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For many, dieting can be frustrating: Maybe you try a popular diet that seems to work for everyone but you, or you’re successful for two weeks and then “fall off the wagon.” If you’ve found dieting to be difficult, that doesn’t mean weight loss is outside your reach—it just might mean you haven’t found the right plan for you.
Here’s what seven experts have to say about finding an easy diet plan that works for you, as well as the latest research on five popular diets.
Often, dieting is done to achieve a goal, like weight loss, but is not viewed as a permanent way of eating that can help sustain that weight loss or other health goals. This may be because when many people go on a more restrictive eating plan, their body pushes back.
“Your body resists weight loss when you reduce calorie intake because it thinks you are starving,” says Louis J. Aronne, M.D., director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Center at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian.
He notes that nerves in the brain change as part of a biological process in the body to make any further weight loss more difficult.
This is why it’s so important to ditch the fad diets, which typically involve a restrictive way of eating, and find a plan you can follow over the course of months or even years.
“I tell my patients that the best diet or way of eating is the one that they can do and sustain for the rest of their lives,” explains Fatima Cody Stanford, M.D., M.P.H., an obesity medicine physician scientist at Massachusetts General and Harvard Medical School.
The best diet is almost always one that includes foods you personally enjoy eating, agrees Dr. Aronne, with restrictions that you find easiest to stick with.
What makes a diet effective and easy for one person, might not be the same for you.
So, it’s essential to consider individual factors—such as your budget, personal taste and comfort level with cooking—and work with a medical doctor or registered dietitian when searching for the easiest diet to lose weight.
Here are a few things to consider when deciding on an effective diet for you, according to experts:
Focusing on foods that can be increased on a particular diet, rather than focusing on which foods have to be removed, can help with overall weight loss, explains Matthew Landry, Ph.D., a registered dietitian nutritionist and a postdoctoral research fellow at the Stanford Prevention Research Center.
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A positive approach to dieting is to focus on achieving full body health and flexibility in food choices, as opposed to just weight loss. This translates to wanting to see improvements in wellness that extend beyond just the number on the scale. After all, as research continues to show, there is no one right way to lose weight, and there is no one right diet for weight loss.
“Healthy weight loss isn’t about being the thinnest you can be—it’s about being the best you can be,” says Samantha Cassetty, M.S., a registered dietitian and wellness expert.
The goals with any eating plan, explains Cassetty, should be to feel more energetic, sleep better, have improved digestion and have markers of health, like cholesterol levels, within normal ranges—while maintaining a sustainable weight that allows you to socialize and take pleasure in food. Going into a diet with this mindset could also make it easier to stick with it in the long-term.
The five eating plans outlined below have been shown to help facilitate these whole-health goals for many people, as well as support weight loss in some cases; making them “easier” diets to follow for the long-term.
What is it? The Mediterranean diet is a low-carb, moderately high-fat diet that emphasizes vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains, olive oil and fish, according to Dr. Landry.
Why is it easy? The wide array of acceptable foods on this diet make it easy to adapt to personal needs and incorporate a variety of different foods. If you’re unsure where to start with trying a new diet, the Mediterranean diet could be a good option, says Dr. Landry.
What does science say? “The Mediterranean diet has the most hard evidence in terms of being best, in terms of reducing morbidity and mortality as it relates to cardiovascular disease,” suggests Dr. Stanford. Additionally, out of 65 studies included in a recent review paper, the 11 studies that looked at the Mediterranean diet showed a strong and consistent benefit of being better for long-term metabolic health and weight loss than other well known diets.
What is it? The flexitarian diet is “essentially a vegetarian diet that allows for occasional meat consumption,” according to Catherine Champagne, Ph.D., a registered dietitian nutritionist and professor at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
Why is it easy? You don’t have to eliminate meat completely. If you like animal protein, you can still enjoy a burger, pork chop or chicken breast. But, this pattern emphasizes putting plant-based foods at the center of the plate.
What does science say? This eating plan is not necessarily designed for weight loss. Studies suggest there may be some small effects on improving body weight and metabolic health. However, research in the European Journal of Nutrition found Nordic adults who followed a flexitarian style eating pattern for 12 months had vitamin B12 and iodine deficiencies, possibly due to a lack of animal protein, so followers of this diet should be sure to occasionally check in with their doctor or dietitian. Other researchers point to this style of eating as important for supporting the health of your body and the planet.
What is it? “For people with hypertension [high blood pressure], the DASH diet is often recommended,” says Anne Thorndike, M.D., chair of the American Heart Association’s Nutrition Committee. Weight loss is not the goal with this diet, as it’s mainly intended to limit sodium intake through food choice for improved cardiovascular health. Vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy products, as well as whole grains, fish, poultry and nuts, are all part of the DASH Diet.
Why is it easy? The DASH diet is similar to the Mediterranean diet but gives more concrete recommendations and advice on actual amounts and limits on types of foods consumed, adds Dr. Landry. This can make it easier to follow for some people.
What does science say? There are a number of studies that show the DASH diet lowers blood pressure, helps people lose weight and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, according to the National Institutes of Health.
What is it? WW is a commercial diet program that involves learning a point system linked with foods. So no foods are restricted—you just have to stay within your daily points. This diet is intended for weight loss, notes Dr. Champagne.
Why is it easy? WW can be easy for some people in that overall, no foods are off limits. Additionally, WW is “unique in that there’s a strong emphasis on emotional support, which tends to lead to higher compliance,” notes Dr. Landry.
What does science say? A recent randomized clinical trial in JAMA Network Open supported by WW suggests that 373 adults across three countries found that following WW resulted in significant weight loss over 12 months compared to a “do-it-yourself” approach that included t other eating plans (e.g., low fat, low carb, vegan and the Mediterranean diet). WW may also be one of the most cost-effective, non-surgical options for weight management, according to recent research sponsored by WW.
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What is it? As is in the name, low-carb diets limit carbohydrate-containing foods and beverages, usually in the pursuit of weight loss. Low-carb diets may not be appropriate for everyone, including those with high cholesterol or people with diabetes.
Why is it easy? A low-carb diet may be helpful if you enjoy eating meat, are trying to eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts or whole grains, and have a hard time restricting fat in your diet.
What does science say? This diet may lead to quicker weight loss. Dr. Champagne notes that while this diet has been studied for its weight loss benefits, there is a lack of robust research analyzing the long term-effects on health.
Across just about all of these diets, more long-term (e.g., greater than one year) and high-quality (e.g., randomized clinical trials) studies need to be done in more diverse populations and research settings.
“Much of what we’re told regarding nutrition recommendations and health guidance is filtered through an extremely Euro-centric and privileged lens, with many assumptions made about who might be on the receiving end,” notes Cara Harbstreet, M.S., a registered dietitian and owner of Street Smart Nutrition.
Due to limited consideration for alternate worldviews, cultural values and culturally-appropriate foods in clinical nutrition research, it can sometimes be tough to translate diets undertaken in a clinical setting to different cuisines, food pairings and food cultures, continues Harbstreet.
That’s why if you’d like to try one of these diets, or if you have questions about how to follow them while including foods that meet your personal preferences, lifestyle and cultural traditions, it’s advisable to talk to a medical doctor or registered dietitian. Some trial and error may be involved to ensure the diet you’ve chosen meets all your individual needs.
At the end of the day, finding an “easy” or “best” diet to follow really means finding a way of eating that works for you—and one that you can follow over the course of your life, leading to health wins off the scale.
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Dylan is a registered dietitian and fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who works to ensure accuracy in reporting science and research communications. He has presented research at several academic conferences and has published several scientific manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals. Dylan spends time mentoring students about the growing field of nutrition communications and precepting dietetic interns around the country. He has served on the Executive Committee of the Cultures of Gender and Age Member Interest Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and is also the Social Media Chair for the Early Career Nutrition Interest Group of the American Society for Nutrition.
Dr. Janese Laster is a physician quadruple board-certified in internal medicine, gastroenterology, obesity medicine and physician nutrition specialist. She completed both her residency and gastroenterology training at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. She then went on to complete the Nestle Nutrition Institute clinical nutrition fellowship and a bariatric endoscopy fellowship in Madrid, Spain. Dr. Laster now owns her own practice, Gut Theory Total Digestive Care, which focuses on evidence-based weight management through nutrition, pharmacologic therapy and innovative, incisionless endoscopic techniques. She is also an affiliate of George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C. She enjoys providing unique care to patients to help them achieve their healthy weight goals.