By Maureen Callahan, M.S., R.D
Updated: April 18, 2008

In the late 1970s, dietitian Laurel Mellin developed The Shapedown Program, a highly successful diet plan for overweight adolescents. The Solution (ReganBooks, 1997) is Mellin's adult version of that program. Mellin, an associate clinical professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, looks at obesity not as a diet and exercise issue but as "another expression of the interaction of mind, body, and lifestyle." The Solution helps dieters work on curing the six root causes of weight problems, a mixture of these mind, body, and lifestyle issues. A new book, The 3-Day Solution Plan (Ballantine Books, 2005), provides a quick introduction to the program that promises to jump-start weight loss.

Other diets focus on rigid rules, food exclusions, or downright strange food combinations. The Solution, as Mellin says, focuses internally. It's a completely different effort than most dieters are used to, because it requires dealing with issues that foster overeating and poor lifestyle habits. In fact, it's not the kind of book you can skim through and find quick strategies in. The Solution is a step-by-step process that will probably take months, maybe years, to master.

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Basic principles:

Forget personal trainers. Throw out the diet pills. And stop obsessing over willpower. The real solution to weight loss is an internal one that goes to the root of the problem. Simply put, there are six causes of obesity: unbalanced eating, negative lifestyle, poor vitality, body shame, setting ineffective limits, and weak self-nurturing skills. Mellin walks dieters carefully through each of the causes and helps them acquire the skills necessary to cure the problem. She calls the strategy an "inside job"-the goal of which is to help you put your life and eating habits into balance.

How the diet works:

Mellin contends that most people "know more than enough" about what they should eat. So she focuses on helping dieters learn to reset hunger signals. How? By consciously eating less than usual, exercising, and keeping busy enough that the mind isn't constantly thinking about food. As you build your self-nurturing skills and learn effective limit setting, Mellin says you'll gravitate naturally toward lighter selections and lose weight.

What you can eat:

You choose foods from four "light" lists-light grains, light proteins, light milk foods, and light fruits and vegetables. Minimum serving guidelines are suggested for each group so that you're covered when it comes to good nutrition. If this sounds too vague, dieters who thrive on structure will benefit from the book's daily menus. One caveat: While light foods are the more frequent choices, no foods are forbidden. In fact, Mellin teaches you how to deal with cravings for pleasure foods like hot-fudge sundaes and cheeseburgers.

Does the diet take and keep weight off?

Independent clinical studies show that The Shapedown Program, the version of the diet targeted to kids, promotes and sustains weight loss. It doesn't get any better than this.

Is the diet healthy?

Absolutely. Mellin has dieters choose from a wide variety of foods, with a focus on lean, light selections. It's all about balance, variety, and moderation. A big point in the program's favor: Mellin tells you to forget the concept of "good" and "bad" foods; there is no black-and-white.

What do the experts say?

"The Solution makes sense," says Baylor College of Medicine weight-control expert John Foreyt, PhD. "And it does have data to document that it works. It's one of the few programs I've seen where the weight loss continued after the study stopped." That in itself is amazing. Still, Foreyt contends The Solution is probably not for everyone. "It's for people who aren't aware of why they're overeating," he says. Registered dietitian Jane Kirby, author of Dieting for Dummies (Wiley, second edition, 2003), admits that "there's no one diet formula that's right for everyone," but The Solution does zero in on the heart of many people's weight problems. In fact, she just wishes more people knew about it.

Who should consider the diet?

Dieters who eat for emotional reasons, including stress, anger, or boredom. In many ways, The Solution is what a good diet is all about. It puts eating into perspective as part of a healthful lifestyle that calls for keeping active and enjoying life.

Bottom line:

This program works! And The Shapedown Program has been helping overweight children peel off the pounds since the late '70s. Too bad it isn't offered as an elective at every school in the country.
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