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.)

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RALPHDB 5/28/2021
Oh good another old, outdated, inaccurate article! Report
CECELW 1/31/2021
i've never tried this diet. I know grains and sugar can spike insulin Report
PATRICIAAK 8/26/2020
:) Report
I’ve been on SparkPeople a long time & I can safely say this is the best. I’ve been on WW, Nutrisystem, & Counted Calories, but nothing works like Spark People. Report
Great article. Thanks, Becky! Report
Good article Report
Some great information. Report
Thanks! Report
Thanks for sharing! Report
Good info! Thanks! Report
Thanks! Report
good info ...thanks Report
Thanks Report
Thanks Report
Great. Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Thanks for the information. Report
Spark teaches me how to eat healthy--turn down crazy foods Report
SP has been my best plan to date. so positive and realistic Report
For a person who is 75 to 100 pounds overweight, the first 25 pounds come off easy. It's the last ten or twenty or so which are the toughest to lose, and that's where individuality comes into play, and they take a long time. Report
Great advice, and it seems so easy - on paper.

In my case, it's "none of the above" as far as sticking to programs. Why can't I stick to programs? I forget and/or get distracted. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with ADHD is quite a bit harder than it is for neurotypicals. Not impossible, but harder. I have to write notes and set alarms to do things or they won't get done. Report
I love this article! I've noticed over the years that low carb with lots of green veggies helps me lose weight...however, I do occasionally have a carb treat. I have talked with some friends of mine that informed me of how other diets have worked for them. Everyone IS different, but with a little perseverance, we can all reach our health and weight loss goals. I wish everyone the best:) Report
Moderation is what's working for me. I cut out fast food years ago and make everything from scratch for the most part. I eat pretty much whatever I want, within my calorie limit. If I want a cookie, I eat a cookie. I track everything that goes in my pie-hole. With the tracker here, it's made it so easy for me to stay on track. Report
Definitely a whole foods plant based diet works best for me. Lots of high carb, low fat plants make me one happy lady! I have no fear of pasta, rice, and potatoes; they do my body good. I've lost nearly 20 lbs and have more energy than I ever used did with any conventional diet. 10/10 would recommend! Report
It all depends on the individual and what works for them. Everyone is different. What may work for one person may not be what helps another. Sometimes you just have to listen to your inner guidance and follow what is right for you! =) Report
I think this is really accurate. I need slightly more fat in my diet to feel healthy, but also a lot of veggies to a much greater extent than other people. I think some do well on lower protein (not me). Living on a really exclusive diet is hard, for example, paleo or vegan. Both require you either 1) convert everyone you know 2) only have friends/family that are on that diet or 3) not be a part of societies normal food outlooks. The diet itself is not that big a deal, it is dealing with society friends/family that makes it hard. I vote that going the middle road is sustainable, at least for me when I tried to narrow down it backfired horribly. Report
Every commercial diet sells itself as a lifestyle change, each and every one. The people that follow them sometimes regard it as such and sometimes don't. People are not always diligent about following the details of any eating plan. I now consider diet plans as a good first step but not something to be followed like a Gospel. Starting with a basic way of eating and tailoring it to your likes and dislikes can be very helpful. Report
To Maritimer3 - your comment regarding Weight Watchers puzzles me greatly!! " I've lost weight many times in the past with WW, but always gained it back because I went back to eating the way I did before starting the programme. With SP I'm learning that I have to eat sensibly and keep active the rest of my life, something I never learned with WW which, in my area at least, never put an emphasis on exercising along with eating properly"

All those things (eating sensibly, exercising DAILY have always been emphasized at all Weight Watchers meetings I've gone to. Perhaps your leaders weren't properly trained.

However - you cannot look at it as a diet, but rather a life style change. Diet implies that once you've reached your goal, you can go back to your old ways. Weight Watchers has always emphasized moderation, good food choices, exercise, and commitment to a healthier life style.

However - you also need to do whatever works for YOU - and I wish you continued success in your journey to a healthier you :) Report
This really surprises me, because I don't think of SP as being the same as the others. SP is so much more than a "diet", and I wouldn't have considered it low-carb. I've lost weight many times n the past with WW, but always gained it back because I went back to eating the way I did before starting the programme. With SP I'm learning that I have to eat sensibly and keep active the rest of my life, something I never learned with WW which, in my area at least, never put an emphasis on exercising along with eating properly. SP is the programme for me, for the rest of my life. Report
I have found a slightly modified version of the Paleo Diet to be the most effective for me. I strictly limit grain and sugars to rare occurrences and get plenty of soluble fiber from vegetable and fruits. Report
The most sensible article I've read in a long time.
It's similar to "which exercise is best?"
The one you enjoy enough to stick to. Report
I lost 50lbs with WW but I have no idea why they did not have a how do you stay here program and gain all and 20 more back. deeper thing Report
I am addicted to cous cous rice potatoes pasta pulses bread every diet fails I feel useless I crave rice and carbs :( Report
After many years I have discovered that for me moderation is key. By denying myself certain food groups, I found that is what I was craving and would eventually lose my willpower and self-control. Instead of denying myself ice cream for instance, I just have 3 or 4 normal size bites. I enjoy and concentrate on each bite and find that satisfies my craving.

I also say I am making life style changes instead of diet, since over the years the word diet hasn't gotten such a bad rap. Report
I don't believe in eliminating whole groups of food, as I know I couldn't do it for years ( and I don't think many people can, long-term.) Tracking food, to me, is the key. With sites like Sparkpeople it's easy, and not time-consuming at all. Seeing the numbers in black and white keeps you accountable. My new favorite book about this is "The Diet Fix" by Dr.Yoni Freedhoff. It's a great read, especially for anyone who tried many diets and believes they have to deprive themselves to lose weight. Report
Thank you, finally an article on here that doesn't treat low carb as if it's a really unwise bad choice for you. I'm not surprised by the outcome that every diet can work, it depends on how well you can stick to it. I have diabetes and if I eat the amounts that are touted on many articles and things on here as 'healthy amounts of carbs' I'd need insulin within a few days. I am doing pretty well on control through food. It takes will power, but for me personally that's better for me than insulin or other medication. So I'm glad this article showed all choices are valid choices. Report
I eat a balanced diet and increase veggies and fruits and decrease sweets. Then I get bored, lazy, feel I deserve to eat what I want and put some of the weight back on. Report
Have learned that keeping my carb intake below 50% of my daily calories supports me best. Oatmeal leaves me feeling bloated and hungry again within 60 to 90 minutes. Haven't experimented yet with eating protein along with the oatmeal. Suspect the protein would help. Report
All the tips in the world won't work if you aren't really committed to doing it, that is what causes beginning a plan and then quitting because "it didn't work", which is hogwash. Seeing a real live dietitian helped my husband and myself, she helped form a plan that each of us liked, with foods we, you don't have to eat stupid salad all the time, for one thing. And no point in saying you will never eat chocolate again....because you WILL. Do the best committing that you can, but it's lifetime, so don't fret when you don't stick to it perfectly, because you won't stick to it perfectly. Period. Report
I have bad carb triggers so I try to cut them in my everyday diet, opting for more vegetables for examples. I don't have a sweet tooth so eliminating most sweets isn't a problem. Something that works for me is eliminating, not reducing what I'm not supposed to eat. Chips, or chocolate- I'd rather not touch them at all than eating only a bit of them, because I know that one bit leads to another and I have self-control problems! Report
I hate the word diet, because it implies that you are doing this for a limited amount of time. I think of it as a lifestyle change. Nothing as drastic as a haircut or dying you hair green, but just in the way we eat and look at food. We don't have to deprive ourselves of our favorite things that might be unhealthy, but just don't make them a habit. Savor them and occasionally enjoy them, and then move on back to healthy eating. Report
Grains and sugar trigger my inner carbie tiger and it helps me tremendously by eliminating them as much as possible from my food choices. Instead I opt for healthier carb choices such as legumes, fruits, veggies and yogurt. A combination of this strategy along with LOTS of non-starchy veggies and tracking my nutrition has served me very well in losing and maintaining my weight loss. I also love tossing a good healthy soup together over the weekend so I have an easy-peasy food handy for me throughout the week.

Keep the SPARK! :-)

Don Report