tuna, avocado, salad and a tortilla, another snack and salmon and broccoli for dinner.
Now on her new program, Fishelberg has learned that "I don't have to kill myself. My trainer sends me emails telling me what kind of cardio to do every week, and how many minutes I should work in each zone. Sometimes she says, 'I don't want to see you in the gym on Monday, and Tuesday I only want you doing yoga.' I feel happy."
Stories like Fishelberg's are common according to Tom Nikkola, director of nutrition and weight management for Life Time Fitness.
"The misconception is that it's just about counting calories," says Nikkola. "When people rely on processed foods, such as frozen or packaged meals, as the foundation of their diet, it's pretty hard to make a conscious decision to improve consumption habits because most of those foods are designed to keep you eating them - and craving more.
"There is also the outdated concept that a healthy diet is a low-fat diet," he adds. "When people are eating a lot of low-fat foods, their blood sugars are going to be up and down all day, and that's going to contribute to cravings. Instead, if they would just focus on eating quality foods, they would be a lot more satisfied."