Clash of the Weight Loss Titans
Weight Loss Study Pits Atkins vs. Ornish vs. Zone vs. LEARN Diets
Did the Atkins Diet Win? Some Say No
"What this study showed, yet again, is how difficult it is for people to
lose weight no matter what the approach," Yale University psychology
professor Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, tells WebMD.
Brownell wrote the manual for the LEARN weight loss program. Nutrition is
only one part of the program, which also aims to help people change
interpersonal relationships, improve physical activity, change behaviors, and
"The people trying to follow the Atkins diet lost about 10 pounds and
the others lost about five pounds. Nobody will be terribly excited about those
five extra pounds, given that where they started out was at 187 pounds," he
says. "The message isn't that Atkins is better; it is that nothing works
very well for people who are already obese."
Zone Diet creator Barry Sears, PhD, notes that none of the groups in the
Gardner study followed their assigned diet plans.
"These results have no meaning in either the real world or in the world
of controlled studies," Sears tells WebMD. "This is one of the first
times Dean [Ornish] and I are going to agree. Even if Bob Atkins were here, he
would say, 'This is not my diet.' You have the three tenors singing together,
'This is not my diet.'"
Those assigned to the Atkins Diet, he says, actually ate foods much more
like those recommended in the Zone Diet.
"These patients were getting three times the amount of carbs recommended
by the Atkins Diet," Sears says. "By the end of the study, they were
eating 140 grams of carbohydrate a day. Bob [Atkins] never recommended more
than 50 grams a day. I recommend 100-110 grams of carbs a day. So essentially
the Atkins Diet was the Zone Diet in this study."
As Sears predicted, Dean Ornish, MD, agrees that the "Ornish Diet"
that Gardner's study participants followed is not the Ornish Diet he
"What is frustrating to me is they were not following a diet I
recommend," Ornish tells WebMD. "Dr. Gardner did not test what these
diets do; he only tested how easy they are to follow. It is easier to eat bacon
and brie than to eat healthy foods. But that doesn't mean it is good for
Healthy Weight Loss
Gardner and colleagues didn't just weigh the women trying to follow the four
very different diet plans. They also did blood studies to look for heart disease risk factors.
"All four groups benefited for blood pressure and cholesterol levels and
insulin sensitivity -- all the things you would expect from weight loss,"
Gardner says. "It is nice to know you get those things with modest weight
loss. You don't have to lose 100 pounds. If you lose 5% to 10% of your body
weight, you get a benefit."