It seems to me that the title of the American Heart Assn.'s first diet book "No-Fad Diet: A Personal Plan for Healthy Weight Loss," is inherently contradictory. There's no dieting without fads, because diets are fads.
Ornish. The Zone. South Beach. Atkins. GI. Grapefruit. Cabbage Soup. Hollywood. Raw. There's a gazillion of 'em.
The heart association hopes that the mind-numbing frustration built up from years of yo-yo dieting will send you scurrying to the comforting pages of its no-no-nonsense plan.
"How many people are tired of the diet they've been on?" says Robert Eckel, AHA president-elect and professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. "This isn't a quick fix. It's a safe and healthy way to keep weight off."
The AHA plan is three-pronged: Think smart, eat well and move more.
"The biggest mistake people make is they gravitate from one truly fad diet to another," says exercise physiologist Barry Franklin, one of a gang of volunteer collaborators. "We need to get back to the basics."
Unfortunately, the basics of weight loss are as sexy as a stinky sweat sock. It's not magic, it doesn't happen overnight and it undoubtedly requires laying off the twice-daily pints of Ultra-Fudge Triple Chocolate Heart Attack ice cream with a Cheetos chaser.
So here's the 100 percent, surefire, foolproof way to lose weight: Burn more calories than you consume.
That's it. It works - guaranteed. But how to do it?
When the AHA decided to tackle a diet book 15 months ago, Eckel says, it suspected what science has since shown: that low-carbohydrate diets don't do any better in the long run than other approaches, like Weight Watchers. And when it comes to keeping the weight off, forget it.
"Most fad diets are very restrictive," Eckel says. "People realize they like bread, they like fruits and vegetables."
In the past 20 years, Franklin says, society has created the perfect storm of porkiness - engineering physical activity out of our lives while pushing lots of cheap, caloric food through clever marketing and school vending machines.
Stepping back into a healthier lifestyle
Here are the approaches suggested by the American Heart Assn. in its new book: ¢ Strategy 1: Lifestyle approach You commit to performing enough small activities throughout the day - on top of what you normally do - to increase your total activity. For example: Take the stairs instead of the elevator; park your car at the farthest end of the lot. ¢ Strategy 2: Walking program Here's a six-week program to get started if you don't already walk regularly: Weeks one and two: Walk 10 minutes every day. Week three: Walk 20 minutes on three days; 10 minutes on four days. Week four: Walk 20 minutes every day. Week five: Walk 30 minutes on three days, 20 minutes on four days. Week six: Walk 30 minutes on seven days. ¢ Strategy 3: Organized activity option Participate in scheduled exercise classes or play sports. Start by adding an activity twice a week for 30 to 60 minutes. Your ultimate goal is 60 minutes on most - preferably all - days of the week. To buy No-Fad Diet, go to www.americanheart.org. It also can be ordered from Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com and can be found at many bookstores.
"It's a complex issue why we're getting fatter and fatter," says Franklin, director of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Exercise Laboratories at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich.
But weight loss and better health aren't complicated - they just take commitment, he says. No-Fad Diet lays out three strategies for healthier eating and three more for getting your butt in gear, and it includes self-assessment tests to help determine which plans might work for you.
The eating plans look like this:
¢ Strategy 1: The switch and swap approach, wherein you trade in your caloric clunkers for sleeker fare, like water instead of your usual six sodas. Save just 500 calories a day and you're on your way to a slimmer you.
¢ Strategy 2: The 75 percent solution, which allows you to eat your usual food, just less of it, e.g., half a bag of pork rinds instead of a whole bag.
¢ Strategy 3: The AHA menu plan, which gives you menus of 1,200, 1,600 or 2,000 calories to follow.
Writing down what you eat and how much you move can help you reach your goal, which should be to lose about 10 percent of your body weight and keep it off, Eckel says.
The AHA recommends keeping weight loss to no more than a pound or two a week. Really, it probably took a decade or two for you to become such a well-rounded individual. It didn't happen overnight, and it ain't coming off tomorrow.
In the exercise arena, No-Fad Diet addresses misconceptions about federal guidelines that say people need to get at least an hour a day.
"The critical new notion in this book is that people can break that up into (shorter) segments that they do throughout the day," Franklin says. "You don't have to put the dollar bill in the piggy bank all at once. You can put in four quarters and have the same outcome."
Be realistic about your activity level. Instead of going from zero to 30 minutes of walking, for example, shoot for just six minutes a day. Once people get rolling, Franklin says, they often roll longer and harder than they had planned - or knew they could. And they like it.
"A body in motion tends to stay in motion. Getting started is the hardest thing," he says. "If you hit a temporary bump in the road, remember that's just one or two days out of many."