High-Tech Weight Loss, Does It Work? (cont.)

What the experts say: "There's nothing new here except how you access the information," says Heller. If you need a gadget instead of a book to count calories or carbs, she says, this can help.

Bottom line: If you need to be mildly amused while counting calories, these programs can help you learn what you can and can't eat if you want to reach your goals. They may also help raise your dieting awareness.

The Fitness Phone

Two high-tech programs -- one from Nokia and the other from Siemens -- use cell-phone technology to help you meet your fitness goal. They offer various services, including an electronic coach, a calorie counter, body mass index (BMI) calculator, heart rate monitor, and fitness scheduler. And oh yeah, you can make calls, too.

How it works: The Nokia is preloaded with software that allows you to program in fitness-related information about yourself, as well as your goals. Based on that, your phone will work out a training schedule, and keep track of your workouts, including how often and how long you exercise. With the Siemens, you get an animated fitness instructor that demonstrates various exercises. Extras include various monitors and calculators, including one that tallies your nutritional needs based on what you're eating now. On the way: A fitness phone from Samsung that lets you measure body fat with the touch of a button, and includes quick links to fitness counselors.

The cost: Nokia Fitness Phone -- $199 plus service; Siemens Fitness Phone -- $239.

What the experts say: "For people who want to keep track of how much they did, and to keep organized, these systems can be very helpful," says Todd Schlifstein, DO, a sports medicine specialist at New York University Medical Center. That said, Schlifstein warns that if you need an animated cartoon to figure out how to do an exercise, "you probably shouldn't be doing it."

Bottom line: For the gadget-lover it's a fun way to track workouts. For the weight-obsessed -- someone who wants to count calories, track body fat, and take a pulse count while sitting in a coffee shop or movie theater -- it's heaven. For the rest of us: It won't do those sit-ups for you.

Online Diet Programs

Online dieting programs are the electronic incarnation of the group approach to losing weight. While their offerings vary widely -- from meal plans and cooking tips to counseling, group support, and more -- what they all have in common is the power of a virtual community to support your weight loss goals.

How it works: For a set fee, members get a password to a members-only web site. Here you'll find an eating plan (some but not all are planned by nutritionists and/or medical experts) as well as recipes, and cooking and dieting tips. Depending on which program you choose, extras include everything from email counseling by nutritionists, psychologists, and other weight specialists; to message boards, group chats, and motivational tools; to articles addressing weight loss concerns, and fashion and beauty advice to help you look great while you're losing weight. Some programs also feature meal plans and nutrition information that's downloadable to your PDA or cell phone.

The cost: Most plans charge around $5 a week, billed in monthly installments. If you're not satisfied, most also offer a refund on any unused portion of your membership.

What the experts say: "There are several studies suggesting that Internet weight loss programs can be quite beneficial," says Heller. One study, she says, found that adding personalized counseling via email significantly improved weight loss in adults at risk for diabetes.

"While I don't think that an online program will ever replace in-person counseling with a nutritionist or physician, the anonymity of online dieting, along with the low cost and convenience, do appear to increase compliance and motivation," says Heller. And that, she notes, increases dieting success.

Bottom line: If you can't afford in-person counseling -- or it's not convenient for you -- the online weight loss community could be your new best friend. If you're spending time at your computer anyway, these web sites are bound to prove more productive than games, shopping, or even surfing. And who knows? You might make some great friends, too.

New Age Pedometers

These New Age pedometers measure how many steps you take -- and a lot more!

How they work: Like ordinary pedometers, they strap onto your belt to track your steps. But some of the newer versions go the extra mile to calculate all your activity. The Bell Total Fit Pedometer has both walk and run mode, plus a step counter, and a calculator for total distance, speed, and calories burned. The SportBrain 1 step X1 has a similar setup, plus a computer USB cable that connects you to a web site where you can download software to chart your progress, along with other motivational tools.

The cost: $30-$40

What the experts say: "A pedometer is only going to give you a rough estimate of the number of steps you're taking and if you change your cadence, or stop and go, they all lose sensitivity," says Schlifstein. So, he says, if you're walking around town, or going up and down stairs, they may be a waste of time. "I don't recommend any pedometers for weight loss," he says.

Sandon says pedometers can be good motivators but cautions that accuracy depends on correct placement of the device. "It has to go on or near the hip in order to register the movement of a stride," she says.

Bottom line: One of the best things about pedometers, whether high-tech or the ordinary kind, is that they can shock you into realizing just how sedentary your life is. Even a rough estimate of how much you move, compared to the suggested 10,000 steps a day, could motivate you to get up off the couch.

Dieting Software

A number of new software titles have emerged to help keep various aspects of your weight loss regime on track.

How it works: These programs vary widely, ranging from providing simple nutritional data -- like calorie counts, nutrient breakdowns, and meal planning -- to sophisticated tracking of both dieting and fitness goals. Some also offer meal suggestions, exercise regimens, and daily progress reports. Many also work in PDAs.