With the way diet trends go back and forth, trying to follow them is like watching a game of ping pong. By their nature, trends aren’t meant to be long-lasting, and most people who jump onto the latest dietary bandwagon are usually looking for super-fast results. If you ask those who have managed to lose weight how they did it, their answers are all over the map. Some swear by a low-carb plan, while others give credit to a vegetarian regimen or a strict accounting of fat grams. With so many possible ways to lose weight, it sort of begs the question: is one diet better than another?
When it comes right down to it, the key to weight loss is cutting calorie intake—eat fewer calories than you need every day, and you’ll lose weight. And there are plenty of ways to do that. Any method that helps you reduce your calories is going to put you on the path to weight loss.
Several studies have pitted different methods of weight loss against each other in an attempt to determine if any one approach is truly more effective than another. There’s been no clear winner. Whether the diets are low-fat, low-carb, vegetarian or simply stress behavior modification, the results are pretty consistent. Among subjects who are followed for at least a year, they all lose about the same amount of weight no matter what approach they use.
One study1 involved over 800 people who were placed on one of four diets—all designed to create a shortage of about 750 calories a day. The composition of the diets varied a lot: fat ranged from a low of 20% to a high of 40% of calories, and wide ranging amounts of protein and carbohydrate were tested, too. And yet, across the board—regardless of which diet they followed—weight loss averaged about 10 pounds over a two year period, leading the authors to conclude that, “reduced calorie diets result in clinically meaningful weight loss regardless of which macronutrients they emphasize.”
If that’s the case, then why don’t we just focus on calories and nothing else? If we love junk food, why not lose weight by eating junk food, only less of it? The answer, of course, is simple. The goal isn’t just weight loss, it’s healthy weight loss. And while different dietary approaches may lead to the same result, proper nutrition is key.
1Sacks et al. NEJM 360(9); 859-873, 2009.
Susan is the Sr. Director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife, where she is responsible for the development of nutrition education and training materials, and is one of the primary authors of the Herbalife-sponsored blog, www.discovergoodnutrition.com. She is a Registered Dietitian and holds two Board Certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, and a Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management. Susan is also a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Susan graduated with distinction in biology from the University of Colorado, and received her master’s degree in Food Science and Nutrition from Colorado State University. She then completed her dietetic internship at the University of Kansas. Susan has taught extensively and developed educational programs targeted to individuals, groups and industry in her areas of expertise, including health promotion, weight management and sports nutrition.
Prior to her role at Herbalife, she was the assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, and has held appointments as adjunct professor in nutrition at Pepperdine University and as lecturer in nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Susan was a consultant to the (then) Los Angeles Raiders for six seasons, and was a contributing columnist for the Los Angeles Times Health Section for two years. She is a co-author of 23 research papers, 14 book chapters, and was a co-author of two books for the public: “What Color is Your Diet?” and “The L.A. Shape Diet” by Dr. David Heber, published by Harper Collins in 2001 and 2004, respectively.