Find the plan that works for you.
By Kelly A. Goff
Did you make your annual New Year’s resolutions to lose weight? So did about half of all Americans. While many will break them, research shows people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than those who don’t.
Making the resolution is easy to do alone. Where most people need help is turning the goal into reality. Weight loss programs are a popular way to kick-start resolutions because you have to make some kind of commitment, whether it is time or money. The media is bloated with advertisements urging you to “Call Jenny!” “Take charge of your health!” and “Turn around your life!” It’s hard to know which programs are effective and right for you.
The nonprofit consumer group Consumer Reports recently rated commercially available diet plans. The ratings are based on combined scores for nutritional value and weight-loss effectiveness.
“For the first time we have some good information on how these diets work for real people, as opposed to just having the claims of people who created the diets,” says Consumer Reports senior editor Nancy Metcalf, who wrote the report for the June 2005 issue. “And now we have new dietary guidelines, so that gives us a nutritional standard to measure these diets against.”
To rate the diets on effectiveness, Metcalf’s team looked at clinical trial data published in medical journals. There wasn’t enough effectiveness data for four of the nine diet plans, so only five of the plans got ratings.
Consumer Reports also examined how the diets did in terms of nutrition, dropout rate at six months and one year, and weight loss at six month and one year. For the complete report, visit
How they rank
On the 1 to 5 rating scale — where 1 is best and 5 is worst – Weight Watchers got the highest rating, and Slim-Fast came in second. The Zone diet was third, with the Dean Ornish and Atkins programs coming in last. South Beach Phase One and Two, eDiets, Jenny Craig and Volumetrics diet plans were also reviewed but not rated by Consumer Reports because of insufficient scientific evidence.
Excerpted from Consumer Reports, June 2005
One plan doesn’t fit all
The report is set up so that you can see how the diets performed in the areas you want to work on individually. For example, although Weight Watchers came out on top, it is not the best for short-term weight loss. Slim-Fast and Atkins do better. And Slim-Fast does better at weight loss at one year than Ornish.
In fact, a study published in the January 2005 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association showed little difference in the amount of weight lost after randomly assigning 40 overweight or obese adults to the Atkins, Weight Watchers, Zone or Ornish diets. A doctor and dietitian coached participants on their program for two months, then they were on their own until the end of the year, which concluded with a weigh-in.
• On average, those on the Atkins plan lost 4.6 pounds. 53 percent of participants stuck with the Atkins plan for one year.
• Those on the Weight Watchers plan lost an average of 6.6 pounds. 65 percent of participants stuck with the Weight Watchers plan for one year.
• Those on the Zone plan lost an average of 7.1 pounds. 65 percent of participants stuck with the Zone plan for one year.
• Those on the Ornish plan lost an average of 7.3 pounds. 50 percent of participants stuck with the Ornish plan for one year.
The people who lost the most weight were the ones who followed their program most closely, regardless of the plan. Not surprisingly, those who did not follow their plan (42 percent ) didn’t lose as much weight.
Ultimately, researchers say, the most effective diet plan is the one you like the best. “I would suspect that most of the popular diet books in the bookstores are likely to produce weight loss if you follow the plan closely, since almost all plans are similar to the diets we studied, or a cross between two of them,” says study leader Michael L. Dansinger, MD, director of obesity research for the atherosclerosis research lab at Tufts-New England Medical Center, Boston. “Most eating strategies will work well if you stick closely. The key is finding a plan you can stick to.”
Dieting is like finding true love
Dansinger recommends “dating” the diets until you find a life partner. “The best way is to try a number of them and give each a fair chance. There is a whole spectrum of options out there. The main finding of our study is that we need to find a way to improve adherence rates to the various diets that are available,” says Dansinger. “The best way might be to be open-minded about all of the options rather than focusing on finding the same ‘best one’ for everybody.”
The “low-fad” diet
The key to weight loss is a focus on not just food quantity, but food quality, notes Robert H. Eckel, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Health Science Center and president-elect of the American Heart Association. In an editorial accompanying the Dansinger study, Eckel gave his three-way prescription for weight loss/obesity prevention:
1. Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole
grains and fish.
2. Get regular exercise.
3. Eat just a little less, and keep it up.
Tools you can use
In addition to formal diet programs, you can also formulate your own weight loss plan using some free online tools. The old one-size-fits-all food pyramid has become individualized with the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Visit www.MyPyramid.gov to assess your food intake and get information on your diet quality. After providing a day’s worth of dietary information, you will receive an overall evaluation by comparing the amounts of food you ate to current nutritional guidance. To give you a better understanding of your diet over time, you can track what you eat up to a year using the MyPyramid Tracker.
In the end, successful weight loss all comes down to the approach that works best for you. There is not magic pill. If you reduce your calories, you will lose weight. It’s finding a healthy combination of appropriate portions, quality food and physical activity that will keep those New Year’s resolutions in business.