You’ve made the decision to lose weight and you go to Amazon.com and search for “diet plans” and you get 1,468 diet books. Then you go to Google and type in “diet plans” and you get 17,600,000 indexed search results. How do you begin? How do you know if the diet plan you choose is right for you? What criteria should you use to evaluate the various diet plans?
First, let me congratulate you on your decision to lose those extra pounds. You’ve taken the first step to a healthier and happier life. If you’re more than 30lbs overweight or have any pre-existing health condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, go see your doctor. Let him know your decision to lose weight and ask his advice. Make sure to ask:
(1) What is my ideal weight? (2) What weight loss books, plans or programs do you recommend? (3) Does my current medical condition limit me on exercising? (4) What are the benefits of seeing a registered dietitian? (5) Does my health insurance cover any of the costs of a weight loss program? After your doctors visit your next step is to establish your weight loss goals. Write down your goals. I can’t emphasize this step strongly enough. Do not skip this step. Use the SMART goal design. SMART stands for specific, measurable, action, realistic and time-bound. Be specific, don’t say “I’m going to lose weight” instead say “I’m going to lose 30lbs by July 4th.” Step on your scale once a week to measure your progress. It’s best to weigh yourself at the same time of day to get the best basis for comparison. I’ve made it a habit to weigh myself just before I take my morning shower. List what actions you are going to take to reach your goal (remember write these down). Make sure your goals are realistic. For example, don’t set a goal to lose 60lbs in two months that is an unrealistic time frame. Set little goals leading up to our primary goal. If your primary goal is to lose 52lbs in six months than your little goal should be to lose 2 lbs per week. One more goal setting step is to write down the obstacles between you and your desired weight and next to each obstacle write down how you plan to overcome that obstacle.
Depending on what weight loss plan/program you select you can come back to your goals and modify them accordingly but it is best to establish your weight loss goals prior to selecting a plan. And, I say again, write your goals down. There have been countless studies on goal setting and the one overwhelming result has always been the people who have taken the time and effort to write down their goals have achieved greater success than those who did not.
Armed with information and advice from your doctor and specific and written goals you are ready to select the diet plan/program that’s right for you. Diet plans/programs can be placed it two broad categories: (1) plans that you implement yourself and (2) plans that provide food and/or supplements plus ongoing support. The primary example of the first category is buying and reading a diet book and then implementing the authors’ suggestions. Examples of the second category include Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, Medifast and Optifast.
Here is where you’ll realize the first benefit of your SMART goal setting. What is your goal? Is you goal to lose 20lbs so you can look your best for your best friends wedding in two months or is your goal to lose 50lbs in six months and keep that weight off? In other words, do you have a specific short-term goal or specific long-term goal? I hope your goal includes keeping the weight off but if not that’s OK. Just keep in mind that even if you have a short-term goal you will feel so much better without the extra weight you may decide to modify your goal to keep the weight off.
If your goal is short-term you need to compare plans that will allow you to lose your target weight by the specific date you’ve set. Depending on the time fame you may want to review plans categorized as very low calorie diets (VLCD). Wikipedia defines a VLCD as:
(1) Having 800 calories or less per day. (2) Formulated nutritionally complete liquid meals (3) Carbohydrates can be completely absent (4) Products are usually in powder form and are mixed with water or another low calorie beverage Most VLCD recommend drinking substantial amounts of water every day. There are health risks with a VLCD including gallstones and constipation (due to lack of fiber). An important note, VLCD are not recommended for those seeking permanent weight loss. They are not sustainable. If VLCDs are not for you then your next step is to look at low calorie diets. Low calorie diets are defined as those recommending less than 1,200 calories per day. These are not as extreme as the VLCD and consequently do not have the related health risks. If your goals are long-term you need to concentrate on plans/programs that are sustainable. This means you need to select a diet that you can stick with every day. What foods does the diet recommend? It is best to choose a diet that allows a wider variety of foods. If the diet is too restrictive it will be more difficult to follow. Also, be certain that the diet plan includes regular physical exercise. The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) established in 1994 by Rena Wing, Ph.D. from Brown Medical School, and James O. Hill, Ph.D. from the University of Colorado is tracking over 5,000 individuals who have lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off for long periods of time. Of those 5,000 participants 94% increased their physical activity and 90% exercise, on average, about one hour per day. One very interesting note is that walking is the most frequently reported physical activity. In other words, you don’t have to perform high intensity physical activity to lose weight. Two 30 minute walks per day will do the trick. The key is consistency.
The average participant in the NWCR has lost 66lbs and kept it off for over 5.5 years. What weight loss programs did they use to lose weight? Well, 45% of the participants lost weight on their own and 55% lost weight with the help of some type of program. What does this mean? It means no matter if you choose to implement the advice found in a diet book or join a program like Weight Watchers you can lose the weight and keep it off. To learn more about NWCR and read some of the success stories go to http://www.nwcr.ws/default.htm
Before we go any further, we need to talk about cost. How much is this going to cost me? Do I have to buy food or supplements? If I choose a program do I have to join for specific amount of time? To state the obvious, buying a diet book and implementing the suggestions will be the lowest cost alternative. With that said, will you be able to do it alone? Only you can answer that question. You may try the low cost alternative first and if you find you need outside support then you can investigate diet programs.
So, how do you choose the right book? The best place to start is review the top ten diet books and see if one looks like it would work. A panel of experts at Health Magazine tested 60 well known diets and here are their top ten:
(1) The Structure House Weight Loss Plan (2) The Step Diet (3) Weight Watchers (4) The Eating Well Diet (5) The Volumetrics Eating Plan (6) The Best Life Diet (7) The Solution (8) You: On a Diet (9) The Sonoma Diet (10) The Spectrum
The folks at HealthNews.com listed the ten most popular diets:
(1) Jenny Craig (2) Mediterranean Diet (3) Zone Diet (4) Weight Watchers (5) Volumetrics (6) Flat Belly Diet (7) Weigh Down Diet (8) South Beach Diet (9) Atkins Diet (10) Sugar Busters Diet
These two lists should provide you with a good starting point to evaluate diets and diet programs. You may be asking yourself has then been any research studies comparing diets that would point me in the right direction? And the answer is yes – researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine completed the largest and longest ever comparison of 4 popular diets published March 7, 2007 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study involved 311 women between the ages of 25 and 50 with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of between 27 and 40. They were randomly assigned to follow either Atkins, Zone, LEARN or Ornish Diet. The 311 participants were provided 8 weeks of classes with a dietitian so they completely understood whatever diet they were assigned. After that they were provided no assistance. They were evaluated after six months and one year. Even though there were women in each diet that lost 30lbs or more after one year those assigned to the Atkins diet not only lost more weight than the other participants but they also experienced the most benefits in terms of cholesterol and blood pressure.
There are many nuances to the Stanford study that are too numerous to review here but what I find interesting is: (1) this is a study in a real life situation (the women were on their own after the initial eight weeks of classes), (2) there were women in each group that lost over 30lbs after one year, and (3) the diets selected included a low-carb diet (Atkins), a high-carb diet (Ornish), moderately low-carb diet (Zone) and a diet that follows national guidelines from the USDA’s food pyramid (LEARN). So, even though Atkins outperformed the other diets that does not mean you can’t lose weight and keep it off on a variety of diets.
If you decide from the get-go that a weight loss program, with its built in support system, will give you the best chance to reach your weight loss goals you need to ask the following questions:
(1) What does the program include? (2) Does the program offer group or one-on-one counseling? (3) Do you have to purchase food or supplements? (4) Does the program help you get more active? (5) Does the program help you keep the weight off?(6) What are the qualifications of the staff? (7) Are they licensed dietitians? (8) Who supervises the program? (9) What type of experience do they have?(10) Does the program or products have any risks? (11) Are the recommended supplements safe? (12) Do you talk with their doctor? (13) If you have a pre-existing condition will they coordinate with your doctor(14) How much does the program cost? (15) Is there a sign-up fee? (16) What is their refund policy? (17) Are there fees for medical tests? (18) If they provide food what is the cost? (19) Do you pay upfront or as-you-go?
No matter, if you have a short-term goal or a long-term goal, choose a diet book or a diet program, track your results and if your first choice doesn’t work out don’t give up. You can lose weight. Reevaluate and begin again you can lose and keep off those extra pounds.