While kicking around ideas for the spring health and fitness issue, a number of questions bubbled to the surface that have been plaguing the office since the holiday season. The raging debate over the nutritional value of the "new and improved" Atkins Diet begged for answers. With so many friends and coworkers swearing by the '70s fad diet, could the old "wrestlers diet" really be bogus? And are those of us continuing to maintain a low-fat, carbohydrate based dietary regimen just the marketing muses of the '90s -- a pack of misguided and low-fat-fed sheep. For these and other burning questions, we consulted with our BVW panel of experts. All panel members were asked the same questions. Not so surprisingly there's not that much dissension in how to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle among the panel members. Who are the folks on our panel?Dr. Travis Williams, DC -- Practices chiropractic physical therapy and exercise rehabilitation from his gym-side office. He's been a self professed "gym rat" for over 14 years. Personal motto: "use it or lose it."Marianne Carter, RD, CDN -- A state certified and registered dietitian with 20 years experience in providing nutrition counseling. Carter is currently working as Assistant Director of the University of Delaware Wellness Center and is author of the "Ask the Nutritionist" column appearing in the News-Journal. Carter's specialty and personal interest is in weight management.Michael O'Brien -- Fitness Director and Nutrition Guru at Eagle Fitness in Uwchland, PA. O'Brien studied Exercise Science at Virginia's Lynchburg College.BVW: What do think of the renewed interest in the Atkins Diet (a high protein diet, virtually void of all complex carbohydrates -- carbs and sugars are the evils)? Is it safe? Would your recommend it?TW: The Atkins Diet is deficient in vitamin content. It often causes increased cholesterol levels due to increased red meat consumption. MC: It was surprising to see this fad re-born. It didn't work in the '70s and it won't result in long lasting weight management any better today. It restricts carbohydrates, the body's main source of fuel, and permits the intake of large quantities of protein (and fat). This results in a condition known as "ketosis," an inefficient method of turning food into fuel, which causes a temporary reduction in appetite, and a feeling of euphoria. It is also characterized by bad breath, and after a short period of time, individuals complain about lethargy and fatigue.The diet goes against every major health organization's recommendations, e.g. reducing dietary fat, eating more fruits and vegetables, etc. The weight loss is very short lived. As the body adjusts, hunger increases and individuals are generally unable to maintain a strict regimen. This is not recommended.MO'B: I wouldn't recommend the Atkins plan because even though you are getting a decent amount of protein, you are eating foods which are high in fat. This in turn, can be bad for your heart and arteries. Additionally, your heart needs carbohydrates to give your muscles fuel.BVW: Has the low-fat craze gone too far? Is the Atkins plan simply the proverbial pendulum swinging back from low-fat mania?TW: Low-fat is a fraud. Count calories! MC: When people learned that low-fat foods were better, they forgot one thing -- they still have calories! It's a reduction in total calories and/or an increase in the calories expended that lead to weight loss. Many people assumed wrongly that they could eat as much as they want, so long as it's low-fat or fat-free. I remember a client who was doing beautifully until she discover Entenmann's Fat-free blueberry crunch cake. Her weight loss stopped -- when asked what she was doing differently, she replied that she "nibbled" on this throughout the day, oftentimes consuming an entire cake in two days. Her response: "it's okay because it's fat-free!" It turns out the entire cake (although fat-free) had over 1100 calories. MO'B: Your body needs some fat to survive. Mostly, you have to watch out for "bad fat" -- saturated fat. If you slash out fat completely it may be more difficult to lose weight.BVW: What should those who want to maintain or lose weight look out for in low-fat marketed products?TW: Beware of calories from carbohydrates in low-fat items. In some cases "low-fat" may have more overall calories than regular items. MC: In some cases, the low-fat or fat-free versions have more calories, for example, two Drake's reduced-fat Yodels have 290 calories; two regular Yodels have 280 calories. Low-fat products can be a helpful addition, if used in the same quantities as their full-fat counterparts. Some individuals, however, go to extremes and consume a fat-free diet, which can be harmful. The body does need a certain amount of fat -- it's an essential nutrient.MO'B: You still need to cut back on your fat intake if you are trying to lose weight. Make sure that you're eating foods that are low in saturated fats.BVW: What are your recommendations to lose 10 pounds by Memorial Day? Would spot exercise work to reduce a gut by summer?TW: First, eat five small meals a day (to aid digestion and help speed the metabolism) that emphasize fruits and vegetables. Secondly, drink a lot of water. Spot reduction exercises aren't recommended, but spot exercising is better than none at all.MC: A safe and responsible amount of weight loss is a half to one pound per week. Individuals who are exercising daily in addition to cutting back on calories can possibly achieve a two pound per week loss. Memorial Day is approximately six weeks away; it may be more realistic to look at the big picture, versus focusing on a deadline date. MO'B: Make sure you're eating a healthy diet consisting of 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein, 30 percent fat within a 2000 calorie intake. Do aerobic and resistance exercise at least three times a week.BVW: Do the words "quick and easy" exist in the world of diet, health and fitness? Do you find most Americans look for a quick, easy answer to fitness -- like buying a product or paying a former drill sergeant for discipline?TW: Quick and easy does fit into the world of health, diet and fitness. If a person wants to look and feel better, once they make that decision, everything else falls into place. They want to exercise; they make better menu decisions in restaurants and at the supermarket. I don't think that buying products or hiring a trainer is taking the easy way out -- it's just maximizing your effort.MC: I advocate a non-dieting approach, in which the person focuses on gradual healthy lifestyle changes instead of a complete over-haul. If currently inactive, begin a walking program -- start out slow and work up to 30 minutes a day. Most of the problem with weight is a result of our sedentary lifestyle -- we are a nation of couch and mouse potatoes. MO'B: Quick and easy don't exist. There's no quick fix. You have to make fitness a part of your life. It has to consist of a healthy diet along with an exercise program. You can't do just one.BVW: Are any of the products (the various ab and cardio contraptions and vids offered from MTV's "The Grind Workout" to Little Richard Simmon's "Sweating to the Oldies") worth the packaging they're shipped in?TW: Some products are beneficial, like the new abdominal crunch machines and any machine that gives you a cardiovascular workout. Most are overprices though.MC: If a "revolutionary new diet program" really worked, would it be advertised at 3 a.m. on cable television? I don't think so! It would be distributed by every health professional -- weight management is a complex problem -- it is not a case of one size fits all. Be wary of magic bullets. MO'B: Some of these info-commercial products are beneficial, but for the most part, they are gimmicks -- just someone trying to make a quick buck. The best thing to do is join a gym like Eagle (plug, plug), where there is quality equipment and experienced trainers and instructors.