By Maureen Callahan, MS, RD
Updated: April 17, 2008

Once an unathletic fat kid, Michael Thurmond teamed up with a bodybuilder while stationed in Vietnam to turn his own fitness around. Yet the reasons most folks probably recognize this personal trainer is because of the TV show "Extreme Makeover". Thurmond is the guy who steps in after the plastic surgeons are finished and works magic with the physiques of makeover subjects, taking them from out of shape to sleek in just a few months. In his first fitness book, the longtime exercise expert dispenses with his usual patented 6-Week Body Makeover system to deliver an even faster weight-loss plan. Using a strict food-and-fitness regimen, Thurmond promises dieters they'll drop a dress size or lose up to 10 pounds in just 6 days.

Thurmond seems to genuinely commiserate with dieters about the pain associated with being overweight. It's too bad his fitness advice lacks credibility. The plan he promotes is just another very-low-calorie diet that will peel off the pounds in the short term but won't do much for the long haul. And to tell the truth, Thurmond's food plans for various body types don't really seem all that much different. In fact, the whole concept of gearing diet to body type seems more gimmicky than scientific. On the exercise front, the jury is still out about whether or not slow long-distance workouts beat out high-intensity pursuits like brisk walking or working out on a stairstepper when it comes to fat burning.

More importantly, exercising at a slow pace, as Thurmond recommends, isn't going to give your heart enough of an aerobic workout to keep it healthy. Also, his advice on abdominal breathing is not a proven fat-burner, although it's definitely going to a good strategy for relaxation. The book's 45 recipes, many of which are pretty bland-sounding-like a fruit shake made with lemon juice, sugar substitute, 4 cups ice, water, and 1/2 cup strawberries-should excite those who don't like spending much time in the kitchen.

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Basic principles:

Thurmond likens metabolism to a bonfire. Little meals stoke the fire and keep it burning efficiently with frequent additions of small amounts of fuel; big meals slow down metabolism, not unlike throwing a large log onto a dying fire. The idea is to use food and "long slow distance" exercise like moderate walking or slow jogging to put the body into fat-burning mode.

How the diet works:

You take a 48-question test to figure out what kind of metabolism you have and which foods make you gain or lose weight; your answers determine which of five body-type categories you fall into. Next, you eat six meals a day, with menu choices built around your body type. (Six meals are required since each time the body digests food it burns more calories.) Thurmond also suggests exercising at a slow-to-moderate pace and breathing deeply through the abdomen to burn even more fat.

What you can eat:

Sticking with the bonfire analogy, Thurmond calls lean proteins and wholesome natural carbs (beans, blueberries) "clean, slow-burning food" since they keep metabolism in high gear. He also encourages drinking 12 cups of water a day, which he says burns fat. Dieters go without condiments for the 6 days since these are loaded with sugar or salt and can pack on the pounds.

Does the diet take and keep weight off?

Thurmond says the proof lies in his more than 20 years of work with thousands of clients. No scientific studies support his method, though.

Is the diet healthy?

Not really. Even though complex carbs are favored, it's a high-protein plan that's super-low in calories. Most days the meals add up to less than the safe level of 1,200 calories, which makes it likely that some nutrients will go missing.

What do the experts say?

"Don't get me started," says registered dietitian Leslie Bonci, director of sports-medicine nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. She finds Thurmond's book riddled with all sorts of misinformation, the exercise advice in particular. "To tell people they should never workout on a stairstepper or an elliptical machine because they'll work too hard-well, excuse me, you're supposed to be working hard when you exercise. That's the point."

American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Lona Sandon, assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, admits that there is some sound info about carbs and portion size, but overall gives the diet a thumbs-down. "It will probably be motivating for dieters to see the numbers go down on the scale, but they'll be losing water weight, no fat," Sandon says. "You can't lose body fat this quickly." Plus, she's not convinced that foods can change your metabolism or that different body types require different foods to lose weight: "There's no science to support that."

Who should consider the diet?

Skip it. It's just another very-low-calorie plan that doesn't do anything to ensure long-term weight loss.

Bottom line:

Eating smaller, more frequent meals may help control appetite, but this high-protein diet is way too low in calories to be healthy. And according to fitness experts, the exercise advice isn't all that great either.
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