Natalie Digate Muth by Natalie Digate Muth

New Year Weight LossHoliday season is just gearing up. Maybe you haven’t yet thought about your January strategy to drop off the holiday weight gain and any of those other extra pounds that seem to accumulate over the years. But as you indulge in Thanksgiving turkey and holiday cookies, possible New Year’s resolutions may cross your mind. And strategically the publishers and marketers of all of those diet books are getting ready to entice you to drop a few bucks and let them help you in your weight loss pursuits. Before you spend that hard-to-come-by cash, we recommend that you do your research, engage in some introspection (How many years have you had this resolution? Have you been successful in the past? What worked? What didn’t?), and let us help you make smart choices to successfully adopt a healthier lifestyle and drop a few pounds that you will permanently keep off! We’ll also give you a heads up on a few popular titles you might see lying around the bookstore or discussed among talk show hosts and friends.

First things first... The easiest way to maintain a healthy weight, of course, is to proactively strive to avoid weight gain and with that to eat a healthy diet and engage in regular physical activity. This is relevant as the holidays approach and our self-discipline is tested. Stay tuned, as over the next several weeks we’ll provide blog posts with some tips and strategies on this topic.

Secondly, as you’re considering trying out a new diet plan, take a critical approach in evaluating if the diet is right for you. To do that, do the research on the diet you’re considering and be able to answer the following questions:

  1. How does the diet cut calories? For any diet to work, calories consumed need to be less than calories expended. Remember, it takes a 3500 calorie deficit to lose one pound of fat. That is, if you want to lose about a pound per week, you need to eat less and exercise more so that your net calorie intake is about 500 calories less per day than it is right now.
  2. What is the nutrient density of the diet? The best diets will advocate at least nine servings daily of a variety of fruits and vegetables – low-calorie foods that provide most of the body’s needed vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that ward off infection and disease. Fiber-containing whole grains and calcium-rich low-fat dairy products should also be encouraged. If the diet relies primarily on a supplement to assure sufficient vitamins and minerals, it probably is not the healthiest choice.
  3. Does the diet advocate exercise? Nutrition is only one component in making a long-term lifestyle change. Exercise not only speeds weight loss by increasing caloric deficit, but it also is essential in keeping the weight off.
  4. Does it make sense? To sell books and win over dieters who have “tried everything,” diet plans tend to make unbelievable claims that oftentimes are substantiated by dieters’ personal testimony. From promises to lose 8 to 13 pounds in the first two weeks of a diet to promotion of magic supplements, diets market themselves as so easy and effective that their irresistible – at first. But what comes off fast, comes on fast. You’re most likely to be successful in losing weight and keeping it off (the hardest part) if you aim for slow and steady with sustainable lifestyle changes.
  5. Where is the evidence? Research studies can be a rich source of information on the effectiveness and safety of different diets. When assessing research results, it is important to note the study limitations in addition to the results. For example, most of the diet research has been on obese middle-aged men and women. Thus, the results may not apply to younger people or those who are simply trying to lose five or 10 pounds but are not obese. Also, most diet studies were conducted over the course of one year or less. Therefore, the differences between the diets or the apparent benefits may not hold true for the long term.
  6. Does it meet your individual needs? The most negligent diet is one that prescribes the same plan to all people regardless of their health status and other individual factors. If you have a history and significant medial illness, such as (but not limited to) diabetes or heart disease, you should talk with your physician before starting a diet or exercise regimen.
  7. How much does it cost? While you may be able to scrape together enough money to begin an expensive weight loss program, you may not be able to sustain the cost for an extended period of time. Plan ahead and assess your readiness to change and commit to a program before making huge lifestyle adjustments and financial sacrifices
  8. What kind of social support do you have? Social support is key to successful weight loss. If a diet requires you to eat a different food than the rest of the family, chances are good that you won’t be successful on the diet. If your family is not supportive and committed to helping you make the healthy change, you are probably going to struggle.
  9. How easy is it to adhere to the diet? Long-term adherence to a program (i.e., a lifestyle change) is the most important factor for lifelong weight-loss success. And the specific diet really doesn’t matter. A few years ago, researchers conducted a one year trial to assess the adherence rate and effectiveness of Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers and the Zone diets. They found that all of the diets modestly reduced body weight and cardiovascular risk factors and for each of the diets, people who adhered to the diet had greater weight loss and risk factor reductions. Of course, most of the study participants struggled with adherence, which overall was poor for all of the diets. This just drives home the point once again – permanent lifestyle change, not a quick fix time-bound diet, is essential for successful weight loss and subsequent improved health.

Now for the individual diets. Here’s the low-down on some of the historically most popular and most studied diets.




South Beach

Differentiates “good” and “bad” carbs and fats. Overall healthy after the first phase

Restrictive first phase
Encourages too much initial weight loss
Poorly studied


Good short-term results
Recipes simple to prepare

Nutritionally deficient (too much fat, not enough fiber and fruits)
Poor long-term adherence

Weight Watchers

Good variety of foods
Behavioral support
Lots of education
Not too restrictive

Appeals to a specific audience
Too costly for some
Counselors not health professionals


Food preparation easy to follow
Serving sizes prepackaged

Requires prepackaged foods
Not conducive to long-term adherence
Not been studied

Jenny Craig

Good nutrition
Behavioral support

Dependence on prepackaged food
Counselors not health professionals
Not been studied

The Zone

Lower in fat than Atkins
Recipes simple to prepare
Effective in short term

Poor long-term adherence
Restricts many nutrient-dense foods

You can get more information about each of these diets as well as dozens others if you check out WebMD’s list of diets – a very complete and thorough list and evaluation of essentially any diet that you may have heard of, or will hear of, in the coming months.

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