Image is everything. At least, that’s what the folks in the movies and in the magazines tell us.

Now, it’s an ingredient in a new diet plan that declares vanity the key to weight loss.

In a world of Atkins, Beverly Hills, South Beach and Grapefruit diets, it’s not just the food people eat; it’s more about the entire image when it comes to dieting, according to Dr. Stuart Fischer, creator of the Park Avenue Diet.

Click here to watch the Park Avenue Diet video

The Park Avenue Diet is Fischer’s approach to weight and image management, in response to “ineffective mass market diets that have permeated America for the last 40 years,” he said.

The goal of the diet is to cater to several components of appearance, including comprehensive, one-on-one consultations in skincare, clothing, hairstyle, attitude, fitness and nutrition and behavior without the entire concentration on food or losing weight.

But at least one health organization isn’t sure image is the way to go.

People should be changing the way they eat more for health reasons not for vanity, which seems to be the focus of the Park Avenue Diet, said Keri M. Gans, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and president of the New York State Dietetic Association.

“You want someone to have high self esteem, but I don’t know if it comes from giving someone something to wear,” said Gans. “You don’t want to encourage any disordered eating, and stressing the way someone looks with the way they are eating can become stressful. It seems to me that he’s promoting another fad, just another twist on the same theme. It’s another diet book. We need to get away from diet books and teach people moderation.”

Image Management as a Weight Loss Tool

Image is how the outside world sees us—families, co-workers, even strangers—and most diets on the market have a poor success rate, because there isn’t a complete change in lifestyle, according to Fischer.

“Would you get on a bus if you knew that there was a 10 percent chance of getting to the destination?” said Fischer. “All diets, if 100 people take part in a study over a year, may lose 15 to 20 pounds then regain it later. You need to address many different components of image at the same time. People tend to do one thing at a time, which accounts for the failure rate of most mass market diets. They’re not panned out to be the therapies that they should.”

Fischer, who worked for Dr. Robert Atkins from 1988 through 1997, first came up with the idea for the Park Avenue Diet years ago and officially opened The Park Avenue Diet Center on New York’s Upper East Side this past July.

The clientele list is not long — several dozen clients around the country — but is growing, said Fischer. The team has put together some of the top names in fashion, make-up, hairstyling, psychology, interpersonal communication, exercise and nutrition as consultants, who will be announced soon and hopefully attract a larger client base.

The first two visits to the center involve looking over food choices and blood screenings for diabetes and metabolic syndrome – conditions that may contribute to weight problems. The third and fourth visits include one-on-one consultations for image, which are conducted at the Park Avenue offices or remotely at consultant salons and offices.

Fischer asks clients to keep a journal of personal myths that usually misguide people, giving them the wrong example.

“The attitude usually is, at the end of a hard day, I deserve to eat whatever I want,” he said. “At the end of the day, you should be as healthy and good looking as you can (but) not with extra portions of dessert. When people have negative habits, they need to be addressed.”

The diet is not just for the affluent, said Fischer, but something that can work for everyone. The starting cost is $950 for one-on-on sessions and customized consultations, a fee Fischer said is a lot less than some of the other diets on the market.

“Food is standard, nutrition advice,” said Fischer. “You don’t have one particular one size fits all. On the other hand, I strongly believe change must occur in two directions simultaneously, inside out and outside in. When we want to change, we have to address pleasant things at the same time. My equation is image equals appearance plus behavior.”

Focus Should be on Health

Fischer wants the diet to have national prominence and hopes to have an Internet version in the works as well as an upcoming book out early 2008.

“It’s an important, revolutionary step in creating new awareness on why we have weight problems in the country and why mobility in treating it is not working,” he said. “Diets are very food centric. People are not given anything about how they should look or feel. Dropping weight produces lighter version of same person. If someone is not taking care of themselves and has poor self esteem, it’s not going to work. The way we change looks is not with a scale.”

There are portions of the Park Avenue Diet that ADA’s Gans said can work, such as recommending complex carbohydrates, but added that there’s still too much of an emphasis on the other components of physical appearance. The real secret, she said, is the portions of food people eat and what they should be eating like fruits and vegetables.

“It’s getting away from realizing what eating healthy can do,” she said. “If we eat healthy, the weight should come off, and you should look better. If you’re eating better and weight is coming off, you’ll have to buy new clothes. When you get rid of ‘fat clothes’ you automatically start to feel better.”