Lose 4-9 pounds of belly fat each week without counting calories or doing a lick of exercise. It sounds too good to be true, even in a nation obsessed with finding an easy cure for belly fat. Yet that's just what celebrity fitness trainer Jorge Cruise proclaims in his new book, The Belly Fat Cure.

Cruise writes that you can eat all the foods you love -- including chips, ice cream, pizza, and cheeseburgers -- as long as you minimize your intake of sugar and processed carbohydrates through his "carb swap" system, and thus control your insulin levels.

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This may sound contradictory to those who remember Cruise’s last diet book, The 3-Hour Diet: How Low-Carb Diets Make You Fat and Timing Makes You Thin. That book subscribed to the well-accepted portion control, calories in-calories out approach to weight loss.

But Cruise now says he was wrong. The latest science, he says, shows that "losing weight has nothing to do with calorie counting, eating less, or exercising more."

This theory, of course, is not embraced by most nutrition and diet experts.

"If you want to lose weight and keep it off, calories need to be controlled and regular physical activity is a prescription for a healthy heart, maintaining bones, muscle tissue, and more," says Elisa Zied, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
The Belly Fat Cure: What You Can Eat

The Belly Fat Cure eating plan consists of protein, fats, and vegetables with small amounts of sugar and complex carbs. Processed foods with sweeteners (even artificial sweeteners) are out. Wine, beer, champagne, and dark chocolate are OK -- but not cocktails or candy bars.

Much of the book consists of colorful displays of more than 100 "belly bad" meals (mostly from fast food and casual restaurant chains) made over into "belly good" recipes that are featured in the meal plans. (However, the recipes contain no nutrition information other than the grams of sugar and servings of carbs they contain – not even a calorie count.)

Five different weeklong meal plans designed for various eating styles, from carb lovers to meat-eaters, provide a framework for the eating plan.
When in doubt, dieters can follow the "no-excuses day" plan:

* Breakfast: 3 eggs, 2 slices buttered toast
* Snack: Handful of walnuts
* Lunch: Tuna salad on one piece pita bread
* Snack: 1 cup cottage cheese with honey
* Dinner: Grilled chicken or steak, sautéed veggies and 1/2 cup brown rice

Dieters are advised to drink 8-10 glasses of water a day. Most fresh fruits, and beverages such as skim milk and 100% fruit juice, are depicted as "belly bad."

Because of their low sugar content, blackberries and blueberries are the only fruits allowed on The Belly Cure plan. Although fruits are generally considered healthy because of all the nutrients and fiber they contain, Cruise says you can get the same nutrients from vegetables without the (natural) sugar found in fruit. Once you reach your goal weight, you can add up to two pieces of fruit per day. The Belly Fat Cure is similar to the Atkins or South Beach diet with the addition of a carb-swap system.

Each day, dieters take in no more than 15 grams of sugar from six servings of "smart," fiber-rich carbs (one serving of carbs equals 5-20 grams of carbohydrate). You calculate the sugar/carb value by comparing the grams of sugar to the number of servings of carbs in the foods you're eating – information that's easily found on food labels.

Cruise's theory is that by using the "carb swap" system, you get your insulin levels under control. He says that diets high in sugar increase insulin levels – which, in turn pushes fat into fat cells -- and cause a host of other side effects like wrinkles, low energy levels, and cellular inflammation.

Because fat and protein don’t increase insulin levels, there's no need to limit or track these nutrients, Cruise says. "They are the most satisfying nutrients so it is unlikely you will overeat them," he says.

The book contends that exercise isn't necessary for weight loss, but has a few pages on toning your abs after you lose the belly fat. Cruise encourages doing an 8-minute daily abdominal strength workout and a 20-minute power walk as often as possible for toning and strength – but this is optional.

The Belly Fat Cure also recommends finding a support buddy or network. Studies show that you're more likely to succeed at weight loss when you've got support.

The Belly Fat Cure: What the Experts Say

This diet "is just another gimmick, not the cure," says Zied, author of Nutrition at Your Fingertips.

The book makes several references to scientific studies, yet the author’s interpretation of the research is inaccurate, she says.

Indeed, Cruise’s recommendations are not supported by the wealth of scientific evidence or national recommendations such as the U.S. government's 2005 Dietary Guidelines.

Experts say any diet that allows unlimited portions of meats, fats, and sodium isn't heart-healthy – and heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. And, they say, limiting fresh fruit and low-fat dairy isn't a good idea because these foods provide essential nutrients, especially fiber, calcium, and vitamin D.

Further, insulin’s role in the body is not quite as simple as portrayed in The Belly Fat Cure, says Yale University researcher David Katz, MD, MPH.

Zied and Katz agree that most people eat too many processed foods and too much sugar, and that everyone could benefit by reading food labels to learn where sugar lurks. But they also recommend checking labels for other nutrients, like fat, saturated fat, trans fats, sodium, calories, and fiber.

Katz says he supports the diet's basic approach, with limits.

"Focusing on sugar is an attempt to help people identify how they can improve their diets," he says. "But in general, we need to get Americans to focus on eating more whole foods, mostly plants and not too much."

Losing 4-9 pounds per week and achieving a flatter stomach in just one week is an unrealistic goal, Zied says.

"Depending on how much you have to lose, you may experience a one-time loss of several pounds -- but not every week," she says.

When a diet plan sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Becoming aware of where sugar lurks and eating more whole, less processed foods would improve most people’s diet. And reading food labels is an excellent way to learn what is in your favorite foods.

But any plan that green-lights foods like burgers, steak, bacon, and sausage, eliminates healthy foods like fruits and low-fat dairy, and gives you a pass on exercise and calorie control is cause for concern. Not only will it be hard to sustain long-term, but it could result in nutritional excesses and deficiencies.

Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, is director of nutrition for WebMD. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.

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