The Diet Guide 2.0

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Mediterranean, Flat belly, gluten-free, Mayo Clinic, cookie, Jenny Craig, Atkins, 17 day, DASH, Weight Watchers, Slim-Fast, South Beach, Paleo, Glycemic Index, Zone, TLC … the list goes on and on.  How many diets can you name?  With the constant barrage of all the diet programs out there promising you big results (and sometimes for big money), how do you what really works?

The first question you should ask yourself is “what am I trying to achieve by dieting“.  For most women, somewhere on the list is weight loss.  However, there are lots of reasons for eating a particular way, like say, controlling diabetes, hypertension, or cholesterol.  Or perhaps you are a vegetarian or just want to be “healthy”.  Once you’ve decided the reason for your diet venture, reflect on previous efforts.  What worked?  And more importantly, what didn’t … and why.  Work with your body (and will power), not against it.  And the last question when considering a diet plan is, how long can you realistically stay on it (cabbage soup, forever?).  Think long-term.  If there was a quick-fix that was safe and effective solution for weight loss, no one would be overweight, right?

The U.S. News and World Report has compiled the “Best Diets 2014“.  This is the most impressive compilation of comparisons and information I’ve come across to date.  There are multiple categories, each with the best diet and rankings for comparable plans.  A panel of experts scored the diets in short-term and long-term weight loss, on how easy it is to follow, how well it conforms to current nutrition standards, and on health risks it may pose.  Besides the rankings and data, each diet has a detailed profile that tells you how it works, what evidence supports – or refutes – its claims.  Unfortunately there are not many large, well-designed, controlled research studies for weight loss, but the studies that have been done are available for your perusal.

So what did the experts think?  At the top of the list for three categories of best weight-loss, best commercial, and easiest to follow is Weight Watchers.  Weight Watchers is a community-based weight loss intervention program that combines weight loss tools (virtual and live) into an easy to follow, calorie and portion controlled lifestyle.  While I am not advocating for one commercial program over another, it is certainly worth considering a 2013 study done by Baylor College of Medicine (note: study paid for by Weight Watchers International).  Of the 292 overweight and obese adults who participated in a six-month trial, those assigned to the Weight Watchers group were eight times more likely to achieve at least a five percent weight loss than those assigned to lose weight on their own. The five percent weight loss threshold is important because, according to the CDC, it is the amount associated with improved health markers, such as cardiovascular risk factors and blood sugar levels.  What other [unbiased] studies are proving, is that accountability and community-based programs are the most effective for weight loss.  In fact, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) guidelines state that primary care physicians and other clinicians should offer or refer obese adult patients for intensive, multi-component behavioral intervention, known as Intensive Behavioral Therapy (IBT) under the Affordable Care Act.  Despite this USPSTF guidance, most Americans try to lose weight on their own rather than choosing scientifically proven approaches.

There are other commercial weight loss programs that also use accountability as one of pillars of success.  Check out the other top weight loss diets, including Biggest Loser, Jenny Craig and the raw food diets.  Need a less expensive, but still community-based option?  Many online resources are available for virtual support and accountability as well as calorie counting and goal tracking (MyFitnessPal is a favorite).

Tried diet after diet (after diet)?  Many of us do.  Not surprising.  And while we may wish there was a one-size-fits-all-diet that is proven and effective, alas, there is not (yet).  But an interesting study was published in the British Journal of Nutrition published in February 2013 that showed years of eating – and overeating – the typical American diet actually changes the brain.  More specifically, diets high in saturated fat and simple carbohydrates damage the signaling pathways in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates metabolism.  Over time what we eat can literally change the way our brains process signals of hunger, satiety, and nutritional content of food.  The good news is that it’s possible to reverse the damage by changing your diet, do it now.  Healthy food consumption is good for more than just your waistline.  And one of the biggest weight loss secrets, longevity.  It takes time for the brain’s metabolic messaging system to heal.

Interested in hearing about more research on weight loss diets, aren’t we all?  With more than 66% of Americans overweight, there’s a ton of research currently being conducted.  In fact, you can participate in the largest randomized trial of popular diet right now:  The Quantified Diet Project.

When it comes to “diet secrets”, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Trust me, if there was some revolutionary weight loss diet, you’d know about it.

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