Weighing the Evidence on 6 Popular Diet Programs
January W. Payne
About 67 percent of U.S. adults age 20 or older are overweight or obese, according to the
To help you evaluate the options, we've compiled information on six popular diet plans that have been studied sufficiently to assess their effectiveness, according to an analysis by Consumer Reports, which weighs in on the topic every few years. (The last CR update was issued in 2007, and the magazine plans to revisit diet plans in 2011.) One tip: Don't repeat a diet program that hasn't worked for you in the past.
"Any diet that gets repeat customers is probably not effective," says
Whichever diet plan you choose, be aware that you'll need to make a lifestyle change that continues after the program if maintaining weight loss is the goal.
Experts say: "You're not likely going to keep the weight off just by following any of these diets," Hill says. "You need a different long-term strategy that has to include physical activity."
Description: Based on the book "Volumetrics: Feel Full on Fewer Calories," by
Studies show: Research shows this diet offered the best shot at weight loss of all the diets for which Consumer Reports most recently evaluated scientific evidence. It earned high marks for short-term and one-year weight loss, and the magazine gave Volumetrics its highest rating for "nutrition analysis"--a measure of how well the diet stacks up against the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Experts say: This diet "makes a good deal of sense scientifically," says
Description: This weight-management program, more than 40 years old and known for its weigh-ins and weekly meetings, is based on four "pillars": healthy weight loss (up to 2 pounds a week and possibly more after the first three weeks), a plan that fits into your life (by including the flexibility to eat any foods you like as long as the points assigned to each add up to no more than your daily target), the ability to make informed choices (by explaining why certain choices are important), and finally, a holistic view that incorporates behavior (by teaching you how to deal with hunger and handle temptation), exercise, food, and support.
Studies show: Participating in
Description: The program involves making lifestyle changes that incorporate three areas: a healthy relationship with food, physical activity, and balance and motivation in your life as a whole. Participants can sign up in person, by phone, or online; prepared meals and snacks are the core of the program.
Participants are given a customized plan built for them with the assistance of a "personal consultant" who coaches clients through their weight loss, as well as three meals and up to three snacks per day to be accompanied by fresh fruits and vegetables. The company says its meals teach clients about eating a nutritious, balanced diet that is high in fiber and moderate in fat and sodium.
Studies show: People who stick with the
Experts say: Since long-term data are hard to come by, it's unclear whether
Description: An online, subscription-based service, eDiets was started in 1998. The program, which includes home delivery of balanced meals, snacks, and desserts, offers 20 diet plans (customizable based on foods you enjoy), and the website offers members-only access to menus, recipes, support groups, and diet experts.
Studies show: Adherence to the plan earned average marks from Consumer Reports, and weight loss was found to be below average. eDiets earned high marks in the magazine's nutrition analysis category.
"The data that I've seen shows it really produces fairly minimal weight loss," Hill says. "But is that a bad thing if it takes little effort and you get a little bit of weight loss?"
Description: Based on the book "Eat More, Weigh Less: Dr.
Studies show: Weight loss over the long term is average, according to Consumer Reports, but long-term adherence is below average. It also earned an average mark on the nutrition analysis scale.
Experts say: Hill says he likes the Ornish diet because it's low in fat. "But the problem is it's so low in fat that it's hard for people to stick with it," he says. "It's effective but maybe not practical." The plan also emphasizes physical activity, which is a "shortcoming of other diet plans," Hill says.
Description: This well-known high-protein, low-carb diet was first described in the book "Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution" (Bantam, 1981). The diet is based on the concept that by eating fewer carb-containing foods and instead predominantly consuming protein plus vegetables with lots of fiber, your body burns fat rather than carbs as its main source of fuel. The first phase of the program mostly bans carbs, though later it gets a little less restrictive. ("The New Atkins for a New You: The Ultimate Diet for Shedding Weight and Feeling Great"; Fireside,
Studies show: Long-term adherence to the Atkins diet is below average because some people find its requirements too restrictive, according to Consumer Reports. Weight loss over the long term is average, and it earned Consumer Reports' poorest rating for nutrition analysis.
Experts say: Atkins is hard to stick with in the long run. The problem is that "people who do it for a long time really start craving carbs, and [Atkins] doesn't encourage a balanced kind of eating," Hill says.
Bottom line for all diets: Research shows that "it doesn't matter what kind of diet you're doing as much as it matters your adherence to the diet and your willingness to make dietary changes," Cheskin says. One day, scientists hope to develop a way to prescribe diets based on a person's metabolism, health risks, and dietary preferences. That may mean, for example, "if you're prone to diabetes, maybe a low-fat, low-carb diet" that works for you individually, Cheskin says. "We're in the infancy of really understanding which diets are better for which people."
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Copyright © 2010 January W. Payne, U.S. News and World Report