by Geri Walton ~ January 1st, 2009
The benefits of a healthy weight are well known: Overweight people have a greater chance of developing cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension. For that reason, it’s important to lose weight, and, to lose weight, there are numerous diets. Diet usually either limit portions or exclude certain foods to encourage weight loss. If you want to pick the healthiest diet, the diet should be well balanced and include foods from all the food groups. Additionally, any diet you pick should also provide a maintenance plan, so that once you lose weight you’re able to maintain it.
Some of the most popular diets may not be the healthiest diets, and some diets I didn’t even consider. For instance, the Cabbage Soup Diet and the Special K Diet are nutritiously unhealthy and practically impossible to stay on for more than a week or two. The Cabbage Soup Diet is also almost calorie-free and includes cabbage soup at every meal. The Special K diet might be better than the Cabbage Soup Diet, but it consists of the same meal (a measured amount of Special K with skim or low-fat milk), twice a day, and, a balanced third meal with no restrictions; however, it’s not recommended dieters remain on it longer than two weeks.
The diet comparison I decided to do includes some of today’s most popular diets, and, diets most people consider to be healthy. Additionally, many people remain on these diets long term. The diets I looked at are the Jenny Craig diet, the Mediterranean Diet, the South Beach Diet, The Atkins Diet, Weight Watchers, and the Zone Diet. All of the following diets help you lose weight, and all of the diet have benefits and drawbacks. Here’s how they break down:
This diet was founded by Jenny Craig in the mid 1980s, and you can visit Jenny Craig here. It is for long-term dieters rather than short-term dieters. Dieters meet with a counselor and together they establish a meal program based on primarily prepackaged, frozen meals. The meals focus on healthy weight loss and include a wide variety of foods.
- Benefits: Counselors help teach dieters how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and, the diet promotes moderate weight loss based on healthy eating habits. Although the meals are prepackaged, dieters have the ability to select foods they like to eat, and, so, it’s easier to stay on the diet. In addition, Jenny Craig provides ongoing support, information, and strategies to help you keep the weight off and to help you achieve your weight loss goals.
- Drawbacks: Not everyone likes the taste of frozen meals, and meals can be costly for some people. Moreover, if not everyone in the family is on the diet, dieters may still have to prepare food. It’s also difficult to stay on when you travel and difficult to maintain for life because of the prepackaged approach. Some dieters also complain the portions are too small and they are hungry.
If you want to eat monounsaturated fats and drink red wine, this may be the diet for you. The Mediterranean Diet takes it name from countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea, and it is based on the idea red wine and olive oil reduce obesity and lower heart disease. Besides a high consumption of olive oil, dieters can enjoy a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, breads, and cereals. They can also have moderate amounts of wine, fish, and poultry, but they are limited to small amounts of eggs or red meats.
- Benefits: It’s a healthy diet because all food groups are included, and dieters get high levels of fiber from fruits, vegetables, and grains. It’s easy to stay on this diet because it includes a wide variety of foods from a;; the various food groups. Dieters also learn life-long healthy eating habits, and dieters consume less saturated fat than most Americans normally do. Long term, it’s a fairly easy diet to maintain.
- Drawbacks: It is moderate in accomplishing weight loss in the short-term, and, if you like red meat, it’s difficult to stay on this diet because it’s limited. It’s also not a good diet if you don’t like or are allergic to shellfish or fish. It’s also a difficult diet if have to eat fast food.
If you decide the Mediterranean Diet is for you, this book The Mediterranean Prescription has meal plans and recipes to help you lose weight and stay healthy in the process.
South Beach Diet
The South Beach Diet was created by cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston. The diet has three phases: the first phase and strictest phase bans certain foods (all starchy foods, alcohol, beef steaks, beets, carrots, fruit, fruit juices, honey-baked ham, soy, whole milk, and yogurt), and lasts for two weeks; the second phase reintroduces some banned foods (all refined baked wheat products, bananas, beets, carrots, honey, pineapple, and watermelon) on a limited basis, and it lasts until you achieve your desire weight; the final phase is known as the maintenance phase and is based on a liberalized version of the first phase.
- Benefits: All food groups are included, and dieters learn how to choose “good” carbs and “good” fats. This diet isn’t just about losing weight because it also helps people lower their cholesterol, and it reduces diabetes and heart disease risks. This diet also promotes snacking, so most people don’t feel hungry and it helps them stay on this diet long term. Another great thing is you won’t be left in limbo because this diet teaches you healthy eating patterns for life.
- Drawbacks: The South Beach diet’s first phase includes dairy products as snacks and doesn’t consider people who eat soy instead of dairy. Another problem is most of the initial weight loss occurs because the person losses water weight, so, when people resume eating carbohydrates, the weight usually returns. It can also be a difficult diet for people who like carbs.
If you decide the South Beach Diet is for you, this book The South Beach Diet Supercharged: Faster Weight Loss and Better Health for Life is by the South Beach diet founder. There’s also this great site that offers nothing but South Beach Diet recipes called Kalyn’s Kitchen, and Kalyn’s a great cook because I’ve known her thirty-six years.
The Atkins Diet
The Atkins Diet was created in 1972 by Dr. Robert C. Atkins. Atkins believed carbohydrates, such as grains, fruits, pastas, and potatoes, caused weight gain. He maintained that if people reduced such carbohydrates, they could lose weight, and, so, he proposed a high-fat, high-protein diet. Today, the Atkins Diet remains one of the most popular diets in America, and over 40 million people have tried it worldwide.
There are many critics of The Atkins Diet. For instance, the American Heart Association (AHA) does not recommend it, and they argue too many people already eat more fat and protein than necessary. The AHA also claims this diet increases a person’s risk for stroke, coronary heart disease, and diabetes.
There are four phases: induction, ongoing weight loss, pre-maintenance, and lifetime maintenance. The first phase is the induction, during which you restrict carbohydrates to 20 grams daily; phase two is an ongoing weight loss phase, and, during this phase you increase your fiber-rich carbohydrate intake by 20 grams daily for the first week and by 30 grams daily for the following week, until you lose weight. Once you lose weight you subtract 5 carbohydrate grams daily to sustain your weight loss; The third phase increases the daily carbohydrate intake by 10 gram increments every week; the lifetime maintenance phase allows you to chose from a large quantity of foods, but you still limit your carbohydrate intake.
- Benefits: Many people successfully lose weight on this diet, and it usually produces steady weight loss. It also reduces appetite, and it allows people to eat fat and protein. Another advantage is it reduces the consumption of sugars and processed grains, and, if you like meat, you can eat alot.
- Drawbacks: This is not a diet for vegetarians or vegans because it’s heavily weighted towards meat. Additionally, critics claim there’s not enough fiber in the diet, and it doesn’t contain enough vitamins and minerals, which can result in deficiencies. Most health professional are wary and concerned about the long-term effects of this diet.
If you are are interested you can visit The Atkins Diet. You can also purchase this book titled The All-New Atkins Advantage, which is about a 12-week program with step-by-step instructions. Here’s a website, Free Atkins Diet Recipes if you’re interested.
Weight Watchers is a forty-year-old weight loss program that began with an obese woman named Jean Nidetch who wore a size 44 dress. She called a group of friends and they banned together to lose weight. It worked! Soon Weight Watchers became a company, and ever since it has helped dieters lose weight at a healthy rate. In addition, it was one of the first diet programs to emphasis exercise to lose weight.
- Benefits: It promotes moderate weight loss and educates dieters. Dieters get alot of support from Weight Watcher members. There are also plenty of tools and resources available, and dieters have the option of eating from all food groups. It’s also a diet vegetarians can easily maintain, and it encourages dieters to learn life-long healthy eating habits and there are no prepackaged meals.
- Drawbacks: You have to count points, and points are a hard thing to count for the rest of your life. Alhtough you have flexibility with the points, people can still consume foods that are considered “bad.” In addition, some people don’t like the idea of attending group meetings, and some people find the fees too expensive.
This Weight Watchers link takes you straight to the Weight Watchers website, and if you’re interested there’s also this book titled Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook. The Kitchen Parade also has numerous Weight Watchers recipes, as does LaaLoosh.
The Zone Diet was created by Barry Sears, PhD. It’s based on the idea that thousands of years ago our ancestors ate meat and that our bodies were designed to thrive on meat. Sears maintains weight gain is caused by too many grains and starches. He believes if we return to our ancestor’s diet of fruits, vegetables, and meat, we will lose weight. The Zone Diet is calorie restrictive and primarily based on high protein and low carbohydrates. Calories are rationed to 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat. Additionally, Sears claims this ratio helps maintain optimal insulin levels.
- Benefits: Because it normalizes insulin levels, it usually prevents foods cravings. Many dieters are not hungry because of the high fat consumption, and dieters usually notice improved energy, enhanced alertness, and increased endurance. It seems to be fairly easy to follow, and Sears even allows you to eat saturated high-fat ice cream.
- Drawbacks: There are no studies verifiying Sears’ conclusions about weight loss, and critics claim the diet is too heavily weighed towards controlling blood glucose. You also have to closely watch what you put on your plate, and it can require commitment and determination to maintain the diet. Critics also complain it’s not nutritious because there aren’t enough vegetables and fiber in the diet and that it’s weighted too much towards protein and fat.
For people interested in the Zone diet, here’s a book by Sears titled The Zone: A Dietary Road Map to Lose Weight Permanently : Reset Your Genetic Code : Prevent Disease : Achieve Maximum Physical Performance, and here’s the official Zone Diet website. There’s also this Zone Diet recipe site.
As noted, all the diets mentioned above have benefits and drawbacks. Some of the diets mentioned are not the cheapest, easiest, or the healthiest; however, they all seem to be able to achieve weight loss. What may be more important than weight loss is whether or not you can maintain the weight loss after you achieve it. Of the diets listed, those that seem to best encourage long term maintenance include the South Beach Diet and the Mediterranean Diet, both of which also include a wide variety of foods.
When selecting a diet, you need to think about the healthiest diet for you, and you also need to think about choosing one you feel you can live with forever. Also remember, most diets rarely work if you don’t exercise because exercise is key to weight loss and key to maintaining weight. I often wish God had made it so the more I sat around, the more weight I’d lose. Unfortunately, the reverse is true. So, I’ve learned (particularly as I’ve gotten older) that to maintain a healthy weight, I have to watch what I eat and exercise regularly.