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 Take It Off! Which Diets Really Work? Eight Dieters Decided to Find Out.


Leslie Milk--Yes, it's me, and I'm a little chubby again. But I'm not alone. There are almost 50 million dieters in this country, and 95 percent of them end up gaining back all the weight they've lost.

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In the multibillion-dollar market for diet books, videotapes, appetite suppressants, diet foods, sugar-free drinks, and weight-loss programs, what really works? Most dieters know what doesn't work: No quick-fix starvation diet dramatically changes your silhouette for long.

To test which diet programs were effective, nine dieters weighed in for The Washingtonian's second annual battle of the bulge. This year's tactics included a personal computer, a personal trainer, and a diet delivery service.

Almost all of the dieters were on plans that are low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates, a formula based on an understanding of human metabolism. "Fat calories are going to be metabolized differently than protein or carbohydrate calories," says Trudy Yost of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Nutrition Action Healthleuer. When you eat fatty food, only 3 percent of the fat calories are burned up in the digestive process, compared with 23 percent of the calories in carbohydrates. In other words, says Washington nutritionist Janet Zalman, the fat in food is deposited on hips and thighs faster than you can say cheesecake.

Reducing your fat intake and changing your eating patterns will take weight off-but diet alone won't keep it off. The other vital factor in permanent weight loss is physical exercise. Exercise reduces the ratio of body fat to lean body mass-a more important change than can be measured in lost pounds. Increases in cardiovascular fitness, strength, and flexibility, among other measurements, are more important than weight loss, says exercise physiologist Mark Ortell of Westminister, Maryland.

In a study at the University of California at Davis, 90 percent of the successful dieters were among those who exercised regularly for at least 30 minutes, three times a week. Only 34 percent of the dieters who gained their weight back were regular exercisers. So the right regimens comprise two necessities: regular exercise, and a commitment to change the way you eatnow, and for the rest of your life.

For the 1992 Washingtonian diet contest, we had twelve weeks to exercise our bodies and our will power. Eight of the nine participants showed up for the "after" pictures to tell their losing stories. Alas, poor number nine, who started out with a grams-of-fat counter and good intentions, was hijacked by the holiday season. We hope he'll try again. Here are reports from one of us:

Bruce Reiter
DietMate Personal Computer
Weight Loss: 25pounds

My diet involved using the DietMate hand-held computer, which you order by website, mail or phone. All I had to do was enter information about my height, weight, and the times of day when I normally eat. The program also asked me if I wanted a snack between meals and what exercise I planned to do-the list of possibilities it provided included dozens of sports, with the number of calories I could expect to burn.

I chose three meals a day with no snacks, several exercises I like, and a weight-loss goal of 23 pounds. The DietMate gave me an interim goal of 9 pounds.

Before each meal I would select from the computer's suggested menus. I was surprised to find raisin bagels with cream cheese for breakfast, and spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. I could make substitutions guided by the computer, but once I started grocery shopping with DietMate in mind, I usually bought the suggested meals. The plan had me exercising more than I had been, and it kept track of my water intake and beeped me when I needed to drink a glass of water.

The first week on the diet I was vacationing on Martha's Vineyard. I had a few beers, although DietMate discourages drinking. Still, I lost a pound on my 1,700-calories-a-day regimen and began to improve my eating habits. By the second week I was down a couple of pounds more and not feeling as hungry. By week three I felt I had the knack. I even went to a ball game and had a hot dog. The computer let me.

The DietMate didn't radically change what I eat. It just forced me to eat sensibly. I learned to broil instead of fry, and I really cut back alcohol consumption. Sometimes I cheated. But even over Thanksgiving, when I gave myself more than the allowed turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy, I managed not to gain weight, because I skipped the ice cream and continued to exercise every day.

I think it was DietMate that gave me the motivation and discipline to lose 25 pounds. It was convenient and easy to use, and the progress reports provided encouragement. I liked the fact that it calculated calories and told me what I could eat each day. But it won't work unless you record truthfully everything you eat and every moment you exercise.

The DietMate computer costs $197.50 and comes with a start-up guide, a program guide, a cookbook, a videotape, and a toll-free counseling line. It's available from Healthlnnovations in Reston online at or by telephone (800-543-3744).

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