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How should I choose a diet plan?

Heidi Skolnik, MS
Sports Medicine Specialist

To choose a diet plan, you need to determine what works best for you individually, a plan you will stick to. In this video, nutrition specialist Heidi Skolnik explains how to discover the perfect diet plan for you, based on your own preferences.

Janis Jibrin, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

If you want to lose weight, choose a healthy diet plan that you can live with over the long run, that is not a fad diet. The diet should meet the following checklist:

  • All types of foods, even sweets, are allowed. Nothing is forbidden, although it’s recommended that not so healthy foods (like bacon, alcohol, cookies and others) should be eaten in moderation.
  • The diet is based on whole foods: fruit, vegetables and lean protein, with moderate amounts of whole grains, dairy and healthy fats (such as avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, other vegetable oils).
  • The diet is flexible—you can adapt meals to your tastes and cooking abilities. For example, if a meal or recipe calls for chicken and broccoli, you can substitute fish and zucchini. Likewise, you can sub in one fruit for another, canned beans for cooked-from-scratch, etc.
  • Women take in at least 1,200 calories; men at least 1,500. You shouldn’t go any lower. (Many people can take in even more than these rock-bottom calorie levels and still lose weight.)

Ideally, the diet would also recommend that you exercise regularly, get enough sleep and offer recommendations on combatting emotional eating and other barriers to weight loss.

Steer clear of juice fasts, very high protein diets, other faddish regimens and those that require a lot of vitamins and other supplements.

When you look through all the available diet plans out there such as Atkins, Zone, Mediterranean, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem and South Beach, it’s hard to know where to start. It turns out, based on an exhaustive meta-analysis (the aggregation of data from many studies) from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), that there is little difference in any of the diets currently available (48 of them were analyzed), and that the one that works is the one to which you will adhere.

Nearly 7,300 overweight and obese adults were part of the study, and although low-carb edged out low-fat diet options in the group overall, it was only a slight margin, and those who stuck with their plan the longest lost the most weight. Any diet that proposes dramatic and immediate change is very difficult to maintain, and can result in both relapse and even weight gain. In the world of dieting, slow and steady has now proven to win the race.

To choose a diet plan, find one that has foods you like and doesn’t make you feel like you are deprived. That is likely the diet plan that will work for you. The secret that the diet industry doesn’t want you to know is that every single diet out there is exactly the same! You have to reduce calories. How you do that makes no difference! The only difference between all of the commercial plans out there is they change the amount of fat, carbs and proteins that you can eat on the plan. Multiple studies have shown that the most effective diet is the one that you like and will stick with!

Choosing a diet plan depends on your goal. An expert panel convened by U.S. News & World Report scored the most well-known diets. The panel distinguished between the best weight-loss plans (Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig), best diabetes plans (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and Mayo Clinic), and heart-healthy plans (Ornish and Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes [TLC]). This is not a one-size-fits-all list.

Also, some people choose eating plans like raw food and vegetarian diets for reasons that have to do with philosophical viewpoints or concerns about how food is prepared and manufactured before being sold in supermarkets.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.