Which Diet Is Best?

fruit on a scaleNearly two-thirds of American adults are overweight, and most are anxious to do
something about it. Which begs the question: Which diet is best?

Consumer Reports recently rated Weight Watchers and the Slim-Fast programs as
tops in achieving long-term weight loss.

But in another study, published earlier this year in the Journal of the
American Medical Association
, researchers compared four popular plans —
Weight Watchers, Atkins, Zone and Ornish — and found no substantial weight loss
difference at one year, with pounds lost ranging from 4.6 to 7.3.

The researchers concluded that devotion to the diet is more important than
the actual diet regimen itself.

“The more you follow the diet, the more you lose,” said Dr. Michael L.
Dansinger, of Tufts-New England Medical Center, and lead author of the
JAMA review.

Other weight-loss experts agree. The best diet is the one you’ll stick with;
the one that fits your life, said Cathy Nonas, an American Dietetic Association
spokeswoman and registered dietitian who directs the obesity and diabetes
program at North General Hospital in New York City.

But that’s not all. “You want the diet to make you healthier,” added Nonas,
author of Outwit Your Weight. If a particular plan raises your
cholesterol levels to undesirable levels, for instance, you should switch plans,
she said.

Vegetarians should pay attention that their diet program offers enough
nutrients. Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, said she reminds
vegetarians trying to lose weight to eat their veggies.

“That seems a bit sarcastic,” Sandon said, “but I have seen many
self-proclaimed vegetarians who eat lots of grains, pastas, nuts, seeds, fruit,
meal replacement or energy bars and alcohol, but come up short in the vegetable

Paying attention to portion sizes is a must for anyone looking to lose
weight, Sandon added.

So is exercise. Ask your doctor about a good workout program — you can start
with a brisk daily walk — if you’re not already active. “Exercise is important
for everyone,” Nonas said.

Once you’ve found a healthful diet that fits your lifestyle, you need
“success strategies” that motivate you. Nonas has dreamed up some offbeat but
effective ones.

To figure out if a diet complements their lives, Nonas asks clients about
their favorite foods and dislikes. “I help the person make adjustments without
making them feel they have to turn their lives inside out,” she said.

For example, if someone loves to have a bagel and cream cheese plus a Danish
on Friday mornings, Nonas suggests they pick one to enjoy, then replace the
other food item with a piece of fruit.

Nonas once had a client who felt she ate too much because she ate too fast.
So the woman began to eat almost everything with chopsticks for a week, figuring
her lack of dexterity would force her to slow down. A few days later, the woman
reported back that she was learning to eat more slowly — and less.

Another client who liked to overeat in the evening put masking tape across
his kitchen door once dinner was done. “I’ve had people lose weight that way,”
Nonas said.

Nonas calls these strategies “behavioral barriers.” And, she said, “If you
don’t have behavioral barriers to help you out, to defend against the
environment, it doesn’t matter what diet you are on.”

More information

To learn more about nutrition, visit the American Dietetic

SOURCES: Cathy Nonas, R.D., spokeswoman, American Dietetic
Association, and director of the obesity and diabetes program, North General
Hospital, New York City; Lona Sandon, R.D., American Dietetic Association
spokeswoman, and assistant professor of clinical nutrition, University of Texas
Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas; Michael L. Dansinger, M.D., Tufts-New
England Medical Center, Boston

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