No matter what kind of diet plan you’re on, it’s not keeping up with science. In some ways, this can be excused. After all, scientists have only started to understand the critical role that bacteria in the gut play in digestion, nutrition, and obesity — it was less than 10 years ago that the landmark study showing that obesity is linked to bacteria in the gut was published in Nature.
However, established weight loss programs have not adapted to this discovery. They are still using the same old tactics and the same old approaches. From their perspective, there’s a lot at stake in maintaining the status quo. But if you’re not finding success with your current weight loss program, maybe it’s time to look at what science has to say about weight control.
Weight Loss Programs: Which Diet Plans Really Work?
U.S. News & World Report recently ranked the 32 most popular weight loss programs. The magazine assembled a panel of experts to perform a diet plan comparison based on research that supports or refutes each diet’s ability to cause weight loss. Of the 32 weight management programs, it awarded gold medals to 10 diet plans. They are listed by their ability to achieve overall weight loss from highest to lowest:
- Weight Watchers
- Biggest Loser Diet
- Jenny Craig
- Raw Food Diet
- Flexitarian Diet
- Spark Solution Diet
- Vegan Diet
The problem is that the top score, Weight Watchers, only received 3.8 out of 5 stars — and the experts call Weight Watchers “moderately effective” for long-term weight loss. If Weight Watchers is number one, what about the other 31 weight control programs?
Adding Science to Weight Loss Meal Plans
Each of these weight loss programs is missing prebiotics. Many scientists, if not all, agree that dieters should be consuming as many as 35 g of dietary fiber as part of these weight loss meal plans. Unfortunately, there are few diet plans that formally include fiber explicitly. Moreover, none of them consider the role of prebiotics such as inulin and oligofructose.
This is probably why Weight Watchers — the highest-rated weight control program — doesn’t even break into the four-star range. Despite being new science, there’s plenty of research showing that prebiotics help people feel full, eat smaller meals, and ultimately lose weight. Prebiotics support healthy bacteria in the gut, and these bacteria help you feel full and produce fewer extra calories.
A Diet Plan Comparison
Once you accept that even the best-rated diet plans are only “moderately effective” and that all weight management programs could provide better results with the addition of prebiotics, choosing the right diet plan is based on several factors.
|Common Questions to help you choose the best diet plan:|
|Is it effective?|
|How easy or difficult is the diet to follow?|
|Will I get the nutrition I need?|
|Is it safe?|
|Which diet plan is right for me?|
Being able to answer these questions will help you determine if the weight management program is beneficial for your body and weight loss goals.
So Which Diet Plans Really Work?
There is widely-accepted scientific evidence that finds the effectiveness in various commercial weight-loss programs. For example, Atkins, The Zone, Weight Watchers, and the Ornish program were modestly effective at reducing body weight after one year.3 Unfortunately, most people didn’t stay on their respective diet.
In fact, sticking to a diet is the major problem to every diet plan. Virtually every program, especially the 10 weight loss programs listed above, can help you lose weight in the short term. Long-term weight loss, on the other hand, requires that the person stick with it. Take the Biggest Loser diet, for example. The Biggest Loser diet was ranked number one by U.S. News & World Report for short-term weight loss (4.1 out of 5) but was ineffective over the long term (2.9 out of 5).
The reality is that diet and exercise can help you lose a massive amount of weight but it’s simply “not sustainable.”4 To find the diet plans that really work, you have to find the ones you can stick with over the long haul.
How Easy (or Difficult) Is It to Follow Weight Loss Meal Plans Long-Term?
Unfortunately, programs such as Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig are among the easiest to follow, but they also have pretty high dropout rates. The weight loss meal plans that are easiest to follow:
- Come as prepackaged meals
- Contain instructions that are easy to follow
- Include meals that are easy to buy and prepare
- Include support systems such as weekly meetings,
- Include meals that make you feel full without excessive cravings
- Do not radically disrupt your life or the life of others around you
- Are not overly expensive
- Taste good and satisfy your cravings
Commercial diet plans vary widely in these different aspects. Jenny Craig has prepackaged meals and Weight Watchers includes a simple point system. The balanced diet plans are generally easier to follow because they’re not too different from your normal diet. The Atkins diet, which is low-carb, or the high-protein Paleo diet, can be quite restrictive — you must reduce or nearly eliminate one type of nutrient. This makes it difficult to follow weight loss meal plans over the long-term, unless it balances well with your normal diet.
Will I Get the Nutrition I Need?
Fortunately, the body is great at extracting nutrients, vitamins, and minerals from the foods we eat. In fact, one of the reasons it’s so difficult to lose weight and keep it off is that our bodies are calorie-collecting and hoarding machines.
Plus, most nutrients can be converted into another type of nutrient in the body. For example, excess sugar will be turned into fat. Likewise, if you stay on high-protein, low-carb diet long enough, your body will switch to a ketotic state, using ketones instead of sugars as fuel. If you’re going to radically restrict your food intake, it might make sense to find a supplement, such as prebiotics, to avoid deficiencies and reduce cravings.
Is My Weight Control Program Safe?
Safety is a real concern, especially for diets that are new and not rigorously tested. One of the biggest concerns, historically, was the rate of weight loss. Almost everyone believed that losing weight too rapidly was somehow dangerous. New research is showing that rapid weight loss is not only as healthy as slow weight loss, but it’s just as stable over the long term.5 In other words, people lose weight and keep it off whether they lose it quickly or slowly. That said, if you go from eating 3,500 calories a day one week to 1,000 calories a day the next, you’ll probably be so miserable that you’ll quit the diet program.
Not all diet plans are safe, however. This is one of the main reasons that every commercial diet program adds the caveat: consult your doctor before starting any weight loss program. People with certain diseases such as congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, diabetes and several others cannot pick just any diet plan and assume it will be safe.
Even healthy individuals should be careful when starting a new diet, especially one that is highly restrictive or radical. There’s a reason why we eat three or four small meals a day. Starvation diets, cleansing diets, or diets that suggest you eat one or a few types of food and nothing else are not normal and potentially harmful. While your body does a good job of extracting nutrients, vitamins, and minerals from the food you eat, you need to eat food with these things in them.
The gut cannot absorb what the mouth does not eat. These diets put you at risk of dehydration, nutritional deficiencies, and electrolyte problems. In starvation diets or cleanses, you may end up breaking down and digesting your own muscles rather than losing fat weight.
Which Diet Plan Is Right for Me?
The first step is finding a healthy, successful diet plan that fits into your lifestyle. The 10 diet plans listed above are good places to start, keeping in mind that the best one only scored 3.8 out of 5. On one hand, simply starting a weight control program is not a guarantee. On the other hand, if you can stick with an established weight loss program, you’ll almost certainly lose weight. The best diet plan for you really depends on who you are:
A physically healthy individual who is overweight or moderately obese
|The best approach for someone in this category is to follow a weight loss program that reduces the number of calories you consume in a given day. If you’re overweight (body mass index greater than 25) or mildly/moderately obese (BMI 30 to 35), you are taking in more calories than you need to fuel your body.The other side of this equation is exercise. Consuming fewer calories and/or burning more calories is a simple equation for weight loss. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and Volumetrics are probably the best choices for both short and long-term weight loss. They are reasonably easy to follow and only make you feel moderately hungry. Supplementing these diets with dietary fiber and prebiotics can help you feel full even though you’re decreasing your meal size and calorie intake.|
A severely obese individual
|A severely obese individual is someone with a body mass index greater than 35. Again, choosing a diet that reduces your calorie intake and increases the amount of exercise you get will be important. The biggest difference is that calorie restriction and exercise are even more challenging for people in this weight range.The standard Jenny Craig prepackaged meals will simply not satisfy someone in this weight category. Trying to conform to this diet right away will doom you to failure. You can still try Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig, but you’ll need to consume more calories than initially recommended. In fact, Volumetrics is probably the best option because you can adjust the calorie intake to fit your needs.Remember, reducing calories from the day before while still feeling full is one of the most successful weight management tips. Also, any cardiovascular exercise that you do burns more calories than someone who weighs less than you.|
An individual with coronary heart disease
|Weight loss programs are an important part of medical management with anyone who has coronary heart disease. Heart-healthy diets are designed to help you lower cholesterol and blood pressure while reducing body weight. Some of the best diet plans for people in this group are the Ornish diet, the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet, the DASH diet, and the Mediterranean diet. These diets are the best for weight loss, but they’re also the most heart-healthy.The Ornish and TLC diets are low-fat diets, which are particularly difficult for Westerners to adapt to and maintain. We love the taste of fats and oils. In fact, we find it difficult to feel full unless we have had a meal that’s at least had a certain amount of fat and oil. If you can stick with one of these diets, your heart will thank you — but they are among the hardest diets to stay with.The DASH diet was the number one overall rated diet by U.S. News & World Report, but it’s also one of the most difficult to follow and stay on. You’ll be giving up fatty foods, sugary foods, and salty foods — basically everything you love. You will live longer, but you may not be happy.The best compromise might be the Mediterranean diet. Instead of radically reducing fats and oils, you change the sources. In other words, eat lean meat instead of red meat. Eat olive oil instead of corn oil. Lightly sauté your food instead of deep fat frying it. The Mediterranean diet is one of the only heart-healthy diets that is also balanced, and not low-fat.|
An individual with type II diabetes
|A careful diet and comparison shows that no single diet plan is perfect for people with type II diabetes. Diets that focus on the glycemic index and carb counting are okay, but not great. Fortunately, type II diabetes is incredibly sensitive to changes in weight. In other words, you can reduce your need for diabetes medication through exercise and weight loss.Any diet that helps you lose weight while maintaining healthy blood sugar and insulin levels is a good one. Adding prebiotics such as inulin and oligofructose to a regular diet can help improve blood sugar control.8 In fact, oligofructose-enriched inulin, the main ingredient in Prebiotin WM, decreased diabetes disease markers in markers of inflammation.|
Diet Plans That Work
Ultimately, the diet plans that work are the ones you can stick to for the rest of your life. They should be lifestyle changes rather than short-term fixes. If you go back to your old way of eating, you’ll end up at the weight you started at.
All of the top weight management programs will work if you commit to them. But committing to them usually means feeling satisfied with fewer calories and fewer high calorie high-fat, high sugar, salty foods.
Hunger is a major problem for anyone starting or maintaining weight loss meal plans. You can get more out of these diet plans by adding prebiotics, such as the oligofructose-enriched inulin in our Prebiotin Weight Management product.
Prebiotics help you feel full, support good bacteria in the gut, and help you bridge the gap between eating what you want and eating what your meal plan says you should. This is arguably the best combination for a diet plan that really works.