According to conventional wisdom, anyone who loses weight rapidly (more than a pound or two a week) will invariably regain the lost pounds because the diet will be too strict to maintain. But some researchers are now finding evidence that slow isn't necessarily better when it comes to weight loss.

Recent research: A study in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine analyzed data from 262 middle-aged obese women.

Result: The fast weight losers dropped more pounds overall and maintained their weight loss longer than the gradual weight losers.

Good news: With rapid weight loss, most people can boost their metabolism, combat fat storage and help prevent obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes and certain types of cancer—all without feeling deprived of satisfying food.

Sound impossible? I've seen thousands of people lose weight by following what I call the 17 Day Diet.

Why 17 days? This is roughly the amount of time it takes for your body's metabolism to adapt to a change in calories. By varying your diet at 17-day intervals, you "trick" your metabolism into functioning at its maximum efficiency to help you reach your target weight. Four simple cycles to follow…

Cycle 1: Cleanse Your System. For the first 17 days, the goal is to "cleanse" your system by eating lots of lean protein, such as poultry and fish. Lean protein requires more energy to digest than carbohydrates, so it burns additional calories and helps control your blood sugar, Because it's satisfying, protein also fights food cravings.

*Be sure to check with your doctor before you start this or any other weight-loss program.

During this cycle, you're also allowed as many vegetables as you like. You will need to temporarily cut out all grains, potatoes, pasta and desserts. Doing this helps you avoid the dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar that fuel binge eating.

Note: Use olive oil for cooking during this cycle.

Fruit is allowed but only before 2 pm-when sugar (including natural sugar from fruit is less likely to be stored as fat.

Good fruit choices: Apples, berries, oranges, pears, plums and red grapes. These fruits are relatively low in sugar and high in fiber, which slows digestion and helps you feel full. Avoid bananas and pineapple—both contain too much natural sugar.

During this 17-day cycle, people lose an average of 10 to 12 pounds (depending on their starting weights) while eating three to four meals daily plus snacks (for a total of 1,300 calories per day for men and women). Some of this weight loss will be due to water loss—but this is also beneficial because fluid retention can contribute to fatigue.

Sample day's meals: Breakfast—two scrambled egg grapefruit or other fresh cup green tea. Lunch-fish, poultry or cup green tea. Dinner—fish or cup green tea. Snack—raw, cut-up veggies.

Cycle 2: Reset Your Metabolism. During the second 17-day cycle, the goal is to reset the metabolism by alternating higher calorie intake (1,500 to 1,700) on even days with lower calorie intake (1,300) on odd days. Switching back and forth stimulates fat burning because it prevents your body from adapting to a certain level of daily calories.

Slow-digesting complex carbs, such as oatmeal, sweet potatoes and brown rice, are reintroduced during this cycle.

Cycle 3: Good Eating Habits. By now, a little more than a month since you started, your body has undergone a significant metabolic shift that will allow you to reintroduce moderate portions—and no more than two to three servings per day before 2 pm—of carbohydrates such as whole-grain breads and pastas that may have made you feel sluggish or heavy before.

If you've reached your target weight, you may proceed to cycle 4, the maintenance cycle. If not, be sure to focus on portion control and continue to emphasize lean protein and non-starchy vegetables, limiting carbohydrates after 2 pm until you reach cycle 4.

Cycle 4: Weight Maintenance. During this cycle, which is followed indefinitely to maintain your weight loss, you are more strict with yourself throughout the workweek but relax your eating habits on the weekends. From 6 pm Friday to 6 pm Sunday, you can enjoy your favorite indulgences, such as pizza or hamburgers, as long as you maintain portion control and enjoy no more than three indulgences over a single weekend. This approach allows you to eat some favorite foods in moderation while also giving your metabolism the variety it needs to function efficiently.

Rule of thumb: Weigh yourself on weekends. If you gain five pounds or more over a week's time, return to any of the earlier cycles.

Other Secrets To Weight Loss

In addition to following the cycles described earlier...

  • Get more probiotics. New research suggests that people who have an overabundance of "bad" bacteria in the intestinal tract are more susceptible to weight gain. But healthful bacteria, known as probiotics (found in such foods as certain yogurts, sauerkraut and miso soup), control the proliferation of bad bacteria and help fight infection and ensure that your metabolism functions effectively.

My advice: Aim to consume two daily servings of foods containing probiotics. Examples of one probiotic serving: Six ounces of fat-free plain yogurt or one-half cup of Breakstone LiveActive cottage cheese (which includes added probiotics).

Or: Take probiotic supplements, following label instructions

  • Don't forget to exercise. To avoid getting run down while you're scaling back on calories (especially the first few days of cycle 1), do only 15 to 20 minutes of walking a day.

Thereafter, aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week. Walking is a good choice, as is jogging, swimming or using a stationary bicycle or an elliptical machine. For strength training, make the exercises as aerobic as possible using lighter weights and more repetitions.

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