Last updated: Apr 18, 2008

Putting one foot in front of the other and walking your way to weight loss is the simple and straightforward premise behind The Step Diet, a regimen devised by a group of weight-control experts from the University of Colorado. Instead of counting calories, the idea is to curb eating a bit and count steps. It's as easy as clipping a pedometer (one is provided with the book) onto your waistband every day. While the book is new, the diet strategy it promotes is not: It's a well-tested weight-control program that grew out of 25 years of research at the university. Dieters start out walking about a mile each day or what amounts to three 5-minute walks. Eventually the goal is to log 5 miles or 10,000 steps, not necessarily all at once but throughout the day.



This book is about more than walking off weight; it dishes out some solid wisdom about how to change negative habits that promote weight gain. A good deal of space is devoted to conquering passive overeating-mindless eating or snacking that drives you to clean your plate or finish that whole bag of chips regardless of hunger. Part of the problem is genetics: Humans are genetically programmed to gravitate toward the kinds of calorie-dense, high-fat foods that helped their ancestors survive during famine. To lose weight and keep it off requires short-circuiting this genetic tendency. Once that happens, you not only lose weight but also improve health and quality of life. On the surface, the eventual commitment to 10,000 steps or 75 minutes of walking each day sounds a little scary. But the point is to accrue steps in little ways throughout the day-by parking the car farther away in the lot, walking during TV commercial breaks, walking instead of taking a coffee break. One 30-minute walk after dinner combined with seven 5-minute walks throughout the day adds up easily to 10,000 steps.





Basic principles:


At the beginning of the 12-week program, you log 2,000 steps every day or walk for about 15 minutes per day and eat about 25 percent less than usual. Eventually, as you become thinner, your body requires less energy to function; steps are increased to account for this change. Speed of weight loss isn't important.

How the diet works:


Spend a week taking inventory, writing down everything you eat and do for activity. The idea is to tune into problem eating and to understand what triggers it. Walking is heavily promoted, but cycling, yoga, and other exercises are perfectly fine substitutes; charts in the book help convert these activities into step equivalents. One minute of yoga equals 50 steps, a 60-minute yoga class 3,000 steps.

What you can eat:


Anything. Just eat less of it, about 75 percent less than usual. It's as simple as taking a knife and cutting a burger into four quarters and leaving one quarter, or 25 percent, behind. The book recommends reduced-fat versions of favorite foods-frozen yogurt instead of ice cream, for example, or lean ground turkey instead of fatty ground beef. Since it's realistic to assume your fat intake on some days might be higher than usual, you need to take a mental inventory of splurges and balance them out by stepping up exercise efforts.

Does the diet take and keep weight off?


Most definitely. The authors cite studies conducted at the University of Colorado that document a 1- to 2-pound weight loss per week. The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), a large research project that follows successful dieters who have lost up to 65 pounds and kept it off for more than 6 years, is another study that supports walking as a means of weight control. Most NWCR subjects maintain their weight loss by logging 11,000 to 13,000 steps each day.

Is the diet healthy?


Probably. Since you'll be eating about 75 percent of your usual intake, calories will more than likely be adequate. However, there's still the potential to make poor food choices since the diet makes suggestions rather than spelling out precisely what to eat.

What do the experts say?


"They're coming at weight loss from the reverse of most diets by placing the emphasis on exercise," says renowned weight-loss researcher John Foreyt, PhD, of Baylor College of Medicine. "That's innovative." Still, Foreyt wonders if some folks might need more direction regarding what to eat than this plan provides. Registered dietitian Leslie Bonci, director of sports-medicine nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, admits there could be a problem. "A dieter could focus on reaching 10,000 steps but still make poor food choices," she says. On the other hand, Bonci thinks the step plan offers a more realistic way of approaching weight loss than "programs that say, 'Here's a diet; do it for 6 days and you'll be successful.' That just doesn't work."

Who should consider the diet?


Anyone. Walking is an activity that people of virtually any age or fitness level can engage in.

Bottom line:


This is one of the best approaches to weight loss to hit bookstores in a long time, but its less-than-glitzy package might not attract mainstream dieters. And that's too bad. This book is full of great advice about the kinds of small changes-taking the stairs at work, walking while talking on the phone-it takes to slowly lose weight and keep it off.