“For any given person, it’s really a matter of what can they stick with,” says Michael Jensen of the Mayo Clinic, summarizing an extensive review of long-term weight loss studies. In other words, whether a person loses with low-carb, Paleo, Mediterranean, or some other diet, what matters most is not the diet type, but whether or not that person’s still on track beyond the six-month point. Staying on track for a year or two, and then forever, is what promises the best and most lasting results for improved weight and health. This bottom line seems to emerge whenever diets are compared over longer periods: there are no magic bullets, and the best diet is the one you’ll stick with.
What will you stick with, though? That question itself can be hard to answer. Depending on the search terms you use, you can find over 69,000 diet books on Amazon.com (that’s for “Health, Fitness and Diet”). And the site promises, in addition, over 5,000 new releases within the next ninety days. How do you possibly know which regime will suit you, which advice will help?
The Best Diet
When I think of “the best diet is the one you’ll stick with”, I envision a two-part project. Each part deserves thought, and usually also time for learning and trial-and-error. First, the question of what will indeed suit you needs answering. Many people, I find, know pretty much what this is. Melanie, for example, absolutely knows she feels best, loses weight, and cuts cravings when she eats a very low carbohydrate diet. Jacqueline, however, hates eating all that meat and prefers a more vegetarian routine. She finds that avoiding sugar is the key for her to stay on track. Mark always does best when he puts the limits on eating out and focuses on simply eating a little less at each meal—portion control. Once he does that, the rest seems to fall in place.
Most people these days have had some experience with diets of different types and have a pretty good idea of what they could more or less live with. That is to say, for instance, whether or not the low-carb option appeals, whether or not amping up the exercise makes a difference.
If you really can’t say what works best for you, a consultation with a nutritionist can help. A review of books or articles that catch your interest may help as well. You may be able to picture, for example, living with a Mediterranean-type diet more easily than you can picture yourself sticking with a Paleo routine or something else.
Sticking With It
So, you focus on the diet that you can more or less picture yourself living with for good. That’s the essential Part 1. Sticking with it, though—here is the hard part. Even when you’re pretty sure you want this new routine, obstacles emerge, always—those 69,000 books wouldn’t appeal otherwise.
Instead of kicking yourself and giving up when problems emerge, though, you can try to anticipate what obstacles may interfere in your efforts. And one-by-one you can try to reduce or solve them. It certainly makes more sense to do this, even if it takes weeks or months, than to give up or keep grabbing onto fads doomed to fail. Here are some questions to ask as you consider what obstacles you may need to tackle:
- Do you use food for stress relief? If so, becoming aware of when you do this, and learning to manage stress differently will help you succeed long-term
- Do you feel that you eat certain foods (for example, sugar) addictively? This habit won’t necessarily go away just because you start a new diet. Work on “quitting”, and the healthier diet will proceed more easily.
- Do you eat out a lot? This often presents a challenge to long-term diet improvements. You may need to alter your habits, learn to cook more or prepare better and/or learn to order out more strategically.
- Do you have people in your life who sabotage you? Learning greater assertiveness, perhaps with the help of a therapist, can help you overcome this more-common-than-you-might-think obstacle.
Certainly many other types of obstacles exist. But you can see here that “sticking with it” gets complicated. And not because of personal failings, necessarily, but because these complications connect directly to the process of eating, and the process of changing. When it comes to dieting, though, most solve-your-problem diet plans don’t teach how to deal with these issues. Taking them into consideration, and grappling with them, will place you in the ranks of people on the “best diet” that you can stick with.
Information on the diet comparison study can be found in the April 2015 Nutrition Action healthletter, published by Center for Science in the Public Interest. Nutrition Action also published the recommendations of the OmniHealth study in 2009.