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Slim Hopes?

Get-Thin-Quick Plans Are an Easy Sell


It's the Preying Season--that time of year when excess flab is all that jiggles between you and a good time at the company picnic, class reunion or beach vacation.

But you can still whip yourself into fantastic shape--if you believe the promises on diet book covers and in ads for health clubs and exercise equipment, all preying on our anxieties and fantasies about being slim.

From January till June, about 15 new diet books or low-fat cookbooks land every month on the desk of Dulcy Brainard, an editor at Publishers Weekly who assigns reviews for the genre. "There is a tendency to reach out and promise instant gratification," she says. "You get titles like 'The 5-Day Miracle Diet.' There were a ton of them this season."

So what's possible and what's hype?

In as little as four weeks, it is possible to make some impressive headway, exercise and diet experts agree. But their emphasis is on the word "headway."

While many of his colleagues blast the diet books that include the words "miracle" or "revolutionary" on the cover, John Foreyt takes a gentler approach. "Some of these programs can be a good jump-start," says Foreyt, an obesity researcher who directs the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Long term, people must focus on balance, variety and moderation in food intake, and they must exercise. Short term, he says, if people find something that works for them--as long as it's not harmful--he's in favor.

But the word "miracle" appears so often this time of year that it's difficult to think about anything but a speedy southward spiral on the scale.

Adele Puhn, who wrote "The 5-Day Miracle Diet" and suggested the title to her publishers at Ballantine, defends the use of such superlatives, saying it gives people hope. "What I want to do is get their attention," says Puhn.

Once they're listening, Puhn says, "You're not going to lose 20 pounds in five days." Her program hinges on a plan to eat food at certain times to regulate blood sugar levels. "You can have blood sugar control in five days. You can get rid of your cravings in five days." Those cravings, she says, drive many to overeat and to eat junk food.

So how many pounds are losable?

"In a month," Foreyt says, "four pounds of fat loss would be realistic. You'll lose more at the beginning due to fluid losses. If you are heavier, you will lose more."

With weight training some noticeable results could be achieved within three weeks, says Rudy Hayek, an exercise physiologist and co-owner of Sierra Health & Fitness, a Sierra Madre workout facility. "The poorer shape you are in, the greater results you can produce," he says.

At the Los Angeles Athletic Club, members pay $440 to participate in an eight-week "Learn and Burn" program and then progress to levels 2 and 3, which gives them 16 more weeks of instruction.

The emphasis, says Catherine Holly, an instructor, is to teach people how to exercise correctly and to improve their diet with goals of reducing body fat and increasing muscle mass. She de-emphasizes scale weight alone and asks participants, "How do your clothes fit now? How do you feel?" After level 3, Holly says, "hopefully, we can send them out of the nest."

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