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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 change attitudes.

"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 created.

"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 you."

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."

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