Finding a diet that’s right for you can be a challenge, especially if you’re looking to quickly shed pounds packed on over a long period of time. If you’re like most people, you’ll try the latest fad diet. It’s usually the one that promises the quickest results. You may lose a couple of pounds immediately, but chances are you gain it all back — and then some.
“All diets work in the short term, because each one has a trick for helping you cut calories whether you’re actually counting them or not,” explains Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, licensed nutritionist and an adjunct instructor of aging, nutrition and fitness in Johns Hopkins University’s Certificate on Aging Program who works in private practice in Baltimore. “Keeping the weight off over the long haul is the tricky part.”
Pierre recommends choosing a diet with staying power. “A plan that includes all food groups, even small treats, keeps you well-nourished while you dispose of excess body fat,” she says. “Changes made gradually over time are most likely to become permanent and help you keep the weight off.”
There are hundreds of plans — some are good, some are bad. Advertising and promotional campaigns on television and in print, as well as celebrity endorsements, can make even the worst diet an instant hit with the public. Others, like the now popular Mediterranean Diet, may take years to catch on. The Mediterranean Diet drew scant interest in 1945 when Ancel Keys, an American doctor stationed in Italy, advanced the idea that a diet rich in olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables could translate into lower cholesterol levels and better health. In 2001, well-known Harvard epidemiologist Walter C. Willett came to the same conclusion in Eat, Drink and Be Healthy, his best-selling book.
Today, the Mediterranean Diet, which goes easy on meat and urges the daily consumption of fruits, fish, salads, bread, pasta, beans, cheese and yogurt, is the basis of several other popular plans including the Sonoma Diet, the Omega Diet and the Miami Mediterranean Diet.
Some diet programs have staying power. Weight Watchers has had a following for more than 45 years. Each week, approximately 1.5 million members attend more than 50,000 Weight Watchers meetings around the world. The Jenny Craig Weight Loss Program draws 150,000 a week and five million clients worldwide since 1983. Both stress portion control and support to keep dieters on track.
The biggest weight-loss Web site is eDiets.com, whose 1.3 million paid members can choose from nearly two-dozen diets including its own calorie-controlled plan and well-known plans like Atkins, Mediterranean, Slim-Fast Optima and Glycemic Impact, or special need diets that are wheat free, low fat, low sodium, vegetarian, high fiber, hypoglycemic, lactose free and heart smart. EDiets members have access to nutritionists and fitness specialists, can participate in online support boards, get recipes and diet tools, track their weight-loss history and, like a growing number of other diet operations, have portion-controlled meals and snacks delivered right to the door for an extra fee.
Even with close monitoring and support, many dieters still fail to lose those extra pounds. David Grotto, president and founder of Elmhurst, Ill.-headquartered Nutrition HouseCall and nutrition adviser to Fitness magazine, says dieters do themselves in by setting unrealistic goals such as putting an “end date” on their diet.
Focusing on deprivation and ignoring the details of when, what and how much to eat doom dieters along with failing to exercise, not getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep and not keeping records of what they’ve consumed. “Every morsel needs to be accounted for if you are to ever make sense of the scale!” he says.