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The Promise

The secret to weight loss isn't a secret at all. If you've tried to lose weight before, you know what you need to do, says TV celebrity and former psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw.

It's not about willpower. “It’s about changing what you eat, why you eat, where you eat, when you eat, and how you eat, and doing it all in a way that is custom-designed so that it is natural for you, Dr. Phil writes in his book, The Ultimate Weight Solution: The 7 Keys to Weight Loss Freedom.

McGraw's seven keys are:

  1. Right Thinking: Get rid of negative thoughts, and replace them with positive ones.
  2. Healing Feelings: Stop looking to food to ease emotional pain.
  3. A No-Fail Environment: Change what's around you to get rid of binge foods and chances to eat.
  4. Mastery Over Food and Impulse Eating: Stop a pattern of mindless eating.
  5. High-Response Cost, High-Yield Nutrition: Choose foods that help with lasting weight loss.
  6. Intentional Exercise: Regular exercise gives you energy and gets your body in shape for long-term weight loss.
  7. Your Circle of Support: Build relationships that help as you change your life.

What You Can Eat and What You Can't

McGraw's food plan emphasizes fresh fruit and vegetables, beans and legumes, meats, poultry, fish, whole grains, and some cereals.

It downplays foods that have empty calories or are loaded with sugar, extra fat, too much salt, or certain additives.

You eat three meals and two snacks daily. Meal replacement beverages and bars are OK once in a while.

You should drink 8 to 10 glasses of water daily on this plan. McGraw also suggests a high-quality multiple vitamin-mineral supplement.

Level of Effort: Medium

No food is really off-limits, but it's all about making better choices.

Limitations: Allow yourself some occasional treats, so long as you keep from bingeing or returning to a pattern of “free-for-all eating,” McGraw says. You can also choose “slenderizing substitutions,” such as no-sugar ice cream for regular ice cream, and dried fruit instead of candy.

Cooking and shopping: You need to plan what you're going to eat each day and stick to it. A well-planned food strategy frees you from making last-minute decisions about what to eat, he says, and prevents you from caving in to sudden impulses to overeat. In his book he includes a sample 7-day menu but says “feel free to switch meals around within these menus.”

Packaged foods or meals: Not required.

In-person meetings: No.

Exercise: Aim for at least 3 to 4 hours a week of moderate activity and at least 2 to 3 hours a week of vigorous activity.

Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?

Vegetarians and vegans: This plan works for vegetarians. If you’re vegan, you would need to adjust the recipes that include animal products.

Gluten-free: Carbs are on the menu every day. You can choose those without gluten, but the diet itself doesn’t ban gluten.

What Else You Should Know

Cost: No additional costs.

Support: This is a diet you do on your own.

What Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD, Says:

Does It Work? Although there is no specific research on the success of Dr. Phil's plan, besides his own observations, the recommendations are in line with traditional weight loss programs that focus on changing behavior and unhealthy thought patterns.

Weight loss is likely to occur with his low-calorie meal plans. But his recommendations are not individualized, so the calories may be too low for some.

There is no evidence that vitamin, mineral, or herb supplements will aid weight loss as he suggests. And his simplistic advice regarding emotional and binge eating should not be a substitute for getting professional help.

Is It Good for Certain Conditions?

In general this plan is fine for people with weight-related health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

But there are some red flags. According to an analysis done by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, his plan may be high in cholesterol and inadequate in certain nutrients like iron, potassium, and magnesium.

Check with your doctor before starting any weight loss plan, especially if you’re taking medications -- they may need to be altered as you lose weight.

The Final Word

The book's strengths include its emphasis on improving the way you think about food, which can help you manage your weight. The focus on exercise is also important for long-term success and overall health.

But some of his meal plans fall short on certain nutrients. And while he offers advice on disordered eating, Dr. Phil does not specialize in this area.

This plan may work for you if you like Dr. Phil's personality and his own unique approach that many find motivating. It is also good for you if you don’t want to cut out whole food groups or foods you enjoy.

This plan may not be a good fit if you have complicated eating issues that require additional support. And if you don't like exercise or Dr. Phil’s matter-of-fact delivery of advice, the book may turn you off.

WebMD Diet A-Z

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