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Meg Farris / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS -- It's a weight loss plan that is spreading fast by word of mouth because dieters' results are lowering their scales just as fast.

So how does this popular plan work, and what are the doctors saying about it? Some local success stories are making those on it believers.

Jessica Boelte, 41, is the mother of three sons. After her last baby was born, Boelte, at only 5 feet 5 inches tall, got up to 179 pounds.

As a self-described gym rat and fitness instructor, she got down with diet and exercise to 152 pounds. But then the scale would not budge, until she tried the latest craze to hit this area.

Now Boelte is a size zero.

'People don't recognize me. They, people at the gym, come up and introduce themselves and don't realize that I'm the same person that they saw six months ago,' said Boelte, who lives in Metairie.

Boelte is now only 125 pounds.In only nine weeks, 27 pounds came off of her.

'I also don't eat when I'm not hungry anymore because a lot of the emotional eating was sugar related, and it just doesn't appeal to me anymore,' said Boelte.

She heard about a diet plan from a friend. So did Beth Harris, who started the plan in October. They got to know each other through diet support over e-mail and finally met for the first time.

Today, Beth is 25 pounds lighter.

'I saw their pictures and I was blown away. And then when I heard there was no exercising involved in the beginning, because it was so strict, I thought that would be perfect because I would be working and we are very busy that time of the year,' said Beth Harris, 43, who owns The Garden Gate in Metairie.

What Boelte and Harris did to lose weight so fast is called The Ideal Protein Weight Loss Method. It's a four-phase diet plan that gives you an exact list of what you can and can't have in each phase.

It's a diet that involves mixing some home meals with prepackaged foods. Phase one promises weight loss of three to seven pounds a week. But the calorie count at first is so low, and the carbohydrates are so minimal through limited vegetables, that these women found it difficult.

'The first couple of days are like alcohol withdrawals, I guess, because you really do feel it physically and emotionally, and you have to take a lot of supplements with this to replace what you're not getting,' Boelte said. 'And after that, you start feeling clean, for lack of a better term, and it really changes your relationship with sugar. You realize that it changes how you sleep. It changes your energy during the day. It changes your appetite.

'When you used all the sugar you just ate, you're hungry for more sugar, but when you're not having it, your energy is sustained longer,' explained Boelte.

Harris said, 'In the first, I would say the first two weeks, it was a bit shocking because I was really struggling, but it was funny because my husband did it with me, which was really nice, and he was having some of the same issues. So it was a little help there with the two of us going through it together. It was nice.'

Harris' husband lost 30 pounds in only five to six weeks, and her mother lost 30 pounds and saw her cholesterol and triglycerides go from dangerous to below normal.

Our experts say this diet is an extreme version of the Atkins diet, and it is hard to stay on long-term.

'No one can live on only protein for an extended period of time. No human animal can do that. It's just not possible. You can't have normal responses to your hormones unless you have carbohydrates,' said Dr. Melinda Sothern, a clinical exercise physiologist and professor in the School of Public Health at LSU Health Sciences Center.

'There's a great piece of research last year that says that people who follow low carbohydrates diets have cognitive problems while they're on the low carb diet. They don't think as clearly. They don't feel as energetic,' said Dr. Timothy Harlan, a clinical general internist at Tulane and former chef who runs www.drgourmet.com.

In fact, with so few carbs in the phase one, part of the diet is that you're not supposed to exercise. Boelte tried and passed out.

While protein does make you feel fuller faster, the doctors say this diet has no credible science and can actually put you in a type of metabolic state (ketosis) that is unhealthful and can be extremely stressful on the kidneys.

They worry that it's depleting the muscles of water, making you dehydrated and causing a loss of not only fat, but lean body muscle that actually helps you stay thin long term. They say you could also lose organ muscle.

But the good news is that research shows you don't have to be on a diet this drastic to get the same results. In studies, those who had 40 grams of healthful, high-fiber carbs a day, with the higher protein diet and raised their calories, lost more weight.

'There have been studies that looked at lowering the carbohydrate content and lower the calories, and where you get the best weight loss, over that one-year period, is when you don't reduce calories below a 1,000 a day. You don't have to go to 800 calories because when people went to 800 calories, they didn't have any better weight loss over the one-year term,' Sothern said, quoting the scientific literature.

And with carbs in the system, your brain can function and you can tone your muscles.

'I would say above all else, I would begin a small light resistance program with light dumbbells and I would keep that going and I would make sure I've got enough carbohydrate to do that and spare the muscle. And I think in the long run this will be a program you can live with,' said Mackie Shilstone, the executive director of the Fitness Principle at East Jefferson General Hospital.

And more good news: people on diets with packaged meals tend to stay on them more easily, studies show. And that is what some people do with this Ideal Protein diet -- use it as a tool, but modify it.

'My take on this is you can always do these types of diets over a short period of time if you want rapid weight loss. You can maintain weight loss afterward with a more balanced approach. This is really what (The) South Beach (Diet) did. This is why it was so popular and it works so well,' Sothern said.

So what got Boelte through phase one when it was so hard?

'Losing almost a pound a day, every day. Getting on the scale was a celebratory experience every morning. It has changed my relationship with food. I mean, I still love Oreos, but I don't feel the need to eat an entire package. I just have one,' Boelte said.

Before going on this diet, check with your doctor first and make sure you take all the minerals and vitamins they recommend and drink extra water.

For more info and to find a local doctor who is a distributor of Ideal Protein click here.

Go to http://www.idealtogo.com and have them request a login id.

The company will send you info on how to get started once you have done that.

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Next Wednesday night at 10 p.m. in Weight Loss Wednesday: Most diets tell you to hold back on carbs, but can a new plan that tells you to eat them in a certain formula really work? Meg will have that, Wednesday Feb. 16 at 10:00 on Channel 4.

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