Noe Valley Voice May 2003

Noe Valley Offers a Ton of Weight-Loss Options

By Sharon Gillenwater

Spring sprang into San Francisco with some uncharacteristically warm and sunny days. If you pulled your summer dresses and shorts out of storage only to realize that winter left you with a few extra pounds, do not despair. There are many programs in and around Noe Valley designed to help you lose that winter weight. What follows are profiles of some of the neighborhood's most popular weight-loss options.

The Grande Dame of Diets

Weight Watchers was founded in the early '60s, when Jean Nidetch began holding informal meetings in her Queens, N.Y., home to discuss weight-loss strategies. Today, an estimated one million people around the world attend Weight Watchers meetings every week, including those held on two days a week at the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in the Castro.

Weight Watchers used to have a prescribed food program, and you can still purchase Weight Watchers frozen entrees in most supermarkets. Today, however, the program is based on a "Winning Points" plan, by which members can eat anything they want, as long as they don't exceed a certain number of points per day. Exercise earns participants additional points, which they can use toward extra calories.

Once seen as an old-fashioned alternative to the dozens of gimmicky diets that arose in the '80s and '90s, Weight Watchers has become popular of late with the L.A. and New York society sets. This newfound cachet can be attributed in part to current economic reality, which has made thriftiness a virtue, even among the super-rich. The cost to become a Weight Watcher in San Francisco is a mere $9.95 per week, and participants are not required to buy expensive diet food. Weight Watchers is also thriving because it gives participants the freedom and ease to stick to their diets when traveling, dining in a restaurant, or preparing meals at home.

Weight Watchers meetings are run by a facilitator but include lots of back-and-forth discussion among members. Participants are expected to weigh in prior to the meeting. The MCC meetings (150 Eureka Street at 18th) take place on Wednesday and Thursday nights at 7 p.m., and last from 30 to 45 minutes.

For more information and alternative meeting times and locations, visit Or if you want to hear about it from the Duchess of York--Sarah Ferguson is Weight Watchers' spokesperson--call 1-800-651-6000.

As Easy As Driving a Car

What we all really want is to lose weight effortlessly, without dieting or exercising. Sound too good to be true? Not to clients of Mind for Body, a 10-week program that uses cognitive therapy and "neurolinguistic" techniques to promote behavioral changes that result in permanent weight loss.

Noe Valley resident Renee Stephens, founder of Mind for Body, knows what it is like to struggle with weight. A compulsive overeater for many years, she tried a variety of diets without lasting success. While working in high-tech, she was introduced to neurolinguistic programming--a way of using language to remodel your mental patterns--and thought it could be applicable to changing the way people respond to food.

"When we are overweight," says Stephens, "it is because we are using food to fix emotional problems. I help my clients to uncover these problems and obstacles." By using a combination of visualization and neurolinguistic therapy techniques, Stephens helps clients discover "their own internal reference system that tells them what to eat and how much."

"This is what slender people have," she says. "My approach models naturally slender people. Losing weight becomes so effortless that you don't even think about it--like driving a car."

"Chloe" had tried and had some success with Weight Watchers, Overeaters Anonymous, the Atkins Diet, and the Zone, but she could never keep her weight off. "It seemed like the more I tried, the fatter I got," she says. "I finally gave up because I felt defeated."

In December of last year, she and a friend attended one of Stephens' three-hour workshops. "My goal was to get through the holidays without overeating," Chloe says. She participated in the exercises and visualizations at the workshop but didn't give it much thought afterwards.

"In January, I realized that I was losing weight," she says, "but I didn't feel deprived. I hadn't even been aware that it was happening."

Hopeful that she'd triggered a change, she called Stephens and set up a series of appointments. Today, her weight loss totals 25 pounds and counting.

"I really think Renee is on to something," she says. "Her program is not about food, exercise, or will power. She works on a subconscious level and deals with the origins and cognitive processes behind overeating. I think that's where the difference is."

Chloe says that unlike other programs, Stephens doesn't demonize food, which inevitably leads to feelings of deprivation. "I can't deal with a restrictive diet," she says. "I just don't want to live that way."

The cost of the Mind for Body program is $1,005 for the first 10 weekly sessions, payable in 10 installments. For those interested in sampling the program, Stephens will be conducting her three-hour workshop, "How to Make Weight Management Easy," on Saturday, June 14, and Saturday, July 12. The cost for the workshop is $59. For more information, call 206-1638 or e-mail Renee Stephens at

Like Any Other Addiction

Some people, whether they are overweight, underweight, or at their ideal weight, use food just as others use alcohol or drugs. If this sounds like you, Overeaters Anonymous (OA) could help.

A 16-year veteran of OA says that while she was never obese, food had become a problem in her life. "I started staying home more," she says, "isolating myself so I could eat. I had gained weight, and I was bingeing, alternating between sugar and salt."

She had heard about OA from a friend but was skeptical of 12-step programs. "It took me a year and a half to get there," she says, "but once I got there, I found it wasn't just a weight-loss program. It changed my life on a spiritual, physical, and psychological level. It is a fellowship of people who understand the problem of compulsive eating."

OA does not prescribe any specific food program, and anorexics, bulimics, and people of any weight are welcome. The format of the meetings is similar to that used by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Sometimes the group takes the form of a "Step Study," in which one of the 12 steps is discussed. Other times, there is a speaker followed by a discussion.

OA meetings are held Monday through Saturday from 7 to 8 a.m. at the Noe Valley Ministry, 1021 Sanchez Street. While meetings are free, there is a $2 suggested donation, for those who can afford it. For more information and locations, including Bethany Church on Sanchez Street, visit or call 436-0651.

No Flour, No Sugar

Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous is another 12-step program that aims to address the emotional issues behind being overweight. Unlike OA however, Food Addicts prescribes a strict diet that includes portion control and a ban on the consumption of flour and sugar.

The program started out as part of Overeaters Anonymous (OA), but broke away to form a new group because OA did not support having a specific food program. As in Weight Watchers and OA, meetings are meant to foster support among members and each features a discussion or a member as speaker.

"Jan," who attends Food Addicts meetings at the Noe Valley Ministry, has lost more than 10 pounds by adopting the group's food plan and way of life. She says she draws her inspiration and will power from other members, some of whom have lost and kept off more than 100 pounds. "It's phenomenal," she says. "I see people's lives completely change for the better, not just their bodies."

Jan admits that Food Addicts' drastic prescription may not be for everyone. "People can have weight problems and not be addicts," she says. "People can also be thin but not be well." She says that for those for whom food is a "mental obsession," which permeates every aspect of their lives, the program fosters an understanding of addiction and helps them break out of the pattern of being "a slave" to food.

Food Addicts in Recovery meets at the Noe Valley Ministry every Thursday from 8:15 to 9:45 a.m. For more information, visit or call Adrienne at 970-0318.

Desserts Prepared by a French Chef

Kathleen Henderson has been helping Noe Valley residents lose weight for 20 years. In the '80s, she ran a Diet Center franchise at the corner of 26th and Sanchez. In 1991, she became independent and changed the name of the center to Lite for Life.

The Lite for Life storefront is known by neighbors for its window display of three blobs of waxen fat in the amounts of 5, 10, and 20 pounds. The display also includes small plastic boxes filled with white powder that illustrate the surprising amount of "hidden" sugar in common foods like ketchup.

Lite for Life's program is based on commonsense principles, including behavior modification and portion control. Participants receive frequent counseling and support, suggested food plans, and vitamin and protein supplements that help curb cravings. While participants are not required to buy special food, Lite for Life's fresh and frozen meals, which are catered in daily, are too tempting and convenient for most to pass up.

"Some people who aren't even on our program come in regularly to buy our food," Henderson says. Offerings include fresh organic soups, sandwiches, salads, muffins, frozen entrees, and sugar-free desserts prepared by a French chef. The key-lime pie and tiramisu, says Henderson, make sticking to a food plan a cinch.

Lite for Life specializes in sugar addiction and is designed for those who have been unable to maintain their weight loss, as well as for those who have trouble losing pounds in the first place. The program consists of three phases: reducing, transition diet, and maintenance. During all phases, participants learn about nutrition and how to cook to maintain their weight loss.

Jane Baker is one of Lite for Life's most satisfied clients. She has been on the program for nearly a year and has lost and maintained a 25-pound weight loss. "I had tried other programs," she says, "but I never kept it off." Baker appreciated that Lite for Life respected her desire to cook for herself and did not push its products. She says she learned to cook and eat healthfully, and more importantly, she never feels deprived.

"I have changed my lifestyle and am enjoying it," she says. "I think I am going to be able to do this for the rest of my life."

Lite for Life is located at 1300 Sanchez Street. Costs include a $49 membership fee and an additional $330 for a six-week program, and $440 for an eight-week program. The fees cover a program book, food plan, recipes, nutritional supplements, and counseling. Food costs extra, but purchases are optional. For more information, call 641-4489 or visit h