But experts say the only proven way is over time with exercise and changed eating habits, not diets.
It is a time of year when weight is suddenly a top issue for many people.
"Nobody is interested in losing weight in December, but everyone is interested in January," said Kristen Jaskulsky, a clinical dietician with Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics.
The Fitness survey of 1,000 women, published in its February issue, shows just how far some would go. For instance, 23 percent said they would shave their heads or spend a week in jail if it meant reaching their ideal weight; 21 percent would trade 10 years of life to get there; 85 percent would rather have an extra toe than be saddled with 50 more pounds.
"These are meant to be funny moments, but they do point up a serious concern that women are feeling kind of desperate at this point," said Fitness Editor in Chief Denise Brodey. "Their doctor is telling them they're overweight, there are 8 million different commercials for weight-loss drugs and weight-loss products, how am I possibly going to achieve my ideal body? That seems like it might take desperate measures."
Mary Beth Arnold, a registered dietician with the Weight Management Center at University Hospital, has seen her share of grapefruit and cabbage soup diet failures.
"I think because they want an easy fix," she said. "We are so used to instant gratification that we don't know how to delay and work for things. And when you tell them that the healthy way to lose weight is 1-2 pounds a week, that is not the right answer."
One reason for doing the survey now is to get dieters to face the truth, Ms. Brodey said.
"What we're trying to do is challenge people to admit to some of their unhealthy behaviors, and their craziness, and then to take a different approach this year," she said.
And that starts with exercise, Ms. Jaskulsky said, which means trying to take advantage of another popular New Year's resolution.
"That's why you have to catch them now, when it's January 1," she said. "I wonder how many gym memberships go unused as of February. Now, they're kind of ready."
But it is important to start the right way, Mrs. Arnold said.
"You have to build up," she said. "Some of my patients will tell me, 'I went walking and I walked for an hour and a half and I couldn't move the next day.' No, you don't want to hurt your muscles either. Make it enjoyable."
It is important to keep building up, and adding different exercises, such as weight training or doing a different class, to get the real benefits, Ms. Jaskulsky said.
Though 30 to 45 minutes five to seven times a week should be the goal for many, it doesn't have to be all at once, Mrs. Arnold said.
"Ten minutes here, 20 minutes there, those are the kinds of things that are going to get you on the road to feeling better, to feeling more energetic," Ms. Brodey added.
Eating several small meals a day instead of a few big meals is also a good strategy, Ms. Jaskulsky said.
And to think of it as eating for better health, not as a diet, Mrs. Arnold said.
"You're eating healthy to prevent disease," she said. "You try to think of it not as a diet, but you're making lifestyle changes."
For Mrs. Poole, 58, those changes started with adding exercise, walking and riding her stationary bike, and cutting out sweets.
"And I just got serious about fat, salt and sugar," she said.
Slowly, in about nine months, she lost 50 pounds and she has maintained her weight for more than a year.
And there is no shortcut to where she is now.
"It's perseverance," Mrs. Poole said. "It's just a lifestyle change."
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or email@example.com.
WHAT WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO DO?
A survey by Fitness magazine of 1,000 women about their dieting habits and desire to lose weight yielded some surprising results:
- 23 percent would shave their heads to reach their ideal weight
- 23 percent would spend a week in jail to reach their goal weight
- 21 percent would trade 10 years of life to reach their ideal weight
- 47 percent would rather lose 20 pounds than live to be 100
- 85 percent would rather have an extra toe than 50 extra pounds
- But 76 percent would rather be a friendly chubby girl than a "skinny witch"
Fitness does not discriminate.