Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Do Diets Work? Surprising 1 Year Results

Do diets really work? Even when disciplined, dedicated people stick with a diet plan for a year or more, they are likely to only lose about 5 percent of their body weight--far less than most dieters anticipate losing. That means, someone who weighs 200 pounds at the start of a diet can realistically expect to lose 10 pounds in an entire year. But the good news is that losing that 10 pounds can do wonders for heart health.

The Washington Post and Reuters report that researchers from the Tufts-New England Medical Center conducted the first scientific trial that pitted four popular diet plans against each other to assess their individual effectiveness: Atkins, Dean Ornish, Weight Watchers, and The Zone. The study was federally funded.

The study: One hundred sixty overweight and obese men and women ages 22 to 72, who had all tried to lose weight previously and had at least one major risk factor for heart disease, were randomly assigned to follow one of the four diets for a full year. Their average body mass index (BMI) was 35. Anything higher than 29 is considered overweight.

The surprising results:
Although almost no carbohydrates are permitted, dieters can enjoy lots of high-fat foods, such as bacon and steak, on the Atkins diet. In this study, 52 percent of the dieters stuck with it for the full year, losing on average 4 percent of their body weight and decreasing their risk of heart disease by 12 percent. Even though the diet encourages consumption of high-fat foods, dieters' total cholesterol dropped by about 3 percent. The "bad" LDL cholesterol dropped 8 percent and the "good" HDL cholesterol rose 15 percent.

Dean Ornish: Half of the dieters stayed with this super-strict low-fat, vegetarian diet for the year and lost on average 6 percent of their body weight, the most of any plan. But their risk of heart disease decreased by only 7 percent, the least of any of the four plans.

Weight Watchers: Similar to the U.S. dietary guidelines, Weight Watchers emphasizes eating low-fat foods. Dieters attend group meetings for expert advice, weekly weigh-ins, and moral support. Fully 65 percent stayed with the diet for the entire year, losing on average 5 percent of their body weight and decreasing their risk of heart disease by 15 percent--the most of all the diet plans.

The Zone: Following The Zone diet requires that all food items be measured by their glycemic index, which is a calculation of how much they raise blood sugar levels. Small amounts of healthy fatty foods are allowed. Sixty-five percent of the dieters continued on the diet for the full year, losing on average 5 percent of their body weight and decreasing their risk of heart disease by 11 percent.

So which diet is best? "The results are modest. The study shows that no single approach has a monopoly on weight loss," Thomas Wadden, director of the Weight and Eating Disorders Program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, told The Washington Post.

The bottom line: The amount of weight you can lose on a diet is not impacted by whether you gorge on carbohydrates or virtually shun them. "Diets work if you use them. They all work probably by the same mechanism, which is that they get people to eat fewer calories," Gary Foster, clinical director of the Weight and Eating Disorders Program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, explained to The Post.

So it all comes down to this--even with the fanciest diet plans: Eat less. Lose weight.

The study findings were announced at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association.
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