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You’ve heard it time and again: fad diets just don’t work for permanent weight loss. But it’s hard to pass up the promise of crash diets like the Lemonade Diet when your mission is to squeeze into a new outfit in time for a reunion, wedding, or other special event.

The truth is, there’s actually nothing wrong with losing weight rapidly — as long you do it the right way, says Michael Dansinger, MD. He’s the medical doctor for NBC’s The Biggest Loser show, which spotlights quick and dramatic weight loss.

In fact, having a goal like looking great at a wedding or reunion can be a great motivator, as long as you follow a weight loss plan that you can keep up after the special event. But you need to plan ahead and allow enough time to make changes to your shape.

“Don’t wait until one week before the reunion to try and lose 10 pounds,” advises Tara Gidus, MS, RD, team dietitian for the Orlando Magic.

Eating for Fast Weight Loss

Losing weight is a simple mathematical formula: You need to burn more calories than you eat. Experts generally recommend creating a deficit of 500 calories per day through a combination of eating fewer calories and increasing physical activity to lose about 1-2 pounds.

If you want to lose weight faster, you’ll need to eat less and exercise more. Bottom line: 1,200 calories and one hour of exercise a day (but be sure not to dip below this calorie level for safety’s sake). On this type of plan, you can expect to lose 3-5 pounds the first week, or more if you weigh over 250 pounds.

“Dieters who follow the plan can lose 2 pounds from diet and 1 pound from exercise each week, and even more if they have more to lose, because the more fat you have to lose, the faster it comes off,” says Dansinger.

For rapid weight loss, Dansinger advocates a diet that minimizes starches (including healthy whole grains), added sugars, and animal fat, and focuses mainly on fruits, veggies, egg whites, soy products, skinless poultry breasts, fish, shellfish, nonfat dairy foods and 95% lean meat.

Additional Tips Include:

• Eat plenty of protein that’s distributed evenly throughout the day to minimize muscle loss and maximize fat loss.

• Eat plenty of low-calorie vegetables to help you feel full.

• Drink plenty of water so you don’t confuse hunger with thirst.

• Clear the house of tempting foods.

• Stay busy to prevent eating out of boredom.

• Eat only from a plate, while seated at a table.

• Always eat three meals and one snack daily — no skipping meals.

• Keep a food diary – it’s an effective weight loss tool that forces you to be accountable.

“Although it won’t actually help you lose weight, Blatner, author of The Flexitarian Diet, says that eating fennel seeds, ginger, parsley, peppermint, pineapple, and yogurt with honey one to three days before the big event can help you de-bloat and keep your tummy feeling flatter.

Exercising for Fast Weight Loss

Even if you are currently exercising, you’ll need to kick it up a notch if your goal is rapid weight loss, says Gidus. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine indicated that losing weight requires close to an hour a day of moderate exercise. That’s seven hours per week of cardio exercise leading up to your special event.

“Cardio burns the most calories, so it is ideal for fast weight loss, but afterwards you need to include a few hours a week of strength training” he says. To burn the most fat, try to break a sweat after your warm-up and keep sweating for the entire hour, says Dansinger.

Most everyone can do an hour a day, but the intensity of your workout will depend on your current state of fitness. Experts recommend gradually increasing exercise intensity to avoid injury.

When you can’t do cardio, Tallmadge recommends doing strength training at least twice weekly, working all your major muscle groups, and fitting in at least 15,000 steps a day (get a pedometer to keep count).

Gidus suggests doubling up on your exercise routine: “Do a morning and evening workout, and if you don’t have time to do two a day, expend more calories in the workouts you are currently doing.”

Another option is to incorporate interval training. “Interval training allows people to work harder without having to spend the entire time at the higher level, and over time, the more you do it, the easier it becomes to burn more calories,” says Blatner.

Are There Any Safe Fad Diets or Crash Diets

Many people don’t have the time to do the rigorous amount of exercise required to lose weight quickly – instead, they turn to fad diets. But keep in mind that if a diet plan sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So steer clear of programs that promote pills, laxatives, fasting, potions and anything that promises weight loss faster than 2-3 pounds per week.

The truth is that cutting calories below 1,050 per day is counterproductive, because you need strong muscles to be able to exercise effectively.

“When you eat too few calories you lose fat but also precious muscle, which is the worst thing you could do because it slows your metabolism and makes it more difficult to increase exercise intensity or duration,” says Dansinger.

And what about over-the-counter (OTC) diet pills? Except for the OTC version of Alli, most respected experts do not recommend them.

“Diet pills are either ineffective or extremely dangerous, and not recommended,” says Dansinger.

The Bottom Line?

Weight loss experts agree that any rapid weight loss diet should be identical to a long-term, sustainable plan — and not a fad diet. And fasting or cutting calories below 1200 are not appropriate for the long term unless you are under a physician’s care.