One of the most effective weight-loss strategies was developed for The Biggest Loser, the popular NBC reality show. The first 64 contestants—all of whom were obese—lost an average of about 60 pounds each over five months, three times more than most people lose on standard diets.

Admittedly, the participants were in a highly artificial environment. People in real life don't have full-time trainers, around-the-clock peer pressure and cameras recording every move.

As an experiment, the producers arranged for 36 people who weren't on the show to follow a similar program.

Result: The participants lost nearly as much as those who were on the show,

The secret: Less emphasis on calories and more on hard exercise.

Important: To be safe, get a medical checkup before starting any intense exercise program and tell your doctor what you intend to do.

Exercise Long

The Surgeon General advises overweight individuals to lose weight by walking for 10 minutes three times a week, gradually increasing the amount to 150 minutes a week. Unless you're a racewalker, this level of exercise burns only about 525 calorics. It takes nearly a week to lose just one pound.

Better: Prolonged, vigorous exercise. Working out intensely for one hour, twice a day, burns up to 2,500 calories in obese women and 3,000 to 4,000 in obese men. That adds up, on average, to about one pound a day.

Important: The assumption has always been that obese men and women are incapable of long exercise. Not true. Many of our participants were morbidly obese and had been completely sedentary. They struggled at first, but nearly all were able to complete the program.

Exercise Hard

It's the only way to lose appreciable amounts of weight. Suppose that your only exercise is walking. You would have to do it for 55 hours a day in order to lose 1% of your body weight in a week. Those who exercise more intensely can get the same results in a day.

The average woman who goes from sedentary to very fit with vigorous exercise gains six to seven pounds of muscle. Each pound of muscle burns at least an extra 30 calories a day.

Stay On Schedule

People who work out at the same times every day-once in the morning and again in the afternoon or evening-tend to stick with it more reliably than those who "get around to it."

Also important: Do not quit exercising if you get hurt. Doctors used to tell people to curtail their workouts after injuries. Now we know that injuries heal faster when people keep moving-although you might need to switch to a different exercise. If you hurt your ankle, for example, you might need to swim for a few weeks instead of jog. However, if the pain is worse the next day, even after you changed the exercise, see your doctor.

Fuel Up After Workouts

Muscle cells are more responsive to insulin in the 30 minutes following a workout. People who have a high-protein, high-carbohydrate drink during this period absorb more nutrients and have accelerated muscle growth.

You can use a commercially made muscle-recovery drink, such as Endurox (available online and at health-food stores). Or make your own by blending about a cup of skim milk with fresh or frozen fruit and a high-protein powder, such as whey (follow directions on the label).

You Still Can Eat

The good thing about this plan is that you don't have to avoid anything. Healthy foods, such as fresh produce, fish and whole grains, are important, but you don't need to be fanatical.

Even the quantities aren't that important. The participants in our program lost dramatic amounts of weight, even though they practiced only modest calorie restriction—the women consumed an average of about 1,400 calories a day and the men had about 1,800.

The program works because people who slightly curtail calories and exercise vigorously gain the necessary muscle to burn even more fat. Just as important, eating an almost-normal diet prevents the body from shifting into "starvation mode," in which it tries to conserve calories—the point at which weight loss slows or stops altogether.

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