Which diet is best?

By Meeghan, 24 February, 2011

With literally thousands of diet books and weight loss programs readily available on the market these days it can be hard to determine which one is right for you.

Every diet or weight loss program has a different focus or underlying theory. Let’s compare four popular diets – Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers and Zone. The Atkins diet strictly limits carbohydrate intake to induce ketosis, a condition in which the body relies on fat stores for energy. The Ornish diet is a plant-based diet that works on the principle that by eliminating fat from the diet, you will consume fewer kilojoules without reducing the total amount of food consumed. The Weight Watchers program is based on a points system that encourages moderation of portion size and kilojoule restriction. Lastly, the Zone diet focuses on the types of food consumed and its impact on metabolic rate.

So which one of these diets is more effective for weight loss? None, according to a key US study. In this study, 160 overweight or obese adults were randomly assigned into one of these four diet groups. After 12 months, each of these diets were associated with a modest weight loss of between 2.1-3.3kg. Importantly, there were no differences in weight loss or reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease between the diets. However, greater weight losses were observed in participants who reported a high dietary adherence rate. That is, those who stuck closely to the diet regime lost more than those who didn’t, irrespective of diet type.

This study provides support for the conclusion that the key to successful weight loss is dietary compliance rather than specific diet type. Therefore, choosing a diet or weight loss program that is realistic and sustainable for you in the long-term is essential. Long-term eating plans should take into account personal factors such as your lifestyle, preferences, cultural beliefs and food budget. Unfortunately, most diets are developed for large populations and cannot consider factors such as these. This may explain why so many of us have tried and failed with popular diets!

If you are looking to lose weight and are not having success with your current eating plan (or are struggling to stick to it), a personalised approach may be the way to go. As a qualified nutritionist, I can assess your current eating behaviour and provide personalised advice and practical strategies to help you achieve your weight loss goals.

  1. Heldke L, Mommer, K & Pineo, C. The Atkins diet and philosophy: chewing the fat with Kant and Nietzsche. Chicago: Open Court; 2005.
  2. Ornish D. Eat more, weigh less: Dr. Dean Ornish’s life choice program for losing weight safely while eating abundantly. New York: Harper Collins; 2001.
  3. Weight Watchers.com [Internet]. Weight Watchers International, Inc.; c2011 [cited 2011 Feb 14]. Available from: http://www.weightwatchers.com.au
  4. Zone diet.com [Internet]. Zone Labs, Inc.; c2010 [cited 2011 Feb 14]. Available from: http://www.zonediet.com/home
  5. Dansinger ML, Gleasons JA, Griffith JL, Selker HP, Schaefer EJ. Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone Diets for Weight Loss and Heart Disease Risk Reduction. Journal of the American Medical Association 2005;293:43–53.
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