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Will the Best Diet Please Stand Up?

Kathleen Zelman

Our guest blogger is Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, director of nutrition for WebMD.

Bikini season countdown has begun and if you are not already on a diet, you are probably thinking you need to find one to help you look and feel better in skimpier clothing.  So where do you begin?

Just in time for bathing suit season, Consumer Reports has recently rated seven popular diet plans, naming Jenny Craig tops. Does that mean you should drop everything and start Jenny Craig?  Not so fast.

Many of the diet plans reviewed in the Consumer Reports review are respectable weight loss plans, but the list of seven barely scratches the surface of healthy options.  Some I like better than others; Weight Watchers continues to be a perennial favorite and Ornish has proven to be a health winner.

Diet books are like movies, there are new ones released almost weekly; yet many of the excellent plans were not considered in the review.  I think the sample size was too small.

Further, I disagree with their ratings, which do not take into consideration the evidence for several of the plans ranked lower than Jenny Craig and excludes many other highly recommended plans like South Beach, Sonoma Diet, and Mediterranean diets.

Dieting is very personal business.  Finding the right one that works in your lifestyle and is based on solid nutrition and fitness is no easy task — just ask any dieter how many diets they have tried before finding the right one.

Aside from being a calorie-controlled plan rich with nutritious foods that includes an exercise component, the best diet plan for you is one that can take you the distance — it’s a journey, not a sprint.  Not just for two months, but a template for long-term healthy eating. After all, what good is it if you can’t stick with the plan long term and ultimately regain the lost weight?

Before you abandon your current diet plan to switch to one of the Consumer Reports recommended plans, take inventory of your lifestyle and make sure you can live with the principles of the plan.  A few factors to consider when evaluating plans:

Does it offer support? Studies show that being connected and having support is one of the key elements to success but you may have your own support and not need online, telephone, or in- person cheerleaders.

Are prepackaged meals and snacks appealing and tasty, or would you prefer to prepare your own food?  Some dieters prefer a wider variety rather than a quick shake or a bar for breakfast. Keep in mind that at some point, you need to prepare your own meals, read nutrition labels, and take responsibility for your food choices.

Also consider the cost of the program. Prepackaged meals and snacks can be very costly.  Prepackaged food plans could be a great jump start to teach you about portions but ultimately, most dieters are faced with preparing their own meals.

Is the plan based on healthy foods with an adequate amount of calories to ward off hunger and fuel physical activity? Nutrition professionals generally recommend a minimum of 1,200 calories for ladies and 1500 calories for men.

Bottom line: There is no such thing as the one-size-fits-all perfect diet.  All diets can take off pounds — from the crazy fad detox diets to the no-name do-it-yourself, eat healthy, portion-controlled, get regular exercise lifestyle approach. But you want it to last, and you want to keep your body healthy, and that’s a different story.

To evaluate the latest diets beyond the seven reviewed by Consumer Reports, check out WebMD’s “Diets A-Z” featuring expert opinion on almost 100 of the most popular diet plans.

Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, is director of nutrition for WebMD. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.

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