The Latest Dish on Diet Plans

woman holding a salad and cakeWhen it comes to dieting, you can choose from a smorgasbord of ways to lose weight. Every year, it seems, some new method grabs attention. At the same time, long-standing commercial programs and diet book plans continue to win followers.

With more than 66 percent of Americans overweight or obese, there's an eager audience for advice—many of whom have tried more than one program. Indeed, it's not unusual to hear someone who's struggled with her weight say something like, "I did Atkins, South Beach and Jenny Craig."

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Low carb, low fat or what?

If you're ready to lose excess pounds, you've probably heard conflicting reports about the best way to get the weight off.

Is it by following a low-carb, low-fat or liquid diet? Should you take special herbal or vitamin supplements, eat foods in combination, get prescription medication from your doctor, buy prepackaged meals or mix your own version of the latest trendy concoction promoted as helping you drop pounds by "cleansing" your system?

The answer may surprise you. "All of them—if not one of the harsh ones— probably can work for some of us to get the weight off," says Susan Moores, MS, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and a consulting dietitian in St. Paul, MN. "But the kicker is, how do they help you move from weight loss to keeping it off? That's where most of these fall flat."

Analyzing popular diet programs

Until recently, there was little scientific evidence about either short- or long-term results of the various popular diet plans.

One survey noted that lack and looked for studies of four program types: commercial weight loss (specifically, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and LA Weight Loss); very low-calorie, medically based (Health Management Resources and OPTIFAST); commercial Internet-based (eDiets); and nonprofit self-help (TOPS and Overeaters Anonymous). Some had no quality research.

The largest Weight Watchers study showed that after two years, dieters had a 3.2 percent loss from their original weight. That translates to five pounds for a 160-pound woman. The very low-calorie, medically based plans posted bigger losses—15 percent to 25 percent of initial weight—but were costly, had many drop-outs and had "a high probability of regaining 50 percent or more of lost weight in one to two years." The Internet and self-help plans yielded "minimal weight loss."