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No Clear Winner Among Popular Diets: Analysis

Researchers saw little difference when it came to weight loss after one year

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Amy Norton

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Sept. 2, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Big dieting names like Atkins, Ornish and Weight Watchers have long competed in the battle of the bulge. But a new analysis concludes that whichever diet people choose, their chances of success are about the same.

For years, people seeking to shed weight have heard conflicting messages about the best route: Low fat? Low carb? Low glycemic index?

The analysis, published in the Sept. 3 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests it doesn't matter much. Across 48 clinical trials of more than 7,000 people on diets like Atkins, Zone, Ornish and South Beach, researchers found minimal differences in average weight loss.

Instead, experts said, the old-fashioned advice to cut calories, rather than specific nutrients, seems key to success -- as is burning more calories through exercise.

And ultimately, the "best" diet for any individual is the one he or she can live with long-term, according to Linda Van Horn, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

"The most relevant issue is to choose one that you can stick to indefinitely, since weight loss is only half the battle," said Van Horn, who wrote an editorial published with the study. "Maintenance of weight loss is the ultimate victory."

Unfortunately, maintenance is also the hardest part. Even though people in those 48 studies typically lost weight, they also starting gaining some back by the one-year mark.

"People who follow either a low-fat or low-carb diet lose about 8 kilos [almost 18 pounds], on average, over six months," said lead researcher Bradley Johnston, of the University of Toronto and McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.

By the one-year point, though, they'd gained back 2 to 4 pounds. People on more "moderate" diets -- like Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem -- lost slightly less weight, and also gained back a similar amount.

"We're not saying there were no differences among the diets," Johnston said. "But the differences were minimal, and not enough to matter to the individual trying to lose weight."

Johnston agreed that with such small differences, the best weight-loss choice is the one you think you can stick with. "Choose the one that gives you the fewest challenges as far as adherence," he said.

But as far as researchers are concerned, Johnston said, "what we really need to understand is, how can people best maintain the initial weight loss?"

For the study, Johnston's team analyzed data from the clinical trials testing various diets -- sometimes in combination with exercise and behavioral counseling. Some studies included people who were obese but healthy; in others, people had obesity-related ills, like type 2 diabetes or heart disease.

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