How Jenny Craig influenced my approach today

[The partial collapse of the Jenny Craig weight loss empire (which opened its doors in Australia in 1983) in the news this week has brought up some memories of my own Jenny Craig experience and the weight loss industry in general. Note, this is my experience and I acknowledge that some people may have found this program helpful.]

1986: 18 year old spends $450 to ‘join’ the Jenny Craig Weight Loss Program

Yes, if I can remember correctly, that’s the amount I spent just to join the Jenny Craig program – that was the ‘joining fee’ – more than double my 18 year old secretarial wage in 1986. That was a lot of money back then – a hell of a lot!

And that didn’t include the food I had to buy as part of the program. It’s a bit hazy as it was 35 years ago (and I’ve blocked it out a little, as I have always been embarrassed that I spent so much money on this) but I do remember making some Jenny Craig pancakes. I’m not exactly sure how they were going to help me lose weight but I dutifully followed the program. Well, for a couple of weeks! Once I realised that there was actually no quick fix and I essentially had to starve myself to get those quick results, I disappeared off in search of another, easier way to ‘fix’ myself.

Yes, I recall attending my appointments all of twice – $450 plus another couple of hundred dollars for food and I attended twice! That’s more than $250 per week – in 1986!! I think my wage was $150 per week!

What was I thinking?

I was thinking that somehow in the few years after I hit puberty, my body had changed and I felt out of control. I hated the way I looked which made me eat more and more and more (partly out of comfort and probably partly to punish myself – if you have ever had a weight issue, then you will know what I mean). And suddenly, I was overweight and being told I took after my dad’s side of the family – who were mostly all obese. Seriously not a good place for an 18 year old to be in.

Basically, I was desperate – I would do anything to get rid of that weight (and not become like my dad’s side of the family) and the feelings associated with it. Jenny Craig was expensive – so, so expensive for a country kid like me working as a secretary. But the advertising on our one commercial TV station was very convincing – this was definitely the answer to all my problems. I came up with the money and took the plunge.

This was one of the many plunges I took over the coming years to ‘fix’ my weight and solve all my problems. And, one of the many that did nothing for my self-esteem, my knowledge about healthy living or most importantly, my weight.

What’s changed in 37 years since my first experience with the weight loss industry? It seems not a lot. I’ve seen (and experienced quite a few) of all the different fads and promises that have come and gone over the years – basically, none of them were fun or ever helped my own weight issues. Let’s not even delve into my low fat, high carb days of the 90s where I once sent a beautiful meal back at a very fancy restaurant because it had a drizzle of olive oil as a garnish (yep, I took things to the very extreme!).

In 2023, we have never before had more science backed information about health, wellness and weight management available to us, yet the worldwide obesity rate has nearly doubled since 1980!

The glory years of Jenny Craig may be over but gosh, that company must have made an awful lot of money up until now. Yet, how many people have actually lost weight and then, more importantly, maintained that weight loss over these last 37 years since my first visit? The statistics say not so many.

I know exactly what it’s like to be overweight, vulnerable and just wanting to feel good about yourself. Yes, it’s been a very long time since I was that chubby 18 year old but those memories and feelings never disappear completely. They are always lurking in the back of your mind and to be honest, they have been triggered again over the last few years as my body has changed yet again through my menopause transition. I’ve gained a little weight and I suppose I have some fears about things getting out of control again, like they did after my puberty transition.

But, I also have to remind myself that I have come a long way since my first experience with the Jenny Craig. I overcame my weight issues through a fairly basic formula – eating mostly healthy food (not too much and not too little) and moving my body. (It wasn’t exactly that simple or linear but that has been and continues to be my overriding simple but effective approach).

I have also devoted my life (particularly since my dad’s death of a sudden heart attack in 1992) to studying, learning and trying to live a healthy but balanced life. I continue to evolve my ideas and learning and philosophies. I don’t follow fads or crazy diets. I continue to work on my ‘issues’ about my past weight problems and also about my feelings of the changes I’m experiencing now as a post menopausal woman.

When I really look at it – although I often still feel the same, I’m a totally different person than I was as that naïve, self-conscious 18 year old handing over all that money to Jenny Craig in the hope that she would transform me.

However, I suppose I actually need to thank Jenny Craig for being part of my transformational journey. This was one of the experiences that has shaped my current approach to health and wellness and my career as a Health Coach.

I’m not sure about you but I really don’t think we need an expensive pancake mix to help us manage our weight. Yes, perhaps there is a lot of confusion about what exactly to do (we are literally inundated with so, so much information compared to the pre-internet days of the 80s), especially during this crazy menopause transition, but in the end, the basics really do work. When we eat mostly healthy food, move our bodies regularly and get our mental attitude in a good place, then things do mostly start to fall into place and we find the right weight and size for us at any age.

As the Jenny Craig era maybe begins to come to an end, perhaps it’s time for an alternative approach? It’s no longer the 80s – let’s do things a little differently.

As a Health Coach, I don’t sell weight loss. I don’t prescribe diets. I don’t sell supplements or even pancake mixes. What I do, is help women work out what’s going on for them now and how that’s been influenced over possibly decades, I help them find why they want to improve their health, explore their values about health, explore their strengths and experience and then facilitate them to finding their own way to their personal version of their healthiest and happiest self. Generally, when that happens, incredibly their weight also gradually finds its way to its healthiest and happiest place.


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