Called "fatso" and "lard ass" by his childhood classmates, weight-loss guru Jorge Cruise knows firsthand the pain involved in being overweight. A frequent talk-show guest, the now-slim Cruise is known for preaching the importance of small amounts of resistance training for weight loss. In The 3-Hour Diet (HarperResource), he offers a "diet only" approach to shedding pounds. Put simply, the plan is all about timing. Eating every 3 hours helps you control your appetite, preserve muscle, and burn fat, Cruise says. It's not that exercise isn't valuable, but the new approach helps folks who can't exercise (perhaps because of painful joints or problems with obesity) jump-start their weight loss—at a guaranteed rate of 2 pounds a week—with diet alone.

Cruise deserves credit for recognizing the needs of dieters who want to lose weight but who have physical problems with exercise. And he offers plenty of good advice to help these dieters eat healthfully. It would be nice, though, to see some activities tailored just for these folks. Perhaps resistance training or 8 Minutes in the Morning (HarperResource)—Cruise's first, workout-heavy diet plan—isn't possible, but gentle-on-the-joints activities like water walking and water aerobics might help extremely overweight or arthritic dieters become more active (after all, the Arthritis Foundation does recommend exercise to treat arthritis). Cruise could also use a little help in the recipe department. He may have a chef on his advisory board, but the recipes here aren't as mouthwatering as those in most top diet books. In fact, a slow-cooker turkey breast steeped with sugar-free cranberry gelatin and dried onion soup mix sounds downright bizarre.

Basic principles:

Since a pound of muscle can burn between 20 and 50 calories per day—even at rest, it uses twice the calories of a pound of fat—dieters who can't exercise must preserve what muscle they already have to keep metabolism high. Cruise lists several studies he claims show that eating frequently (about every 3 hours) helps preserve lean muscle tissue while promoting weight loss. Why does this happen? Cruise contends that frequent eating prevents the body's starvation protection mechanism (what he calls the SPM) from kicking in. When SPM begins, Cruise says, the body tenaciously holds onto fat stores just as it would during a famine.

How the diet works:

The goal is to eat within an hour of rising and then every 3 hours after that for a total of five meals per day. If breakfast is at 7 a.m., eat a snack at 10 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m., another snack at 4 p.m., and dinner at 7 p.m. Counting calories isn't necessary, but dieters do watch portions, eating three moderate meals and two small snacks a day. The plan also allows for a daily treat such as a licorice twist, four chocolate-coated mints, or a cup of air-popped popcorn.

What you can eat:

No foods are banned, but Cruise encourages dieters to pick and choose from specific lists of fruits, veggies, meats, dairy, and preferred fats. He also offers two approaches to meal planning. One is a blueprint that calls for specific numbers of servings from different food groups. For example, lunch includes two to three servings from the meat group (one serving of meat is listed as a slice of bacon, an ounce of buffalo, or a reduced-fat hot dog). The second approach is called a "Cruise Down Plate." Dieters fill up half of a 9-inch dinner plate with veggies (or fruit for breakfast) and the remaining half with small portions of meat and starch, plus a teaspoon of oil or butter. Both methods boil down to about 1,450 calories per day.

Does the diet take and keep weight off?

The evidence is purely anecdotal. There are no scientific studies to support that The 3-Hour Diet works or that it delivers on the cover promise of losing 2 pounds every week.

Is the diet healthy?

Probably. The diet adds up to about 1,450 calories a day-a safe and effective amount for most dieters and one that will likely promote slow, gradual weight loss.

What do the experts say?

Registered dietitian Jane Kirby, author of Dieting for Dummies (For Dummies), likes Cruise's emphasis on eating more frequently. "So many of us eat mindlessly," she says. Cruise's plan "constantly makes people aware of what and how much they eat." What Kirby doesn't buy: Cruise's theory on how the 3-hour window affects metabolism. "Metabolism depends on a lot of things-how much you eat, body composition, activity levels." Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, shoots more holes in Cruise's 3-hour theory. "Our bodies are smart enough that they don't go into starvation mode after only 3 hours," she says.

Who should consider the diet?

Dieters who skip meals, or those who overeat when they feel sad or depressed. Eating more frequent meals is a good way to control appetite and squelch the desire to pig out.

Bottom line:

Even if some of his reasons for eating more frequent meals aren't always on target, Cruise's approach to weight loss is practical and doable. At some point, though, dieters will need to start exercising.
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