Diet 101: From Weight Watchers to Biggest Loser

Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center provides a guest post on healthy eating. Have questions or ideas for future topics? E-mail This week, nutritionist Mindy Athas (pictured) weighs in on diets. 

Want to go on a diet? Join the club. This is a club that really wants YOU! Just like college, all you need is motivation and cash. First, consult your doctor before starting any weight loss program. You'll need to make diet decisions based on your goals and what you can live with. Many diet plans overlap, so you get more bang for your buck. Any diet can work short-term and most diets are safe for most people. To reach sustainable weight loss goals, however, can take months or even years. Consider if the diet omits whole food groups, if support services are included and if it's got scientific evidence behind it. Many options exist: phone applications, online tools, live support, groups, clinics, programs, books and even camps. If your high school weight is your ideal, then hunker down and get ready to study: Here we school you on what's out there.


Tried and true

These diets have real science, actual medical personnel and years of success behind them. They include the Mediterranean Diet, the Harvard University Healthy Eating Pyramid and book "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" by Willett, YOU: On a Diet, the American Heart Association No Fad Diet, and the Mayo Clinic Diet. Or meet with a registered dietitian and create your own plan: or your local hospital. These plans tend to be long-term and health-promoting.


Portion or Calorie Control

Not a bad way to lose it: fewer calories in equals lower weight on the scale. These weight-loss plans don't omit foods or food groups. They follow the 1/2 to 2 pounds per week goal, often ideal for long-term loss maintenance. Many of these diets contain nutritious foods and focus on lifestyle or behavior change. Best Bets: Weight Watchers ( includes a new (high fiber) points plan, online support and tools, and a phone app; The 90/10 Weight-Loss Plan (; Duke University diet (; Volumetrics (; and the book "Eat, Drink and Weigh Less." All of these may be effective for both short and long-term loss. Other, less-scientific and more general options, include the: No-S Diet:; Carb Lovers Diet:; Best Life Diet (by Bob Greene aka Oprah's dude:; Full Plate Diet:; Flat Belly Diet:;  Spark (includes lots of online support:; Biggest Loser Diet (from the "Hit TV Show!" with videos, online tools and phone apps; Eat This, Not That series:; The Skinny book; and The Fast Food Diet.  These can work, but use caution.

Food Combining & Hormone Control
Some of these diets explain away about 25,000 years of human evolution or turn your dinner into a science experiment, but they can work. Most eliminate or restrict food groups, focus on "balancing" hormones or suppressing appetite. These diets include: Master Your Metabolism:; and all the books that come with their very own websites (just add dotcom): This is Why You're FatSouth Beach Diet; Zone Diet; Fat Resistance Diet; Sugarbusters; Glucose Revolution Book; Metabolic Diet; Eat Right 4 Your Blood Type; and the online Fat Loss 4 Idiots.  Many have found success with these plans in the short run.
Behavior Change
It's not that hand-to-mouth issue that's making you fat, but your lack of motivation. Change your brain or move your body and the pounds will fall off. That's the consensus for this group of diets. There are 12-step programs (Overeaters Anonymous), exercise plans (, Fit Over 40, Turbulence Training, 30 Day Method and Body for Life), and Therapies (Dr. Phil's Ultimate Weight Loss Solution, Beck Diet, Naturally Thin, LEARN Program for Weight Control, Mindless Eating and Small Changes/Big Results). Some of the lessons here are valid, but be ready for long-term lifestyle changes. If you like religion with your veggies, consider the Hallelujah diet. Or consider the Imagined Eating theory, where you just pretend to eat.

Elimination & Detox

May also be called fad or extreme diets. Master Cleanse, Cabbage Soup, Grapefruit, Ultra Simple, 3 Day, Fasting, Beverly Hills, Lipoban, Slim Mints and Dexatrim plans eliminate major food groups or food altogether. Many of these plans use supplements and tonics which may interact with other medications or affect any underlying health issues, so talk with your health care provider if you are considering these programs.

Meal Replacement & Home Delivery

For those indecisive dieters or those with a lack of time, these services and products can be useful, but may be costly for some people. You won’t have to plan or even think about what foods to eat. Be mindful that when some people stop using the meal replacements and return to their former eating habits, they regain the weight. Options include: Slim-Fast, Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig, Cookie Diet, Trim360, Fresh Diet, Medifast, Optifast, Herbalife, Special K Challenge, Subway Diet, and Bistro MD Gourmet.

Livin' La Vida Loca


Want more than just a diet?  Want to be fancy?  Try the lifestyle approach to weight loss: “French Women Don’t Get Fat” or “Japanese Women Don’t Get Fat or Old.” There is also the Lindora Lean for Life program, which includes clinics, supplements and online support. These diets may be OK, but other adopt-a-lifestyle plans restrict whole food groups or large amounts of certain foods: Atkins, Sonoma, Caveman/Paleo, Dukan, Fat Smash, 4 Day, Why We Get Fat, and multiple Vegetarian/Vegan or Raw Food Diets (China Study, Eat More/Weigh Less, Negative Calorie). Great for short-term loss, but are you willing to give up that cookie or steak forever?

Last-Ditch Options

If you’ve tried every diet and weight loss program, there’s also the Utah Fitness Retreat weight loss camp for adults. There are physician-only options out there, including pills (Alli or Xenical, Phentermine, Orlistat) and bariatric surgery. Discuss these with your health care provider.

Foodie Wit & Prose

Need more brain food? Some exceptional reads include: “In Defense of Food” or its Cliffs Notes version “Food Rules”:

, “Fast Food Nation” and “Supersize Me” (also both films), or “Food, Inc.” about factory farming, “The End of Overeating”


, “What to Eat,” and “Food Matters”.  Get the straight dope without the hype.  You may even lose weight.

Tech Help

Loads of weight management apps are available for your phone: Diet Organizer, ilog it, Eat This/Not That, Lose it!, Diet Tips, Cardiotrainer, Droid Fit, Hungry!, Go Meals, Fitness Pro.  Online support sites:





, and

. The

can be helpful, and

, a watchdog group, is a great resource.

The Bottom Line

Finding a weight loss program is easy; finding one that helps you safely lose weight and keep it off is more difficult. Eating fewer calories seems to be the most effective method, whether you cut back on sugar or fat, go vegan or caveman, or stop eating in front of the TV. Adding low-level physical activity like walking and taking the stairs seems to aid with weight loss. Increasing your workout too much, however, can rev up your weight maintenance hormones, causing an appetite spur or a halo effect, where you eat more to compensate for the calorie deficit. One recent study suggests waiting to amp up your exercise program until after you have lost weight, which seems to remodel your body and blunt the appetite increase, making it easier to maintain your new body weight. However you do it, just do it!