Welcome to L.A. Weight Loss

ByABC News
February 15, 2007, 10:00 AM

Feb. 16, 2007— -- I have compulsively agonized and have been aggressively criticized about my weight for as long as I can remember. So when I was assigned to go undercover into one of the nation's largest weight loss centers, I was understandably eager to start my assignment.

Despite my struggle with weight, my real interest was to see how the program would be introduced from an emotional and nutritional perspective. Sent by "20/20" to three different centers in three different cities, geared with hidden cameras and an alleged "goal" of losing 10 pounds, I was surprised by what I found.

With flashy commercials, the promise of affordable and easy weight loss and over 800 corporate and franchise-operated centers nationwide, LA Weight Loss Centers say it is "the fastest growing company in the $43 billion weight loss industry."

While this weight-loss giant may be rapidly growing, it has also speedily become a target of scrutiny by former clients, ex-employees and even law enforcement officials for allegedly engaging in a "classic bait and switch scam," deceptively advertising low-priced diets and prying on the emotions of clients to sell extras such as bars, shakes and juices.

With all this in mind, I walked into the first center I joined in New Jersey, playing a woman drawn in by catchy commercials, encouraging weight-loss testimonials, and the low advertised program cost of $6 a week. I guarded my self-esteem closely.

I was asked to fill out a comprehensive and somewhat emotionally revealing questionnaire, complete with personal questions about how my weight affects my relationships, family, social life and a medical history. I was introduced to a diet that was simple to follow, logical and seemingly balanced -- smaller portions, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, limited fats and oils.

The first counselor instructed me to keep a food dairy and encouraged me to commit to weekly motivational visits at the Center. On the surface, the staff was friendly, upbeat and encouraging. My first counselor even described the program as a partnership, which seemed encouraging.