The Skinny On Diet Crazes

With Americans spending $40 million annually on diets and weight-loss books, MidWeek takes a look at several of the most popular diet programs, and asks licensed dietitians to evaluate each plan

Melissa Moniz
Wednesday - September 20, 2006
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The Skinny On Diet Crazes

For most people struggling to take off the pounds, weight loss is more than just a simple calorie equation. It’s complicated, frustrating and, for the most part, an endless cycle of ups and downs.

So-called new-and-improved ways to lose weight are everywhere. According to a Diet Wars special on PBS, Americans spend about $40 billion annually on weight loss foods, books and programs. That amount of spending can only mean one thing - there are tons of diet programs out there hoping to get your buck. And that price tag doesn’t include what’s being spent on all the plastic surgery procedures that make fat magically disappear.

For the most part, history has proven that the most successful weight-loss programs incorporate changes to achieve long-term healthy lifestyle behaviors, including eating practices and daily physical activity.

MidWeek decided to explore some of the new and not-so-new popular weight loss programs out there with the help of dietitian experts at Queen’s Medical Center Vicky Chaffin, MPH, RD, CNSD; Carissa Cariaga RD; Brenda Vincent RD, CDE; Chelsie Kawamura RD; Vicky Leung MS, RD, and Sandy Tam RD.

The Zone Diet The Science: Lose weight, burn fat, control hunger and fatigue, and feel healthier - that’s what the Zone promises. The Zone Diet teaches the importance of meal timing for keeping your blood sugar balanced and is a lifelong hormonal control strategy. The Zone Diet program also includes exercise recommendations, daily fish oil supplements, and stress-management techniques.

Guidelines: On the Zone Diet, you eat a balance of wholesome food, including low-fat protein, heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and favorable carbs, like fruits and vegetables. As a general rule, carbohydrates should be twice the size of the protein portion.

Unfavorable carbohydrates such as rice, pasta, bananas, bagels, etc.

should be eaten in smaller portions. The program requires you to eat five times a day - three meals and two snacks.

History: This diet program was first introduced in 1995 by Dr. Sears, a world-renowned researcher on the hormonal effects of food. After years of clinical study, Sears discovered this program that promises to spur your body to burn fat.

Expert Opinion: The Zone diet plan promotes eating regular meals (five meals per day). For many people, getting into a routine is the biggest benefit of a program. The diet is low in calories which will promote weight loss, but is too low for long term. The theory behind the diet is that by keeping the diet in a perfect balance of 40:30:30 (carbohydrate, protein and fat) you can hormonally control fat burning is unproven. The metabolic pathways presented in The Zone do not exist. The diet is difficult to sustain for long periods of time and may be deficient in nutrients due to a lower than recommended intake of complex carbohydrates. The diet should be avoided by people with kidney disease because of its high protein load.

Weight Watchers The Science: The diet philosophy behind Weight Watchers is to help people make healthy eating decisions and encourage them to enjoy more physical activity, thus losing weight safely and sensibly - and keeping it off. The program provides the ongoing group support of others also trying to lose weight, the cornerstone of the program.

Guidelines: Weight Watchers provides two different plans to act as a guide to healthy eating. In the Flex Plan, each food is assigned points based on the food’s calorie, total fat and dietary fiber content. Each member is assigned a target Daily Points Range based on their body weight. The Core Plan is a new approach for Weight Watchers and it allows members to control calories by focusing their eating on a core list of wholesome nutritious foods, but without counting. Once members get established in their food plan, the specifics of an exercise plan are introduced. All types of physical activity are assigned a points value, and points are tracked.

History: Weight Watchers has been around since the 1960s, and got its start when a few friends began meeting weekly to discuss how to lose weight.

Expert Opinion:

The positive aspects of Weight Watchers are the group support meeting, combined physical activity and diet planning to promote weight loss, no limitation in certain food groups, two planning systems (Flex Plan and Core Plan) available to meet individual’s preferences. The negative aspects are the Flex Plan (point system) can be time-consuming and confusing for some individuals, and required group support meeting can be intimidating for some individuals who prefer oneon-one consultation. Overall, Weigh Watchers is recommended and will be beneficial for any particular population.

Macrobiotic Diet The Science: People seeking a healthy way of eating that integrates physical, spiritual and planetary health are interested in the macrobiotic diet. The macrobiotic diet is a low-fat, high-fiber diet that is a predominantly vegetarian diet, emphasizing whole grains and vegetables. In addition, the macrobiotic diet is rich in phytoestrogens from soy products.

Guidelines: The guidelines of this diet are whole grains, 50-60 percent of each meal; soup, one to two cups or bowls of soup per day; vegetables, 25-30 percent of daily food intake; beans,10 percent of daily food intake, fish or seafood several times per week, seed and nuts in moderation, local fruit several times a week. Meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, sugar, chocolate, honey and molasses are to be avoided.

History: The macrobiotic diet and philosophy were developed by a Japanese educator named George Ohsawa, who believed that simplicity was the key to optimal health. Michio Kushi expanded on Ohsawa’s macrobiotic theory and opened the Kushi Institute in Boston in 1978. Together with his wife Aveline, Kushi published many books on macrobiotics and was responsi-

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