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Any diet as long as you stick with it

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Diet programs don't tip scale toward keeping weight off
By Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY

People can lose weight on popular diet programs, including Weight Watchers and Atkins, but many find it impossible to stick to them, a new study shows.

In the study, only about half of participants stuck with Atkins and about 65% with Weight Watchers for a year.

Those who stayed with their programs lost and kept off about 10 to 20 pounds after one year and improved heart disease risk factors. This confirms research that shows committed dieters usually shed 5% to 10% of their starting weight and improve their health.

For the latest study, scientists at Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston recruited 160 overweight and obese adults, ages 22 to 72, who had high cholesterol, high blood sugar or high blood pressure.

The dieters were assigned to one of four popular programs: Weight Watchers (trims calories), Atkins (slashes carbs), the Zone (limits calories) and the Ornish diet (drastically cuts fat).

Participants agreed to follow their programs to the best of their abilities for the first two months as well as attend group classes and study cookbooks. For the next 10 months, they were encouraged to follow the diets to whatever extent they wanted.

Some adhered to their diets closely; others less so. Some dropped out. Weight and heart disease risk factors were measured at two, six and 12 months.

Findings in today's Journal of the American Medical Association:

•At the end of one year, about 50% had dropped out of the Ornish and Atkins plans; 35% had abandoned Weight Watchers and the Zone. About 25% stuck very closely to the four diets for a full year.

•At one year, about 25% of participants in each group had sustained a weight loss of 10 to 20 pounds.

•About 10% of participants lost and kept off 10% of their initial weight.

•For each group, at least one person had lost 30 to 60 pounds at one year.

•In general, dieters lost half their desired weight in the first three months.

•Those who had the greatest weight loss had the best improvements in cholesterol.

•A 5% weight loss resulted in 10% improvement in heart disease risk factors.

•Those who followed the Ornish diet lowered their LDL (bad) cholesterol the most.

•Those who followed the other three plans had the biggest increases in HDL (good) cholesterol.

The idea that one diet fits all is outdated, says Michael Dansinger, director of obesity research for the Atherosclerosis Research Laboratory at the Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston.

Many different strategies work, but you need to be matched up with the right one for you, he says.

"To find one that's best for you, try dating the diets as if you are looking for a lifelong partner," he says. "You may have to kiss a few frogs along the way, but once you find the one you can live with forever, stand by your plan."

In an accompanying editorial, Robert Eckel of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver says people need to realize that both "quality and quantity of the diet are important, and that sustained weight loss may be possible with the addition of physical activity and behavioral change strategies to a modest but persistent caloric restriction — the 'Low Fad' approach."

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