Dietitian Picks 8 Favorite Diet Books

WebMD Director of Nutrition Kathleen Zelman recommends these diet books for healthy, lasting weight loss.

From the WebMD Archives

May 5, 2006 -- The dreaded swimsuit season is upon us, and believe it or not, the call to action to lose weight is greater at this time of year than the annual promise to improve your diet and exercise on New Year's Day. So what's the best diet to help you lose weight in time to reveal the "new you" this summer?

There is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to losing weight. The best diet programs include plenty of food to ward off hunger, all food groups, promote regular physical activity, and allow small portions of favorite foods. Beyond the basics, it really depends on what type of diet plan matches your lifestyle and is sustainable for life. Don't think of diets as beginning and ending; rather, the best plans are journeys toward improved health that help you improve your eating and exercise habits.

Before I get to my favorite diet books, I have to confess my bias about diets in general -- they all work. Losing weight is really quite simple: eat fewer calories than you burn and you will shed pounds. So whether you eliminate whole food groups, go on a crazy fad diet, or live on cabbage soup, you will lose weight.

The problem is most diets suggest radical changes from usual dietary habits, and as a result, dieters only last a few weeks to months before throwing in the towel and returning to their old eating habits. Being ravenous all the time, spending an hour a day at the gym, or feeling deprived of favorite foods are triggers that put an end to conventional diets.

What Works?

It is not sexy, and to some it borders on utterly boring, but the real secret to weight loss is making slow and gradual changes in eating and lifestyle behaviors. Experts recommend trimming 500 calories a day by reducing calories and increasing exercise to result in a 1-2 pound weekly weight loss. Holding the mayo on your sandwich, eating a side salad instead of french fries at lunch, walking 45 minutes, reducing portion sizes, and piling on the veggies at dinner are examples of simple ways to trim 500 calories in a day.

My Favorite non-Diet Books

My favorite diet books are not really diet books at all but easy-to-read books offering a wealth of ideas and tips on how to make those small and gradual behavior changes. This list is by no means complete. There are lots of great books available, but these are a few of my favorites:

  1. The Way to Eat by David Katz, MD, MPH, and Maura Gonzalez, MS, RD (Sourcebooks, 2002). Katz is a well-respected obesity expert who knows how to simplify the science behind weight loss with helpful tips on how to make small changes for lifelong weight control. Included in the six-step plan are skills and strategies to help dieters master control over eating so they never have to go on a diet.
  2. The Step Diet by Jim Hill, PhD, John Peters, PhD, and Bonnie Jortberg, MS, RD (Workman Publishers, 2004). Even though the word "diet" is in the title, this little book (comes with a pedometer) is a wonderful compilation of tips, ideas, and step counts to help get you moving and improve your lifestyle. All you need is a good pair of sneakers to walk your way to weight loss.
  3. Volumtetrics Weight-Control Plan by Barbara Rolls, PhD, and Robert Barnett (Quill Books, 2000). Eat more food and lose weight is the premise of this book. The authors explain the scientifically proven method of "energy density" and teach you how to bulk up meals with foods that fill you up on fewer calories. Recipes are included to help get you started eating foods that won't leave you hungry and help you trim your waistline.
  4. Thin for Life by Anne Fletcher, MS, RD (Houghton Mifflin, 2003). Secrets from successful losers are the foundation of this reality diet book. The author interviewed hundreds of successful "masters" who have lost weight and kept it off to come up with 10 keys to successful weight loss.

Diet Books for Everyone

If you are the type that prefers a specific plan including menu plans, foods to include and avoid, and rules to follow, here are a few of the diets that get it right. Not included are the numerous online diet programs that offer similar benefits and the anonymity of being connected without having to show up for meetings or programs.

  1. The Sonoma Diet by Connie Guttersen, PhD, RD (Meredith Books, 2005). Wine lovers, rejoice! Here is a diet book that allocates calories for wine and lots of wonderfully healthy food. The plan has a strict first phase but eases into a sensible diet plan similar to a Mediterranean approach with lots of healthy foods. This dietitian and culinary expert encourages dieters to slow down and taste the food, enjoying and savoring the fabulous flavors and textures of nutritious food and her delicious-looking recipes.
  2. The South Beach Diet by Arthur Agatston, MD (Rodale Press, 2003). A best seller for years because it is a plan that works and is sustainable. The diet includes lots of healthy foods, especially in the final phase of the diet. Managing hunger and sticking with the plan gets easier as you progress through the tougher and stricter first phases.
  3. Weight Watchers. This successful company has launched a variety of books and programs targeted to get people to make healthy lifestyle changes including food, fitness, and emotional and mental health. Their programs empower dieters to make better food choices and get connected at meetings (in person or online) for motivation, support, and sustainability of lifestyle changes.
  4. No Fad Diet: A Personal Plan for Healthy Weight Loss by the American Heart Association (Clarkson Potter, 2005). This is the first diet book from the esteemed AHA touting three simple tenets to permanent weight loss - "think smart, eat well, and move more." It has recipes and meal plans at 1,200, 1,600, and 2,000 calories along with lots of helpful tips on how to resist temptation and eat for a healthier heart.