Guess what? Any diet works
Any diet works, so long as you stick to it. That's the conclusion of a new study comparing the outcomes of popular diets such as Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and the Atkins Diet among others.
The study, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, analysed the results of 48 clinical trials involving 7200 overweight and obese adults.
It found weight loss differences between popular branded diets were minimal, though diets with behavioural support and exercise enhanced weight loss.
At six months' follow-up, people on moderate macronutrient diets had lost 6.7 more kilos than those not on a diet. Those on low-carbohydrate diets lost 8.6 more kilos than those not on a diet, while those on low-fat diets lost 7.7 more kilos than those on no diet. After 12 months about one kilo of that difference was gone, and there was no difference between low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets.
Given the popularity of these diets around the world and the multi-billion dollar industry they represent, the message that most diets are roughly equally effective is a little different to what we might hear in advertisements or testimonials.
"Our findings should be reassuring to clinicians and the public that there is no need for a one-size-fits-all approach to dieting because many different diets appear to offer considerable weight loss benefits," authors noted. "This is important because many patients have difficulties adhering to strict diets that may be particularly associated with cravings or be culturally challenging (such as low-carbohydrate diets)."
The upshot is that finding a diet you can stick to is the key to weight loss - more so than the inherent effectiveness of individual diets.
NOT JUST ABOUT WEIGHT LOSS
But while most diets might help you lose weight - by way of reduced calories - there are basic nutrition tenets that ought to be heeded.
When asked for his reaction to the study, Professor Tony Blakely from the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago, Wellington, said if all diets enforced the same amount of energy restriction, then yes you might lose the same amount of weight with any of them. "But that doesn't speak to other aspects of the diet. For example, a diet high in saturated fats may be adverse for chronic heart disease down the track."
By the same token, if you reduce your fat intake and just replace it with carbohydrates, that won't do any good either - "particularly if you replace it with sugar".
"More and more of us are advocating now that you reduce the sugar, that simple carbohydrate consumption. That's not just for energy intake purposes but health purposes," he says.
The healthiest type of diet is one that is low in simple carbohydrates like sugar; one with polyunsaturated fats rather than saturated fats; and one that's rich with fruits and vegetables and fibre.
Blakely says reducing energy intake is just the first rung on the ladder when it comes to reducing obesity. "Then there are other considerations about what you're eating and its effect on different diseases: for example, its effect on cancers and cardiovascular disease."
But for all the many nutrition considerations to take into account, even Blakely admits that reducing your energy intake and knowing how to maintain a healthy weight is an important start.