The good news from the latest diet comparison study is that there was no substantial difference in weight loss among dieters assigned to four popular plans.

The Study

Dr. Michael L. Dansinger of Tufts-New England Medical Center and his colleagues as signed 160 dieters to four well-known plans -Atkins, Weight Watchers, Zone or Ornish. The dieters were all between the ages of 22 and 72 and had cardiac risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. The researchers followed up the dieters for one year to evaluate weight loss and reduction of heart disease risk factors.


The average weight loss at one year was...

  • 4.6 pounds for people on the Atkins diet, which restricts carbohydrate intake but not fat.
  • 6.6 pounds for dieters on Weight Watchers, which focuses on portion and calorie control
  • 7.1 pounds for people on the Zone diet, which follows a caloric ratio of 40-30-30 for carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
  • 7.3 pounds for people on the Ornish diet, which restricts fat.

All of the dieters reduced their total cholesterol and blood pressure, with no substantial differences between the groups.

The significant differences occurred in the drop-out rate for each diet, says Dansinger.

Of the 40 dieters in each group, 21 dropped out of the Atkins group, 26 dropped out of the Weight Watchers group, 26 left the Zone dieters and 20 abandoned the Ornish plan.


Had subjects been allowed to choose their own diet plans, they may have stuck to them longer, Dansinger speculates.

"Doctors need to learn to use a broad spectrum of diet options to help match patients with the diets they can follow. Patients need to work in partnership with their doctors to try a variety of different eating strategies," he says.

Dr. Robert Eckel, an endocrinologist at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, says dieters should heed the recently released joint recommendations of the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association.

These guidelines endorse an eating plan that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish to reduce the risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and stroke. Eckel, president-elect of the American Heart Association, says Weight Watchers most closely resembles these guidelines.

How to Stick to Your Diet

Hunger pangs can derail even the best efforts to diet. Here are some simple strategies for keeping them under control…

  • Minimize the intake of trigger foods, like potato chips, or other foods with "hidden" fat or calories.
  • Follow a diet with a meal-replacement approach and portion-controlled meals to reduce caloric intake.
  • Get support from friends and family.
  • Reduce stress in your life.
  • Participate in aerobic and heavy resistance exercise.

Regular physical activity is essential for long-term weight control, stress reduction and overall health. Experts recommend that you participate in both aerobic activity and resistance exercise. Aerobic activity strengthens the heart and burns calories. Resistance exercise strengthens bones and builds muscle, which increases metabolism.

Before you begin any new exercise program, speak to your doctor.

Smart Snacks

No matter what time of day, sometimes N you need a snack. Try one of the following smart snacks, depending on what result you're looking for…

Weight loss: Mix fiber and protein, such as lean roast beef rolled in spinach leaves.

Energy boosting: Balance protein with carbohydrates, such as whole-grain crackers with peanut butter.

Soothing your stomach: Bland, low-acid carbohydrates, such as plain popcorn.

For better sleep: Carbohydrates and foods such as milk and turkey that contain tryptophan—for instance, one ounce of skinless turkey breast and a slice of whole-grain toast.

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