A new study confirms that the type of diet you pick doesn’t matter so much for weight loss; it’s sticking to it that counts. Researchers compared a low-fat, average protein diet, a low-fat, high protein diet, a high-fat, average protein diet, and a high-fat, high protein diet in 811 middle-aged obese people. They found that, despite different diets, the groups lost pretty much the same amount of weight (average 13 lbs after 1 year) and slowly started gaining again in the second year. Risk factors for heart disease improved for all diet groups.
ABC World News reported, “In the battle over carbs and protein and fat, a new study basically says forget all that. Just pick a plan, any good plan, and then here’s the critical part. Stick to it.” NBC Nightly News added that researchers found that “regardless of diet, participants lost an average of 13 pounds in six months and maintained a nine-pound weight loss at two years.”
Like I’ve been saying for years: The recipe to lose weight and keep it off consists of only three essential ingredients:
The finding that the type of diet does not matter, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, “could finally end the often-contentious debate over the comparative effectiveness of diets that” are “marked by…specific configurations,” such as those that “are predominantly low in fat, high in protein,” or “low in carbohydrates,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
And, because “the study did not prove … that every dieter succeeds,” it “reinforces numerous other studies showing most people lose a modest amount of weight in the first few months of dieting and regain some or all of the weight over time.”
USA Today notes that in order to compare diet programs, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Louisiana State University “recruited 811 overweight or obese older adults and put them on one of four diet plans, including two low-fat diets with 20 percent of calories from fat and two high-fat plans with 40 percent of calories from fat.”
Each diet included between 35 percent and 65 percent of “calories from carbohydrates,” as well as “15 percent or 25 percent of calories” from protein.
Participants “adhered to heart-healthy guidelines” and maintained “modest” exercise goals that included “about 90 minutes of moderate physical activity a week.”
“Each plan cut about 750 calories from a participant’s normal diet, but no one ate fewer than 1,200 calories a day,” the New York Times points out.
Lead author Dr. Frank M. Sacks, a professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at Harvard, explained that the researchers reduced bias by not “associating any of the diets with well-known commercial eating plans.”
Instead, the “plans were all loosely based on the principles of popular diets like Atkins, which emphasizes low carbohydrates; Dean Ornish, which is low-fat; or the Mediterranean diet, with less animal protein.” Meanwhile, participants “also received group or individual counseling.”
According to the AP, “There was no winner among the different diets; reduction in weight and waist size were similar in all groups.”
In fact, “all groups saw their weight creep back up after a year,” despite an average 13-pound loss at six months. Participants’ “waistlines shrank an average of two inches” at two years, and “only 15 percent of dieters achieved a weight-loss reduction of 10 percent or more of their starting weight.”
Notably, participants “who attended most” counseling sessions “shed more pounds than those who did not — 22 pounds compared with the average nine pound loss.”
Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel, director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, which funded the study, stated that the “results show that … there is more than one nutritional approach to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight,” Elizabeth Cooney wrote in the Boston Globe White Coat Notes blog.
Nonetheless, the study authors noted that “most participants had trouble meeting their assigned targets for fat, protein, or carbohydrate,” and, in an accompanying editorial, Martijn Katan, of the Institute of Health Sciences at VU University in the Netherlands, argued that “focusing on diet components might be less important than the behavior of the dieters” and their surrounding environment.
So, what’s the bottom line?
The recipe to lose weight and keep it off consists of only three essential ingredients: