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High-Tech Weight Loss

Do electronic devices and services designed to help you drop pounds actually work? The experts weigh in

The Fitness Phone continued...

How it works: The Nokia is preloaded with software that allows you to program in fitness-related information about yourself, as well as your goals. Based on that, your phone will work out a training schedule, and keep track of your workouts, including how often and how long you exercise. With the Siemens, you get an animated fitness instructor that demonstrates various exercises. Extras include various monitors and calculators, including one that tallies your nutritional needs based on what you're eating now. On the way: A fitness phone from Samsung that lets you measure body fat with the touch of a button, and includes quick links to fitness counselors.

The cost: Nokia Fitness Phone -- $199 plus service; Siemens Fitness Phone -- $239.

What the experts say: "For people who want to keep track of how much they did, and to keep organized, these systems can be very helpful," says Todd Schlifstein, DO, a sports medicine specialist at New York University Medical Center. That said, Schlifstein warns that if you need an animated cartoon to figure out how to do an exercise, "you probably shouldn't be doing it."

Bottom line: For the gadget-lover it's a fun way to track workouts. For the weight-obsessed -- someone who wants to count calories, track body fat, and take a pulse count while sitting in a coffee shop or movie theater -- it's heaven. For the rest of us: It won't do those sit-ups for you.

Online Diet Programs

Online dieting programs are the electronic incarnation of the group approach to losing weight. While their offerings vary widely -- from meal plans and cooking tips to counseling, group support, and more -- what they all have in common is the power of a virtual community to support your weight loss goals.

How it works: For a set fee, members get a password to a members-only web site. Here you'll find an eating plan (some but not all are planned by nutritionists and/or medical experts) as well as recipes, and cooking and dieting tips. Depending on which program you choose, extras include everything from email counseling by nutritionists, psychologists, and other weight specialists; to message boards, group chats, and motivational tools; to articles addressing weight loss concerns, and fashion and beauty advice to help you look great while you're losing weight. Some programs also feature meal plans and nutrition information that's downloadable to your PDA or cell phone.

The cost: Most plans charge around $5 a week, billed in monthly installments. If you're not satisfied, most also offer a refund on any unused portion of your membership.

What the experts say: "There are several studies suggesting that Internet weight loss programs can be quite beneficial," says Heller. One study, she says, found that adding personalized counseling via email significantly improved weight loss in adults at risk for diabetes.

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