Bob Greene may be best known for his stint as Oprah Winfrey's personal trainer, but with eight fitness and food books under his belt, this exercise physiologist is a major force in the weight-loss arena. Oddly enough, Greene claims that Get With the Program! (Simon & Schuster, 2002) is not a diet or fitness book. Rather, it focuses on teaching people how to get back in shape both emotionally and physically. Greene contends that emotional eating is epidemic in the United States, and he encourages readers to recognize feelings that can trigger these negative eating behaviors. Dieters don't set goals about weight, size, or getting as "thin as a pin," but about building a healthy mind and body. Greene's first book, Make the Connection, (Hyperion, 1996) follows this same weight-control philosophy. (Other recent books by Greene include The Get With the Program! Guide to Good Eating [Simon & Schuster, 2003], The Get With the Program! Guide to Fast Food and Family Restaurants [Simon & Schuster, 2004], and Bob Greene's Total Body Makeover [Simon & Schuster, 2005].)

Greene shoots straight with readers about what it takes to get fit and lose weight. The most lasting results, he says, happen in small increments as people learn to improve eating habits and activity levels. If there's one downside to the program, it's that it's heavily slanted toward exercise advice. In a land gone awry with supersize portions, some dieters might need a bit more specific advice about exactly how much to eat.

Basic principles:

This is no quick fix. Instead, it's a four-phase regimen that focuses on slowly developing good lifelong food and exercise habits. There's no set time frame for results; dieters take each step of the program at their own pace. Phase one consists of written exercises aimed to help you get to the heart of your individual weight problem and begin functional (stretching and flexibility) exercises. The remaining phases spell out specific behavior changes, more exercise strategies, and eating guidelines.

How the diet works:

Dieters eat three meals and up to two snacks a day. It's important to set a meal schedule where you stop eating at least two hours before bedtime. Cardio workouts start at 50 to 75 minutes per week in phase two and build to 100 to 125 minutes in phase three. Strength-training exercises don't begin until phase four, when abdominal muscles are stronger and good eating habits are firmly in place. (That's because weight lifting can cause your appetite to increase.)

What you can eat:

It all boils down to "Limit 24-7." Dieters limit fat to 25 to 50 grams by choosing lean foods, steering clear of sugars and refined grains (white bread, white rice.) The phrase "24-7" is shorthand for the number of daily servings from three food groups: two (2) fruit servings, four (4) vegetable servings, and up to seven (7) servings of whole grains. As for meats, keep them lean. Eat lots of fish. Two snacks, no more than 150 calories apiece, are allowed.

Does the diet take and keep weight off?

That's not clear. The plan is based on sound principles, but there are no scientific reports that show this specific regimen works. The book and Web site do contain anecdotal stories of success.

Is the diet healthy?

Probably. However, since portion sizes aren't specified it's possible that dieters, when left to their own devices, could end up overeating.

What do the experts say?

"This plan is a starting place," says Lona Sandon, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and an assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. "It makes things relatively simple without being overwhelming." Her one complaint: The diet requires a major time commitment (one hour a day) for exercise-something that not everyone can do. Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, director of sports-medicine nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, likes the general concepts of Greene's program. "The eating cutoff time is great," she says, "and journaling and dealing with emotions-those things are vitally important." However, Bonci thinks dieters may need to go elsewhere for more detailed eating advice, since Greene doesn't specify portion sizes. "It may be nitpicking, but this is going to be a problem," Bonci says. "You can't just say popcorn or fruit is a good snack without giving people an idea of how much they can eat. It's easy to go overboard, and calories count."

Who should consider the diet?

Dieters who like to have some flexibility about what they eat but are clueless about what kind of exercise regimen is best. Anyone who eats when she's stressed, bored, angry, or sad should take a look, too.

Bottom line:

In a world enamored with quick fixes, this plan's gradual approach is refreshing. Although it might take some folks time to work up to the intense amount of exercise the program requires, this diet is a keeper.
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