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Sticking to the Diet Is the Big Issue

The researchers then decided to look further at the people on the vegetarian diet, comparing those who stuck to the plan for at least one year with those who did not.

Among the findings:

  • Those who adhered to the vegetarian meal plan lost an average of 16.5 pounds, compared with 4.8 pounds for those who didn't stick with it.
  • Those who stuck it out also consumed fewer calories (1,452 vs.1,685 in the nonadherers), less fat (41 grams vs. 61 grams), and less saturated fat (13.4 grams vs. 20.8 grams).
  • Six months in, LDL "bad' cholesterol levels in the adherent group improved significantly compared with the nonadherers.

Structured Visits Help People Stick It Out

Once structured counseling stopped at one year, people appeared to go back to their old ways, Burke says. Over the next six months, those who stuck with the diet for a year gained about 6 pounds. Weight remained stable among those who hadn't stuck with the diet to begin with.

That may explain why at 18 months, there was no significant difference in LDL cholesterol improvements among the two groups, she says.

"People on a structured diet plan need regular follow-up with a nutritionist, nurse practitioner or other health care professional," Burke says.

AHA spokesperson Gerald Fletcher, MD, a preventive cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., agrees.

"Losing weight and keeping it off is a lifelong problem, and people might have trouble sticking with this," he tells WebMD.

If you can't see a health care professional regularly, "you may want to set up computer reminders that ask you every five days or so whether you have weighed yourself and whether you're following your diet," Fletcher says. "These can be very effective."

Burke is now conducting a new two-year study in which participants have structured visits every six weeks to determine if the benefits of the vegetarian diet can be sustained further.

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