Durham, North Carolina, is home to a unique live-in weight loss center that one former resident calls "college education" for healthy living. Tagged as Structure House, this 30-year-old facility offers dieters a way to acquire the skills they'll need to change out-of-whack eating and exercise habits.

Program founder and behavior modification guru Gerard Musante, PhD, is now sharing that system-honed on more than 30,000 dieters from 37 different countries-in his new book The Structure House Weight Loss Plan. Honesty is the first policy. Fess up dieters. No one is forcing you to super size those fries, stash chocolates in the desk drawer, or zone out on the couch after a long day at work. "You're not a slab of driftwood tossed about on the sea," says Musante. "You're the captain of your fate."

While author Gerard Musante wants dieters to see that taking control of their eating habits makes them less vulnerable to weight gain, in reality the Structure House program is about a lot more than changing food intake. It's about putting balance back into every aspect of your life. So the book tackles issues like relaxation, meditation, and quality of life. It also talks about finding other tools, besides food, to handle stress, boredom and life's rocky problems. Another big light bulb moment for dieters comes with Musante's insights into why fad diets backfire. He talks about how easy it is to lose weight with plans that let you live on soup for seven days or call for noshing on a narrowly focused list of "miracle" foods. The trouble with these convoluted strategies is they aren't realistic for the long haul and so most folks resort back to old eating habits. The real key to weight loss success: Making sure the method you use to lose weight is similar to the method you'll use to keep it off. Get it? Make realistic changes in eating habits and before you know it you're already doing what you need to keep weight under control.

Basic principles:

This is not so much a diet as a life journey toward change. To achieve a healthy weight, you need to change your relationship with food. Change your attitude. Change your lifestyle choices. It starts first with considering how your current lifestyle contributes to weight and health. Stop blaming outside forces like huge restaurant portions or an argument with a spouse for driving you to overeat. When you define eating as out of your control you end up making yourself powerless to control it.

How the diet works:

Control when, what, and how much you eat. Make it three meals a day. That's it. No nibbling between meals. No snacking at night. Use a food diary to plan exactly what you will eat for each meal and when you will exercise.

What you can eat:

The book walks you step-by-step through a formula that calculates your calorie needs based on age, activity, and other factors. Most dieters need somewhere between 1,000 to 2500 calories a day. Calories are then translated into a precise number of servings from each of six basic food lists-dairy, fruit, vegetables, starch, meat, and fat. Stick by those servings every day.

Does the diet take and keep weight off?

It works at Structure House. No evidence yet if it will work when dieters do it themselves.

Is the diet healthy?

Yes. Stick with plans that call for at least 1200 calories per day so that nutrient needs will be met. The 1,000 calorie plan is not adequate.

What do the experts say?

John Foreyt, PhD, a behavior modification specialist from Baylor College of Medicine gives this book a big thumbs up. A visitor to Structure House on several occasions he thinks their behavior modification strategies are top notch. "There's no reason you can't put these concepts into practice at home," says Foreyt. "Whether the outcome will be the same, I just don't know." He sees the book as a chance for dieters to do home schooling but wonders if they'll slip without a teacher's guidance.

Registered dietitian Lona Sandon, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association worries about that too. "I'm not sure people will get the same help or support with a book as if they went to reside at Structure House." Sandon also thinks the book might be "too comprehensive" and that dieters might be overwhelmed by all the exercises and advice. Still, she says the book "fits with all the things that dietitians tell dieters to do in order to lose weight." And that's definitely a good thing.

Who should consider the diet?

Dieters who thrive on structure will love the plan, but every dieter can benefit from taking time to examine why they overeat.

Bottom line:

Don't be scared off by all the reading and self-help exercises. This might be the best diet book out there when it comes to searching inside yourself and finding the keys to change behaviors that are keeping you overweight.
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