Nutrition Column – the Skinny on Popular Weight-Loss Plans

The diet craze is as crazy as ever! As the number of Americans who are overweight or obese steadily increases, seemingly so does the number of people dieting.

These days, dieters have an entire menu of diets from which to choose. Today’s most popular diets fall into two general categories: low carbohydrate-higher protein and more balanced nutrient-low calorie diets. This article will take a look at three of the more popular "balanced nutrient" weight-loss plans. Next week, we’ll look at three popular low carbohydrate weight-loss plans.

Weight Watchers: Founded in the early 1960s by Jean Nidetch, Weight Watchers is a diet program centered around a nutritionally balanced diet and weekly support group meetings. TOPS and Overeaters Anonymous are other programs that use support groups well. The current Weight Watchers diet is a points system where foods are assigned a point value based on their fat, calories and fiber content. Weight Watchers participants receive a daily points allotment and are encouraged to eat a variety of foods that add up to their daily points target. The plan does not eliminate or require specific foods, but rather encourages all foods in moderation. Participants weigh in regularly and attend support group meetings. For some, keeping track of daily points and translating meals into their points equivalent may be complicated and/or frustrating.

The Ultimate Weight Loss Solution: Created by talk-show host, Dr. Phil McGraw, The Ultimate Weight Loss Solution outlines "seven keys to weight loss freedom." The underlying theme of Dr. Phil’s program is that behavior modification and cognitive restructuring, coupled with a healthy diet and exercise, will lead to weight loss. The program recommends enlisting a "circle of support," creating a "no-fail environment" and engaging in the "right-thinking." Foods are divided into high response (good) foods, such as seafood, poultry, low-fat meat and dairy, vegetables, fruits and oils; and low response (bad) foods, which include sweets, refined grains, fried foods, full-fat dairy and fatty meats. Overall, the diet is relatively healthy; however, menus, recipes and advice on how much of what foods to eat are not provided, which may make it more difficult for dieters to understand and follow correctly.

Eat More, Weigh Less: Developed by Dr. Dean Ornish, the Eat More, Weigh Less program is based on the idea that a diet low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates and fiber, along with moderate exercise and stress reduction, is the key to weight loss. The overall eating plan is heart-healthy, emphasizing beans, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and non-fat dairy products. Calorie counting is not required and there are no limits on recommended foods. However, giving up meat, poultry, seafood, oils, nuts, dairy (except non-fat), sweets and alcohol is advocated, which may be difficult to follow in the long-term, especially for non-vegetarians. In addition, the high percentage of carbohydrates recommended (70 percent to 75 percent of total calories) may raise blood levels of triglycerides and lower HDL ("good") cholesterol if a person following this plan does not exercise regularly and lose weight.

Next column: a look at some of the popular low carb-high protein diet plans.

by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension