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The Promise

Can you eat chocolate, not count calories, and still drop a dress size in a month? Yes, if you're on the Cinch Diet.

On this 30-day plan, you get four meals a day, plus a small piece of dark chocolate. It's based on Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds, and Lose Inches by registered dietitian Cynthia Sass.

The three simple rules:

  1. Eat like clockwork, starting within 1 hour of getting up and spacing meals 3-5 hours apart. Doing so helps control your blood sugar and hunger hormones, and revs up your metabolism.
  2. Mix and match produce, whole grains, lean protein, plant-based fats, and seasonings. They make you feel full and help you lose weight.
  3. Focus on flavor with seasonings that don't add calories or sodium.

The diet starts with the optional “Fast Forward" phase, which lasts 5 days. During that time, you can eat only limited amounts of spinach, raspberries, almonds, nonfat plain yogurt, and eggs (or vegan alternatives).

After that, every meal has a certain amount of fruits or vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, plant-based fat, and seasonings like garlic, vinegar, lemon zest, cinnamon, and chili peppers.

Cinch also teaches you to recognize and overcome emotional eating.

What You Can Eat and What You Can't

You get produce, whole grains, lean protein, one cup of coffee, and did we mention chocolate?

  • Fruits and vegetables: There are dozens of acceptable fruits and vegetables to choose from.
  • Seafood and poultry: You can eat boneless and skinless chicken and turkey, shrimp, scallops, salmon, and more.
  • Dairy products: Reduced-fat and nonfat cheese, yogurt, and milk are included.
  • Meat: Beef and pork aren't allowed, because this is a Mediterranean-style diet.
  • Whole grains: You'll eat whole wheat bread and pasta, barley, brown rice, quinoa, and oats.
  • Plant-based fats: Options include nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, and coconut oil.
  • Chocolate: The plan calls for you to eat a little bit of dark chocolate that has 70% cocoa every day. Exactly how much? 50-100 calories. For comparison, three Hershey's Kisses have about 60 calories. As for the cocoa content, many chocolates put that percentage on their label.

You won't eat red meat, pork, alcohol, or sodas until you reach your goal weight. Sass recommends eating five vegetarian meals per week.

Level of Effort: Medium

Limitations: Some foods are off-limits, including red meat, alcohol, and sodas (even diet sodas).

Cooking and shopping: You can get everything at your regular grocery store. Cinch has 100 meals to choose from. There are suggestions for acceptable chain-restaurant meals, and tips to help you stay on track while away from home. But you'll mainly need to prepare the book's recipes.

Packaged foods or meals: No.

In-person meetings: No.

Exercise: The plan recommends getting at least 30 minutes of activity 5 days a week, except during the first 5 days. Walking is fine.

Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?

Vegetarians and vegans: The book explains how to alter recipes.

Gluten-free diet: You can switch any whole grain for another on the approved list, including brown rice, buckwheat, and quinoa. Read food labels to make sure that foods you select are gluten-free.

Low-salt diet: You'll be eating unprocessed foods with no added salt, and there's no salt in the recipes.

Low-fat diet: This diet discourages low-fat foods (other than dairy products), because most reduced-fat products have added sugars or carbs.

What Else You Should Know

Cost: Just your groceries. The book suggests that you buy organic ingredients, so your grocery bills may increase. There are suggestions to help you decide which foods to buy organic, so you don't go over budget.

Support: You do this diet on your own. Sass's web site includes a blog and health news related to the book.

What Dr. Melinda Ratini Says:

Does It Work?

Due to its emphasis on fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and plant-based fats, as well as portion control, you will probably lose weight on the Cinch Diet.

The tasty hook with this plan is the required chocolate snack each day. There is some science behind this. Animal studies have shown that some components of chocolate support weight loss and help the body use glucose more effectively.

More research is needed to see if this holds true for humans as well. You may want to take your chocolate early in the day, however, because it may interfere with sleep if you have it too close to bedtime.

There is no magic behind the timing of your meals or the specific foods that make up the “Fast Forward” part of this plan. But this schedule may help hold down the hunger pangs; and the five foods in the “Fast Forward” part of the diet are both healthy and tasty.

Is It Good for Certain Conditions?

The healthy fats, fresh produce, and whole grains that make up Sass’s recipes are very heart-healthy. You will be preparing your own foods that are low in sodium and fat. This and the likely weight loss will be great for your blood pressure and your cholesterol.

While following the Cinch Diet, you will be getting about the right amount of exercise -- about 30 minutes of a good cardio workout like brisk walking on most days.

Weight loss and exercise are also the key players in preventing and treating diabetes. Just check with your doctor before starting any plan if you have medical problems or if you have been inactive.

The Final Word

The Cinch Diet will introduce you to a world of healthy foods that can help you lose weight. It will even encourage you to experiment with meatless and vegan options.

Unlike many other diet plans, the Cinch Diet even provides tips to help you maintain any weight loss and avoid emotional eating.

If you don’t like to cook, however, this may not be the plan for you. And if you are a foodie, your creativity may be somewhat limited by the recipes in the book.

There is not a strong support network surrounding the Cinch Diet, so it may not be the best option for you if you are someone who needs constant reinforcement to stay on track.

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