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4 Diets Face Off: Which Is the Winner?

The Best Diet: The One You Stick With
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WebMD Health News

Jan. 4, 2005 -- Four popular diet plans faced off in a new study. Which one won: Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, or the Zone?

These were the rules: 40 overweight or obese adults aged 27 to 42 were randomly assigned to the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, or Zone programs. For two months, a doctor and a dietitian coached each player on their game plan. Then they were on their own until a weigh-in at the end of a year of dieting.

Who lost the most pounds? Those who followed their diets most closely, no matter which of the four plans they followed. Those who didn't follow their program -- 42% of the participants -- didn't lose much weight.

The findings, as reported in the Jan. 5 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association:

  • On average, those on the Atkins plan lost 4.6 pounds. 53% of participants stuck with the Atkins plan for one year.
  • On average, those on the Weight Watchers plan lost 6.6 pounds. 65% of participants stuck with the Weight Watchers plan for one year.
  • On average, those on the Zone plan lost 7.1 pounds. 65% of participants stuck with the Zone plan for one year.
  • On average, those on the Ornish plan lost 7.3 pounds. 50% of participants stuck with the Ornish plan for one year.

The weight loss differences between the plans were not considered significant, meaning the small differences seen between the various plans easily could have been due to chance. So does this mean that diet plans don't work?Weight Loss That Works: Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, director of nutrition for WebMD Health, offers her tips for successful weight loss.

No, says study leader Michael L. Dansinger, MD, director of obesity research for the atherosclerosis research lab at Tufts-New England Medical Center, Boston. It means that the plan you like the best is the plan that works the best.

"I would suspect that most of the popular diet books in the bookstore are likely to produce weight loss if you follow the plan closely, since almost all plans are similar to the diets we studied, or to a cross between two of them," Dansinger tells WebMD. "Most eating strategies will work well if you stick closely. The key is finding a plan you can stick to."

Finding a diet plan is like finding true love. Dansinger recommends playing the field until you find Ms. or Mr. Right.

"Date the diets until you can find a life partner," Dansinger says. "The best way is to try a number of them and give each a fair chance. There is a whole spectrum of options out there. The main finding of our study is that we need to find a way to improve adherence rates to the various diets that are available. The best way might be to be open minded about all of the options rather than focusing on finding the same 'best one' for everybody."

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