This section explores the liquid diet plan that is among the most popular commerical diet programs.
Slim-Fast: The Premise
All liquid diet plans basically offer quick weight loss by substituting a sweet-tasting, nutritionally fortified shake or bar for a meal. In the past, liquid diets developed a bad reputation because dieters were restricting their intake to only 500 to 800 calories a day and getting sick -- even dying -- as a result of their weight-loss efforts. But the liquid-diet industry has cleaned up its act, and now companies like Slim-Fast, which has been around for more than 25 years, offer safer programs. Like many other diet programs, the Slim-Fast Optima Diet program offers an online dieting community complete with an online weight-charting tool, a personal food and exercise diary, chat sessions with registered dietitians, a weekly newsletter, and the ability to "converse" with an online Slim-Fast Buddy. There is no one-on-one counseling, however. Slim-Fast boasts more than 400,000 members. It now offers low-carb products, too.
What's for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner?The Slim-Fast diet plan is centered around Slim-Fast's meal replacements, which make up two meals a day during the weight-loss phase of the plan. One meal consists of a Slim-Fast "Meal-on-the-Go" in a can or bar, and the other is a Slim-Fast Meal Combination, which combines a Slim-Fast Meal-on-the-Go with 200 Calories of your favorite healthy foods. Buying the company's products, which include ready-to-eat shakes, snack and meal bars, and powders, then, is mandatory. You can find the products for sale online as well as in most supermarkets and drugstores. The 11-ounce shakes are the main attraction and cost about $1.40 each. The meal-replacement bars cost about $1.00 each. Though dairy products are not a part of the basic diet plan, the meal replacements are fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and riboflavin, three of the chief nutrients in milk, as well as fiber. The products are low in fat (only about 1 to 3 grams per shake), but they are also high in sugar. The one "sensible meal" a day allowed during the weight-loss phase should be about 500 calories, with 1/2 of your plate filled with veggies, 1/4 with lean protein (such as chicken without the skin, turkey, fish, or lean beef), 1/4 with starch, a salad on the side, and fruit for dessert. In addition to Slim-Fast snacks, 3 to 5 additional fruit or vegetable servings are recommended, depending on your starting weight.
Fact or Fiction: What the Experts Say
Though the Slim-Fast diet and other similar diet plans should result in weight loss, dietitians question whether any meal replacement diet can train people to eat right. But eating right is what changing your eating habits should be all about, says Keith Ayoob, Ed.D, R.D., director of nutrition at the Rose F. Kennedy Center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. Losing weight is simply a benefit of eating right, he maintains. Slim-Fast touts the results of research studies using meal-replacements. In one study, people who followed the Slim-Fast plan routinely to lose and manage their weight were, on average, 33 pounds lighter after 10 years as compared to a matched group from the same community not using Slim-Fast. Experts argue that incorporating meal replacements is generally a short-term solution to weight loss and not a realistic way to eat over the long term.
Gains and Losses/What's the Damage?
If you follow the plan as suggested, a 1,200-to-1,500-calorie diet should result in a gradual weight loss for most people. However, 1,200 to 1,500 calories may be too low to begin with for those who are extremely overweight, and no formula is given for increasing the calorie level beyond that point. Some medically supervised programs offer much lower calorie levels, but because they are medically supervised, the dieter is being closely monitored for any potential complications. Slim-Fast's informational brochures and Web site do encourage physical activity, but they don't emphasize it enough. Slim-Fast's diet may be a useful starting point for some people who need a gimmick to get them going, but it offers very little education or advice about entering the real world.
Finally, let's look at the Curves diet program. It's covered in the next section.
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