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The Web: Click mouse, lose weight?

By GENE J. KOPROWSKI, UPI Science News   |   Jan. 19, 2005 at 8:30 AM   |   Comments

CHICAGO, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- All those New Year's resolutions made to lose weight might be just a bit easier to achieve this year. Online weight loss sites, run by heath insurance companies, doctors, dieticians and fitness trainers, are mushrooming, so to speak, offering consumers nutrition resources, calorie counters and exercise plans.

"There are almost as many online resources giving advice on weight loss as there are books on the subject," said Christie Hadley, a spokeswoman for SparkPeople.com, a site aimed at those who want to lose weight. "The key is finding the site that gives you the tools you need to succeed."

Experts told UPI's The Web the so-called carb craze in the United States seems to be dying down. So, progressive online fitness and diet sites are featuring new, usually exclusive, content designed to change the reader's lifestyle, not sell a fading fad.

"This is not about having meal plans based on the diet fad," said Lynn Seay, a spokeswoman for fatfallacy.com, a site featuring content from leading diet and fitness experts. "It's about learning new eating habits."

Many online diet sites seem to be quite helpful.

"I have a daughter who went on Weight Watchers through their online diet plan," Mary Steigerwald, vice president for university communications at Ottawa University in Canada, told The Web. "She weighs in once a week (and) counts the points through the Web site. She can even look up points for eating out. She has lost 25 pounds and is still going. She is 26 years old and went from a size 14 to a size 10 and sometimes even a size 8. She wants to lose 10 more pounds before she gets married this year."

Typical of this wave of online fitness resource centers is americaonthemove.org. The site is part of a national initiative to encourage people to make "small lifestyle changes," such as adding 2,000 steps a day to their exercise routine, or eating 100 fewer calories a day. This keeps "people from gaining an average of one to three pounds per year," said Wendy Artman, a spokeswoman for americaonthemove.org. "We've also learned that by getting people to start with small changes they are more likely to succeed in their dieting resolutions."

Dieters who visit the site can register for free and are given access to content that tells them how to add activities to their day to stimulate their metabolism and provides information about food choices. Visitors also can track their success online. The site sends daily e-mail updates to dieters giving them lifestyle improvement tips.

"It's a constant reminder of how easy it is to live more healthfully," Artman said.

Other sites are adopting a similar approach, including changeonediet.com, the Reader's Digest weight loss site.

"The philosophy behind it, unlike the majority of diets out there, is that you should make one small change at a time," said Dayna Diamond, a spokeswoman for the site. She said the best diets should be "non-diet diets -- no counting calories, no outrageous rules on carb intake, just a sensible approach to losing weight and keeping it off."

These sites utilize resources from many experts in the field. Sites such as ediets.com even employ a chief nutritionist on staff, a spokeswoman said. The programs can be done "entirely online," based on the expert advice made available, including advice from physicians such as Carolyn Dean, for yeastconnection.com.

Those who have reached the weight or size they want can continue to improve their physical health through online sites that provide content on optimal vitamin intake -- though many of these sites appear to be underwritten by drug or nutrition companies.

"It is now possible to design the best vitamin regimen online," said Norman Iannarelli, a spokesman for whatvitaminsarerightforyou.com, a project of Olympian Labs, a health products maker in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The site provides an online questionnaire that visitors can complete in a few minutes. It also features published research on vitamin supplements.

"There are millions of people who are chronic failures at weight loss," said Joe Young, director of education at Olympian Labs. "Often, this has everything to do with body chemistry, not lack of discipline. The right supplement can turn failure into success, but blind experimentation keeps dieters on a vicious cycle."

Another, similar site is smartjourney.com, which recently was launched by Summit Life Nutrition. The site is run by Philip Goglia, the former president of supplement maker Herbalife International, who also is a well-known nutritionist, fitness trainer and author. The site provides consumers access to the health tips Goglia also provides to Fortune 500 executives, professional athletes and actors, such as "Kim Delaney, Gillian Anderson, Kristina Loken and Owen Wilson," said spokesman Corine Bourdeau in Los Angeles.

Like other Web sites, these fitness-oriented projects seek to foster a sense of community for visitors.

"Dieters have even become friends online," said Chuck Casto, a spokesman for nutrisystem.com, a provider of prepared foods and online and telephone counseling located in Chicago.

As noted by Dr. Roger Gould of the University of California, Los Angeles, and founder of masteringfood.com, all of these diet programs must start with the mind, not just the body. Gould, a psychiatrist, has found no matter what diet people undertake, "if they have not combated feelings of depression or other emotional issues, the diet won't work as a long-term solution."

--

The Web is a weekly series examining the global telecommunications phenomenon known as the World Wide Web, by Gene J. Koprowski, who covers technology for UPI Science News. E-mail: sciencemail@upi.com

© 2005 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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