The skinny on diets

Experts: Burn more calories, consume less food

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A few years ago, Craig resident Rick Johnson went on the Cabbage Soup Diet and lost about 10 pounds. But Johnson said it didn't take long to get tired of the soup, which is high in fiber, low in taste.

"After about a week, a juicy, greasy hamburger tasted really good," he said.

Johnson, who was working out Monday at Trapper Fitness Center in Craig, has since traded fad diets for a regime that includes regular exercise and balanced meal choices.

Nutritionists and health experts said Johnson's approach -- exercise and sensible eating -- is the right one, but a rarity in a society where quick fixes and weight-loss gimmicks rule.

Nearly 71 million Americans are on diets -- the highest number of dieters in the past 15 years -- according to Atlanta-based Calorie Control Council.

As Americans resolve to lose weight this new year, they'll have a whole menu of diet plans from which to choose. But experts, including the nonprofit Calorie Control Council, urged soldiers in the battle of the bulge to avoid yo-yo dieting and quick fixes.

Small changes

Although not as glamorous sounding as the South Beach or Hamptons diet, or fun as starting the day the Atkins way -- with bacon, eggs and chunks of cheese -- some health experts say small, sensible lifestyle changes will produce lasting results.

"Making small changes can have big results," said Beth Hubrich, executive director of the Calorie Control Council. "By reducing portions, controlling calories, adding more activity, people can not only lose weight but also control their weight without feeling deprived.

"These small changes are lifestyle changes, and hopefully that is what 2006 will bring -- a focus on healthy changes that can be maintained for life."

Portion control becomes easier: For many consumers who have a hard time knowing when to stop, pre-portioned snacks may be an answer. Snacks such as the 100-calorie packs and mini-sized cans of soda allow adults and children to enjoy their favorite treats with fewer calories. More companies are likely to roll out similar product lines as these snacks continue to fly off the shelves. Consumers will make simple substitutions: The average American gains one to three pounds every year, according to the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. Eating just 50 fewer calories a day can result in a 5-pound weight loss during a year, avoiding the dreaded weight gain. For example, choosing a light yogurt in place of a full-calorie yogurt can save 130 calories, and choosing light lemonade over the full-calorie version will save 98 calories. Companies will continue to fight obesity with more corporate wellness: Obesity costs employers about $12.7 billion each year in health care costs (36 percent higher for obese employees), medications, paid sick leave and life insurance policies, according to the Washington Business Group on Health. According to Hewitt Associates (which specializes in Human Resources), 72 percent of U.S. companies are offering programs to help employees lose weight and live healthier lifestyles. Corporate wellness and e-dieting programs such as the Council's non-commercial site, www.caloriescount..., discourage the "fad diet" mentality and instead teach health-conscious employees to count calories and make lifestyle changes. Pedometers track success at little cost: To help incorporate physical activity into their hectic schedules, more consumers will take advantage of the pedometer in hopes of walking 10,000 steps a day, which is about five miles. Programs such as "Colorado on the Move" and "Shape Up America" help encourage people to walk 10,000 steps a day to prevent obesity. The trends for 2006 will focus on achieving and maintaining a healthy weight through small lifestyle changes. By controlling portions, making smart choices and incorporating physical activity into their schedule, people can achieve the weight loss goal they hope for. Source: Calorie Control Council

Atkins Schmatkins

Last year, low-carb pioneer Atkins Nutritional filed for bankruptcy court protection, suggesting a thinning consumer interest in the company's once wildly popular diet.

The Atkins Diet focuses on shunning carbohydrates such as bread and pasta to lose weight. Because Atkins followers weren't forced to give up fatty foods, it became one of the most popular diets in U.S. history.

Just when it seemed safe to slap a burger between buns again, other low-carb diets, including South Beach, hit the scene. Now causing a buzz are "slow-carb" or low-glycemic diets, which promote the consumption of healthier, complex carbohydrates.

Also gaining in popularity is The Hamptons Diet, which allows healthy carbs and fruits. Hamptons Diet promoters say the plan is built on the low-carb and Mediterranean-style diets. So what's the secret ingredient of The Hamptons Diet? Australian macadamia nut oil.

Meanwhile, the Mediterranean Diet promotes high consumption of fruits, vegetables, bread and other cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds, olive oil, some dairy products, fish and poultry and wine in moderate amounts.

Simple steps

James O. Hill, professor of Pediatrics and Medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, said low-carb diets could help people lose weight -- at first.

"The problem is, the weight isn't kept off," Hill said.

Sticking to low-carb and fad diets isn't easy, said Hill, who also is author of the "Step Diet Book," a co-founder of the National Weight Control Registry and adviser on obesity to the National Institutes of Health.

"Any diets work in the short-term, but almost none work in the long-term because you can't continue to eat that way," he said.

Hill's book doesn't promise extreme and quick weight loss. Rather he's a promoter of the simple premise that people should burn more calories than they consume. They can do so by walking and exercising more and cutting their food consumption by 25 percent.

Glenn Gaesser, professor of kinesiology at the University of Virginia, said that if results from a diet don't show up quickly, most Americans aren't interested.

Eat more fiber

The reason low-carb diets worked, Gaesser said, was because followers were eliminating half the food they eat. But few people can follow restrictive diets for long.

Americans would do better to eat meals that promoted overall health, not just quick weight loss, Gaesser said.

"Science suggests that people who consume lots of whole grain food and cereal fibers have lower body weight and better overall health," he said.

Foods rich in fiber and whole grains reduce risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and other health problems, he said. Foods can improve fitness, he said.

"People who consume lots of fiber tend to be leaner and healthier than those who do not."

Tammy Workman, manager of Trapper Fitness Center, said balance is key to health and fitness. But will Americans ever stop trying fad diets?

"They want the quick fix, they want to lose weight, and they want to lose it yesterday," Workman said.

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