New research pins four popular diets head-to-head, and the results may make you question why you ever signed up.
We’ve all seen amazing before-and-after weight loss pictures gracing magazine covers, with headlines that read “How I Lost 100 Pounds on [insert name of popular diet here]”. Are these stories motivating and inspiring? Yes. Do we see what that person looks like a year later? Usually not. A new study focusing on the four of America’s most-popular diet programs, Weight Watchers, Atkins, South Beach and Zone, may have the reason why. Published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes the research shows that popular diets may not be as effective in helping people lose weight and decrease their risk factors for heart disease as we once thought.
According to lead researchers, part of the problem is that there are so few studies that exist that measure such benefits of these popular plans, even though each year Americans spend more than $66 billion on them.
“There are very few well-done studies,” says Mark J. Eisenberg, M.D., M.P.H., the study’s senior author and Professor of Medicine at Jewish General Hospital/McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. “Most of them look at the short term, and weight loss is obviously a long term issue.”
Eisenberg and his team uncovered only 12 studies they considered “well-done,” that involved enough people to produce statistically significant results. What did the 12 reveal? There were no marked differences between Atkins, Weight Watchers, and Zone diets at improving cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, or other cardiovascular risk factors. If you talk weight loss numbers, those on the Atkins diet lost an average 4.6 to 10.3 pounds; Weight Watchers participants lost an average 6.6 pounds; Zone dieters lost an average 3.5 to 7 pounds; and control (the group on no particular diet) lost about 4.85 pounds.
“I’m not surprised at all by the findings,” says Keri Gans, R.D. and author of The Small Change Diet, “The hardest thing with weight loss is keeping it off and that’s what it showed. People don’t think of it as a lifestyle change but as a diet, which implies it’s something you go on and off,” says Gans. “If you can change your mindset, you can change your life.”
How does Gans help her clients do just that? Here are her five “no-fail” tricks for a healthy lifestyle change:
1. Refuse to Deprive Yourself
Stop thinking in terms of what you can’t have and start thinking about what you can. A lot of these diets (especially Atkins) are about restriction. Once you start eliminating food groups, you feel deprived and when you feel deprived, you’re frustrated and you rebel. Weight Watchers is best for not restricting foods, but you can figure it out without joining a pre-determined weight loss program.
2. There Is No Secret to Healthy Eating
“Keep it simple,” suggests Gans. “Aim to eat healthy 85 percent of the time, and save that 15 percent for your bagel or ice cream.” Planning is key. If you know you’re going to be at ladies night later on, eat heathy all day, and then enjoy that well-deserved martini with your friends, guilt-free.
3. Fill Your Plate the Right Way
When you look at your plate, it should be half vegetables, a quarter carbohydrates that are high in fiber, and a quarter lean protein.
4. Learn to Cook
The way food is prepared can make all the difference. Gans is not suggesting you never eat out, but when you prepare your own meals you can control what ingredients are used. Aim to include fresh vegetables, healthy fats (like olive oil) and stay away from deep frying and grill, broil or steam instead.
5. Portion Control Is King
Gans feels this is where people have the most trouble. Learn what the correct portion sizes are and then do your best to adhere to them. With portion controls in place, there’s no depravation and you’re on your way to a healthier (leaner) lifestyle.
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