How to Choose the Best Diet for You
Atkins? Weight Watchers? Paleo? Zone? Or does it really matter?
Want to lose weight? You’re hardly alone. About 45 million Americans diet each year. But which diet will work? From paleo plans to South Beach to Weight Watchers, Atkins and the Zone, the choices are dizzying enough to send you straight to the pantry for a stress-soothing snack.
But the reality is, it may not matter much which one you pick.
When researchers from Canada’s Jewish General Hospital/McGill University analyzed data from studies of four popular diet plans, they found that after a year on any of them, dieters achieved “modest” losses ranging from 3.5 to 10.3 pounds.
“Overall, the differences between the different diets regarding their impact on weight loss were relatively small," noted researcher Geoff Ball, associate professor and an obesity expert in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry at the University of Alberta, in a press release.
This wasn’t the first study to find the results of different diets to be more similar than you might think. When Harvard University researchers followed 811 dieters for two years, they found that everyone lost similar amounts of weight whether their plan was low fat or high fat, low protein or high protein.
And a 2014 study from Tulane University that compared low-carb and low-fat diets in 148 people found that cutting back on carbs helped some participants lose more (nearly 8 pounds of additional weight loss in one year). But it's not clear whether low-carb is better for the long haul. A 2010 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that at that two-year mark, low-fat and low-carb dieters had lost the same amount — about 7 percent of their initial weight. And when Harvard University researchers tracked the diets and weight of 120,000 people for more than 20 years, they found that what mattered most for maintaining a healthy weight wasn't carbs or fat. It was eating "high-quality" foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and yogurt and saying “no thanks” to processed snacks (like potato chips), sugary drinks and red meat.
Since there’s no one perfect diet for everyone, choose the one that appeals to you most, keeping these five tips in mind.
1. If it sounds too good to be true, move on. Ignore ads you see or hear for magical-sounding pills, patches and creams that promise to melt the fat. The Food and Drug Administration warns that many diet supplements contain dangerous drugs that manufacturers don’t include on the ingredients list. And steer clear of programs that claim you can eat all you want, never exercise and still drop pounds. Without the help of harmful stimulants, you can’t.
2. Aim for slow, steady weight loss. A healthy weight loss goal is ½ to 2 pounds per week, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The benefits of going slow? People who lose weight gradually are more likely to keep it off, according to the CDC. Rapid weight loss caused by drastically cutting calories can lead to loss of muscle and even bone, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Less muscle mass means your body will burn fewer calories.
The NIH suggests women consume at least 1,000 to 1,200 calories a day when dieting; men, 1,500 to 1,800 calories a day (higher if you have a large frame or are extremely active).
3. Look for a mix of healthy foods you enjoy. Diets that feature the same foods all the time (like the classic grapefruit and cabbage plans of the past, or extremely low-carb diets that have you eating mostly meat) get awfully boring. And diets that are too restrictive may be harder to stick to.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says to make sure your weight-loss plan includes these nutrition-packed, hunger-stopping choices: Fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein (fish, chicken, lean cuts of beef and pork, tofu or beans) and low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives.
Another consideration to keep in mind: A recent study from Australia found that male volunteers lost more weight with rigid meal plans while women lost more weight on flexible meal plans.
4. Use proven strategies to stay on track. Research shows that keeping a food diary, getting regular support from a group, a buddy or a coach, and regular weigh-ins all increase the amount of weight people lose while dieting.
5. Think long-term. Perhaps the hardest part of losing weight is keeping it off. Boost your chances for success by choosing a program you can stick to for a long time. Find one that teaches you healthy attitudes that will help you weather the inevitable ups and downs, from holiday temptations to emotional eating.
Ask yourself, “Can I eat this way for the rest of my life?" If the answer is no, it’s not the plan for you.