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What Diet Plan Works Best Depends on Multiple Factors

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It’s the time of the year again when purveyors of diet and weight loss programs vie most fiercely for our attention, hoping to convince customers that their product can do the trick much faster and more effortlessly than the competition. But the fact is that what makes one approach more promising than another depends on a variety of factors, many of which have little to do with what’s being sold to consumers.

According to an annual report published by U.S. News, some diets are indeed superior to others in terms of effectiveness, success rates, and health benefits. A panel of experts with professional backgrounds in nutrition, weight loss, diabetes, heart disease, and psychology of eating behavior reviewed 32 of the most popular diet programs and rated them in different categories, including short-term and long-term effects, safety, user-friendliness, and nutritional completeness.

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) came in first as the overall best program, followed by Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC). Weight Watchers won in the best weight-loss diet category, ahead of the Biggest Loser. Weight Watchers also beat its competitors as the best commercial diet plan. The DASH diet showed the most health benefits, while the Mediterranean Diet ranked highest among vegetarian regimens. The so-called Paleo or Caveman Diet and the Dukan Diet took last places.

Letting independent experts rate commercial diet programs and products is certainly not a bad idea, especially when considering the onslaught of fad diets with their oftentimes unrealistic and unfounded claims that can border on outright fraud. Thankfully, the government is increasingly scrutinizing such deceptive practices and has recently imposed serious fines on several companies.

But ratings alone cannot guarantee success when it comes to the individual consumer who is trying to lose weight, treat an illness, or simply wants to feel better. The members of the panel readily admit they did not take into account the importance of exercise and other lifestyle changes.

Also, the high costs of many commercial weight loss products were not part of their investigation, although money concerns prevent many would-be-followers from taking up or sticking to these plans long-term.

It is a simple fact that when it comes to weight management, food is only part of the equation. What and how much we eat is just one thing to consider. Why we reach for food even when we are not hungry – e.g. to cope with stress, boredom or addiction, or for other physical or psychological reasons – is an equally important question. Some people may find it hard to make the smallest lifestyle changes because of work-related circumstances such as travel, lack of sleep, or being forced to frequently eat out. Or they don’t get enough support at home, which can be crucial for their chances to make improvements. And then there is lack of education. It is no secret that many of us (experts included) are ignorant or confused about the ins and outs of staying healthy and fit. Also, what works well for one person can result in total failure for another – because, as they say, the devil is in the details.

So, instead of looking for one-fits-all solutions, my recommendation for this year’s resolution season is this:

• If you had successes in the past, try to recall what happened then and re-implement what you did. Also, ask yourself what made you fall off the wagon again.

• If a particular commercial program has worked for you once, go back to it. If it left you unconvinced, try another, but carefully study the differences.

• Most importantly, keep in mind that everything you do in your life is connected. You may have to cut back on your calorie intake, but you also want to eat more nutritiously. Regular exercise is a must, no matter how closely you watch your diet. Stress management and getting enough sleep count as well. The more you step back and look at the whole picture, the more likely you will reach your goal and be able to maintain your achievements.

I wish you a happy and healthy New Year.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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