Quick Weight-Loss Plans: What You Need to Know (cont.)

Even more important: The more times you jump on and off any quick weight-loss plan, the farther you may get from reaching your weight loss goals.

"There is some evidence to show that every time you lose weight and gain it back, your metabolism changes in such a way that it becomes more difficult to lose weight the next time around,'' says Pam Birkenfeld, a nutritionist and registered dietitian at the Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, N.Y. It's also easier to put on pounds after you've lost some, she says.

Of even greater concern: A study presented at the American Heart Association's annual meeting in early 2003 offered evidence that yo-yo dieting -- losing and gaining weight over and over -- can dramatically increase the risk of heart disease, particularly among women.

According to researchers from the University of Michigan Health System, their small but significant study of 16 postmenopausal women found that those who had lost and gained 10 pounds five or more times over their lifetimes had an increase in circulatory problems linked to heart disease. Although the doctors can't say why, they believe there's a connection.

Are Quick Weight-Loss Plans Ever OK?

Though it's clear that fad diets don't pave the road to permanent weight control, some experts believe that, under certain circumstances, they can have some short-term benefits. If you follow the plans to the letter, says Birkenfeld, you will see a quick weight loss -- which can act as a powerful motivator.

"As long as you limit your time on the diet, and you follow up with a sensible, low-calorie eating plan to take you the rest of the way, the fad diet could be a good way to start your weight-loss engine," says Birkenfeld.

Some doctors also think it's OK to use a quick weight-loss diet as a temporary jump-start, especially if your health depends on losing weight.

"If your cholesterol, blood sugar, or blood pressure is very high, then not only can these diets help to get some weight off fast, doing so, and seeing the results, may encourage you to pursue a more sensible weight-loss plan and to stick with it," says Stephen Sondike, MD, director of the Nutrition and Wellness Program at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.

In all instances, he says, the key to weight-loss success lies in using the fad diet for initial weight loss only, then immediately switching to a more sensible, low-calorie eating plan that is both safe and enjoyable for long-term use.

"What also makes a major difference is having a maintenance diet in mind -- a plan that you can really live with, featuring foods you like to eat and are easy to prepare. That's the only way you can keep the weight off," Sondike says.

Indeed, studies show that even if you've lost weight following a sensible eating plan, you're likely to regain weight if you go back to your previous eating habits.

Though it's sometimes obvious which diets are fads, it's also easy to be fooled, especially if the diet is supported by a professional-looking web site or written by an author who appears to have solid credentials.

"Just because a diet has longevity doesn't mean it has long-term usefulness."

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