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The best diet for losing weight is Weight Watchers, according to the experts who rated the diets below for U.S. News. Biggest Loser, Jenny Craig, and the raw food diet came in close behind. Other diets performed as well or better in enabling fast weight loss, but long-term weight loss is more important for your health.

Weight watchers

The aim:

Weight loss.

The claim:

You’ll drop up to 2 pounds weekly.

The theory:

There’s more to dieting than counting calories—if you make healthy choices that fill you up, you’ll eat less. Weight Watchers’ PointsPlus program, launched in November 2010, assigns every food a points value, based on its protein, carbohydrate, fat, fiber, calories, and how hard your body has to work to burn it off. Choices that fill you up the longest “cost” the least, and nutritionally dense foods cost less than empty calories. So if you’re wavering between a 200-calorie fruit smoothie and a 200-calorie iced coffee, the smoothie is the smarter choice.

How does the Weight Watchers Diet work?

There’s no fixed membership period; many people who join Weight Watchers stick with it even after they’ve shed unwanted pounds. You can eat whatever you want—provided you stick to your daily PointsPlus target, a number based on your gender, weight, height, and age. You can find the points values of more than 40,000 foods on Weight Watchers’ website. Processed choices like bologna usually have the highest point values (meaning they should be eaten in small amounts or less often) while fresh fruits and vegetables carry zero points, so you can eat as many as you’d like. That’s because they’re high in fiber and are more filling than, say, a candy bar. (Fruit juice, dried fruit, and starchy vegetables don’t count as freebies, since they’re higher in calories.) Weight Watchers also pushes specially- designated Power Foods, or the best choices among similar foods. If you’re mulling 10 types of canned soup, for example, you can quickly see which has the least sugar and sodium, the most fiber, and the healthiest types and amounts of fat.

The Biggest Loser Diet

The aim:

Weight loss, disease prevention or reversal.

The claim:

Six weeks of healthy food and regular exercise not only is a great start to a weight-loss journey—it can also help prevent or reverse diabetes; cut the risk for cancer, dementia, and Alzheimer’s; improve your heart health; and boost your immune system.

The theory:

We eat too many of the wrong foods and not enough of the right ones, and we sit around too much. The not-so-surprising solution: eat regular meals that emphasize filling calories from fruits, vegetables, lean protein sources, and whole grains; practice portion control; use a food journal; and get up off the sofa.

How does the Biggest Loser Diet work?

First you have to choose a Biggest Loser book to follow. They’re all based on the same principles. What’s your appetite for reading? There’s the short-and-sweet 2005 edition, the more bulky 30-Day Jump Start from 2009and, midway between the two, 2010’s 6 Weeks to a Healthier You. All are heavy on success stories from past contestants of the Biggest Loser reality TV show, tips for developing your menu based on a special food pyramid, and suggestions for sweating out some calories. Expand this section for more on the most recent version.

6 Weeks to a Healthier You is a crash course in nutrition. You’ll learn about foods with “quality calories” (you can guess which ones they’d be) and acquaint yourself with the Biggest Loser diet pyramid. It suggests four servings a day of fruits and vegetables, three of protein foods, two of whole grains, and no more than 200 calories of “extras” like desserts. That should make for a menu where 45 percent of your day’s calories come from carbs, 30 percent from protein, and 25 percent from fats. You’ll also take a hard look at your risk factors for developing diseases, calculate your calorie allowance, learn about portion control and when to eat, and see why keeping a food journal is important.

The rest of the book is split into thematic chapters—from preventing or reversing diabetes to lowering high blood pressure—and each takes you through a week of meal plans and recommendations for different types of exercise.

Jenny Craig Diet

The aim:

Weight loss.

The claim:

You’ll drop up to 2 pounds a week.

The theory:

Losing weight is as simple as restricting calories, fat, and portions. Jenny's prepackaged meals and recipes do all three. You’ll learn how much you should be eating, what a balanced meal looks like, and how to use that knowledge once you graduate from the program.

How does the Jenny Craig Diet work?

You’ll get a personalized meal and exercise plan, plus weekly one-on-one counseling sessions with a Jenny Craig consultant. Note: These are not nutrition professionals—anyone who is “health-oriented and customer-focused” can attend a training course and get certified—but when consultants have questions, they seek advice from one of Jenny’s registered dietitians. Your diet, which ranges from 1,200 to 2,300 calories a day, is designed around your current weight, fitness habits, motivation level, and tendencies to chow down when stressed.

Jenny Craig offers several program variations, including Jenny Craig For Men, Jenny Craig Silver, and Jenny Craig Type 2. The difference: Weekly one-on-one counseling sessions are tailored to the people who sign up for each program; if you have diabetes, for example, and you join the Jenny Craig Type 2 program, you’ll be assigned to a counselor who is more knowledgeable about the disease.

The diet lasts as long as you need it to, be it three months or two years. During stage 1, you eat three prepackaged Jenny meals and one snack a day—options like apple cinnamon waffles and three-cheese ziti marinara—in addition to two to three servings of fresh fruits, vegetables, and non-fat dairy products. Once you’re halfway to your goal weight, you’ll begin cooking for yourself again twice a week, using Jenny’s recipes. After reaching your goal weight, you’ll spend four weeks transitioning back to making only your own meals, while adjusting to a slightly higher number of daily calories.

Although success hinges on Jenny Cuisine, the program isn’t inflexible. A “splurge strategy” is built in from the beginning, allowing up to 250 extra calories for special occasions. It’s even OK to splurge a couple of times a week, if you balance it out with extra physical activity, like walking more each day.

One-on-one support plays a big role, although Jenny participants don’t get together for group meetings, which is part of some commercial diets. You’ll typically talk with your consultant once a week, either in person or by phone, and discuss how well you did the previous week, and whether you had trouble sticking to the plan. You’ll also choose the next week’s meals and order your food.

The Atkins Diet

The aim:

Weight loss.

The claim:

You’ll lose up to 15 pounds within two weeks, and eat lots of fatty foods.

The theory:

The body is an engine; carbs are the gas that makes it go. Limiting carbs makes the body turn to an alternative fuel—stored fat. So sugars and “simple starches” like potatoes, white bread, and rice are all but squeezed out; protein and fat like chicken, meat, and eggs are embraced. Fat is burned; pounds come off.

How does the Atkins Diet work?

You go through four “phases,” starting with very few carbs and eating progressively more until you get to your desired weight. Keeping carbs at bay isn’t as simple as saying No to sugar and baked potatoes. You’ll keep acceptable foods lists handy and polish your arithmetic skills. In phase 1, for example, you’re allowed 20 grams a day of “net carbs” (pull out the food list), 12 to 15 of them from “foundation vegetables” (pull out another list) high in fiber. But as for fat, you don’t even have to trim it off your steak.

Will you lose weight?

Atkins and other low-carb diets have been studied longer and harder than most other approaches, and Atkins does appear to be moderately successful, especially in the first couple of weeks. That’s only part of the story, however.

Much of the initial loss is water, say experts, because of the diet’s diuretic effect. That’s true of many other diets, too, and is one of the reasons researchers don’t judge diets based on a few weeks of results. In diet studies, long-term generally starts at two years. Here’s what several key studies had to say about Atkins and other low-carb diets:

  • Over short periods, Atkins results vary. In one study, published in 2006 in the British Medical Journal, Atkins dieters lost an average of 10 pounds in the first four weeks while those on meal-replacement (Slim Fast), caloric-restriction (Weight Watchers), and low-fat (Rosemary Conley’s Eat Yourself Slim book) diets lost 6 to 7 pounds. At the one-month point and thereafter, however, there were no significant differences in weight loss among the groups.
  • A 2007 study that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association divided roughly 300 overweight or obese women into groups and assigned them to one of four types of diets: low-carb (Atkins), low-fat (Ornish), low saturated-fat/moderate-carb (LEARN), and roughly equal parts protein, fat, and carb (Zone). At two months, the Atkins dieters had lost an average of about 9½ pounds compared with 5 to 6 pounds for those on the other three diets. At six months, weight loss for the Atkins group averaged about 13 pounds; the other three groups averaged 4½ to 7 pounds. At 12 months, the Atkins group had lost what researchers called a “modest” 10 pounds; the other dieters averaged 3½ to 6 pounds. Drawing firm conclusions from this study is risky, however. The dropout rate in all four groups was significant, and many participants didn’t follow their assigned diet. The Atkins dieters, for example, took in far more carbs than they were supposed to.
  • A third study, published in 2010 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found no clear advantage either to a low-carb diet based on Atkins or a generic low-fat diet. Both helped participants lose an average of 11 percent of their starting weight at 12 months, but they gained about a third of it back after that. At two years, average loss for both diets was 7 percent of initial body weight. (That’s still not bad—if you’re overweight, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your current weight can help stave off some diseases.) An analysis of five studies that compared low-carb and low-fat diets published in 2006 in theArchives of Internal Medicine concluded similarly—while weight loss was greater at six months for low-carb dieters, by 12 months that difference wasn’t significant.
  • It is still unclear, regardless of claims made for low-carb diets, whether the main reason for weight loss is carb restriction specifically or simply cutting calories. A study published in 2009 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that after two years, participants assigned either to a 35 percent or a 65 percent carb diet lost about the same amount of weight—6 to 7½ pounds on average. In 2003, researchers who analyzed about 100 low-carb studies concluded in the Journal of the American Medical Association that weight loss on those diets was associated mostly with cutting calories and not with cutting carbs.

Posted 12:35 PM

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