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Can fad diets ever work?

We're warned about them time and time again. Yet each year, untold numbers of people pin their hopes on quick weight-loss plans.

While these fad diets can trigger an initial weight loss, experts say your bikini fantasies will likely soon come to an end -- and you may end up looking and feeling worse than before you started.

"The reason these diets work is because they severely restrict calories, so the minute you stop the plan and begin to eat normally, you are destined to gain all the weight back," says nutritionist Cindy Moore, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and director of nutrition therapy at The Cleveland Clinic.

In this respect, she says, nearly every quick weight-loss plan has a built-in failure mechanism. But because most dieters blame themselves when the pounds come back, they may be quick to hop on the next quick weight-loss bandwagon.

"They keep thinking success is just around the corner, and that it lies in the next diet, the next fad, the next expert with a new answer. But unless the underlying food plan is a healthy diet you can follow for life, there is just no way you are going to get lasting results," says Gyni Holland, a nutritionist at New York University Medical Center.

Even more important: The more times you jump on and off any quick weight-loss plan, the farther you may get from reaching your weight loss goals.

"There is some evidence to show that every time you lose weight and gain it back, your metabolism changes in such a way that it becomes more difficult to lose weight the next time around,'' says Pam Birkenfeld, a nutritionist and registered dietitian at the Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, N.Y. It's also easier to put on pounds after you've lost some, she says.

Of even greater concern: A study presented at the American Heart Association's annual meeting in early 2003 offered evidence that yo-yo dieting -- losing and gaining weight over and over -- can dramatically increase the risk of heart disease, particularly among women.

According to researchers from the University of Michigan Health System, their small but significant study of 16 postmenopausal women found that those who had lost and gained 10 pounds five or more times over their lifetimes had an increase in circulatory problems linked to heart disease. Although the doctors can't say why, they believe there's a connection.

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