You Asked: What's The Best Diet for Long-Term Weight Loss Success?

By , Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietitian
Are you bombarded in the break room by the latest diet adventures of your co-workers? Are you thinking about starting that metabolism-boosting diet splashed on the cover of your magazine? You’d love to lose 30 pounds. But where do you begin? Eliminate carbs, reduce your fat, count points, track calories, push protein, use prepared meals? Is your head spinning from all these choices? 
Well, I have some good news! You can stop wasting time by testing every new diet plan to see if it works. A recent meta-analysis study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that any low-fat or low-carbohydrate diet can produce significant weight-loss results. That’s right… Atkins, South Beach, Zone, Biggest Loser, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, and The Spark Solution all produce the same weight-loss results. The researchers looked at 48 previous clinical studies that included 7,286 overweight or obese adults. They discovered that, after measuring results for 6 months, the low-carb and the low-fat diets had similar results---17.6 pounds lost per person, on average. And at the 12-month follow-up mark, both groups showed an average of a 16-pound weight loss per person. So let’s stop wasting time bickering over what diet is best and really get down to the business of discovering what dieting approach is best for YOU!
So, what is your best choice? Rather on focusing on low-fat, low-carb, or any other fad diet, it’s much more productive to focus your attention on a program that you can stick with for the rest of your life. A program that works with your work schedule, family commitments, food preferences, and food budget is what will bring you lifelong weight-loss success. 
Asking yourself a few basic questions and answering them honestly is the first step to determining your perfect plan. When helping my clients discover their perfect plan, I often ask these types of questions:
  • In the past, have you tried to lose weight?
  • What plan or plans have you used? For how long? How much weight did you lose?
  • What did you like about each plan? What did you dislike?
  • How/why did you re-gain the weight that you lost?
After you've answered these questions honestly, evaluate your answers. Think about what is realistic for you in terms of prep time and food preferences while keeping in mind what has and has not worked for you in the past. Oftentimes, people start a new eating plan with lofty goals and unrealistic expectations—because this time, it will be different! They tell themselves that they will be motivated 100% of the time and stick to their strict diet every single day—which we all know is a recipe for failure from the start.
Instead of picking an arbitrary diet to follow, make one yourself based solely on your unique preferences. For example, if you love fruits, sweet potatoes and oatmeal, a low-carb diet might not be the best plan for you. However, if certain foods such as pasta, bread and chips trigger intense food cravings for you, it might be worth lowering your carbohydrates to see if it yields good results. Don't like to cook? Try a meal replacement service. Can't live without ice cream? You can have it—just be sure to track your calories and measure out your portion sizes. Turn your back on those sensational diet headlines and focus on what YOUR needs are. As with any weight-loss method, just make sure to burn more calories than you eat, get adequate nutrients, and choose an eating plan that doesn't affect any pre-existing medical conditions. As always, talk to your healthcare provider about the eating plan you have selected before you begin.
Get the idea? Yes, it will take time to really analyze and evaluate what worked and didn’t work with past plans you've tried, but the wealth of information that you discover can direct you to your most successful, sustainable plan yet. Take the time—it will be worth the effort! The bottom line is this: Don’t let the great "low carb vs. low-fat" debate alter your focus. Don't fall into the fad trap based on what everyone else is doing. Do the self-analysis and begin using a plan that works for YOU—not your friend, your mother, your neighbor, your co-worker, or anyone else. We are all different, and weight loss is never one-size-fits-all.
And one more thing! The researchers of the study also reported that exercise and behavioral support greatly enhanced weight loss in participants across the board. So stay connected with the SparkPeople community for the ongoing, habit-changing support and encouragement you need!
Have you found YOUR "perfect plan"? How long did it take you to discover it?

Got a question for Dietitian Becky? Email, and we might consider your question for a blog topic! (Note: This blog series will address broad questions that apply to a large audience. For more specific and personal questions, please refer to our Community Message Boards.)