Which Weight-Loss Program Works?

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There are Weight Watchers, Atkins, South Beach and Paleo. There’s Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, the Grapefruit Diet, Skinny Bitch Diet and more.

Hundreds of thousands more.

In fact, there are so many that Americans spend an estimated $42 billion each year on weight-loss foods, products and services.

With so many diets out there, and so many people wanting to lose weight, how do you know which diet is right for you?

So many people are tempted to go on fad diets that promise quick weight loss”those 20 pounds you gained over a year, gone in just two weeks!”but there are some things that are important to know.

First things first. You need to slow down and realize that there are a few components to a healthy weight-loss program (note the word “healthy”).

To succeed at losing weight, you need these four things:

  1. A reasonable and realistic weight loss goal. It’s best to aim for losing one to two pounds a week, says the Mayo Clinic.
  2. A reduced-calorie, nutritionally balanced eating plan.
  3. Regular physical activity. Government recommendations for adults are two hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) each week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (like brisk walking), plus two or more days of muscle-strengthening exercises.
  4. A behavior change plan so you can stay on track with your goals.

This is not breaking news, but many people ignore these facts:

  • Calories count; so do portions.
  • Nutrition counts, too.
  • Just a small amount of weight loss yields big health benefits, like lowering your risk of heart disease, for example.
  • Your goal should be to develop good habits that will carry you through your lifetime. A short-term “diet” means you’re either “on” it or “off” it. Think instead of changing your way of life and becoming a “healthier” person.
  • Have a discussion with your health care professional before you begin.
  • Keep in mind that studies show it’s easier to stick with a weight-loss plan when you have some form of social support, whether it is a diet/workout buddy or a structured group, like Weight Watchers.

Think about people you know who have managed to lose and keep (that’s the harder part) the weight off. “Successful losers”:

  • Get regular physical activity.
  • Reduce their calorie and fat intake.
  • Eat regular meals, including breakfast.
  • Don’t let small slip-ups turn into giving up and a large weight gain.

In short, the reality of it is that virtually any healthy diet will work”if you stick to it. So, pick the one that will be easiest and least challenging to stick to, say researchers of a study that found just that. But it’s important that the diet, whatever it is, meets all of your nutritional needs.

You’re ready to lose some weight. But you’re tired of listening to all that stale, tried-and-true weight loss advice, like eating more vegetables, limiting portions, and exercising more.

Maybe what you need is a fresh idea or two. So WebMD asked diet experts to come up with some lesser-known diet tips that could make the most jaded dieter drop that cookie and vow, “Oh wow! I’ll try that today.”

Here are nine diet tips you may not have not heard yet. Some involve different ways to eat, or adding certain foods to your diet. Others involve learning new behaviors or strategies to help you stay on track.

Weight Loss Tip No. 1: Variety Is Overrated

Who hasn’t heard the advice to “just take a bite of everything” if you’re at a buffet?

But as it turns out, variety doesn’t deserve its good reputation, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, a Chicago dietitian and author of The Flexitarian Diet

We know that variety makes you eat more,” she says, citing several published studies and her own experience in counseling weight loss patients.

For example, researchers in France found that study participants ate more french fries when they were offered catsup and mayonnaise along with them. And when they were given the option of having cream or whipped cream with their brownies, they ate more than when the brownies were offered plain.

Other researchers have found that people who have been able to maintain weight loss tend to eat diets with limited variety.

Weight Loss Tip No. 2: Have Barley for Breakfast

“Barley is the new oatmeal,” says Jackson Blatner.

Barley got its hunger-fighting reputation after Swedish researchers found that eating barley or rye kernels for breakfast kept blood sugar on an even keel. That’s because the carbs in barley and rye kernels are “low glycemic index,” meaning they raise blood sugar more slowly than some other carbohydrate foods. This helps you avoid a spike, and then a drop, in blood sugar, which can leave you feeling famished.

One caveat: “Buy hulled barely, not pearl barley,” Jackson Blatner says. The Swedish researchers used minimally processed hull barley, and they can’t vouch for the same effects for more processed forms, such as pearl barley.

Weight Loss Tip No. 3: Beef Up Your Lunch Salad

One of the most common mistakes dieters make is to eat a vegetable salad with little or no dressing for lunch, says Joan Salge Blake, RD, professor of nutrition at Boston University and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. “Then they are starving by mid-afternoon,” she says.

A salad is a great choice, she says, if you add some protein and a little fat to help keep you feeling full longer.

Top your greens with a 3 oz piece of chicken breast, and you’ve added about 26 grams of protein but just 140 calories. Add about two tablespoons of light salad dressing, and your salad may be filling enough to get you through the 3 p.m. hunger slump without hitting the vending machine.

Weight Loss Tip No. 4: Stock Up on Frozen Vegetables

Sure, fresh vegetables are delicious and nutritious. But faced with the need to scrape a carrot, wash and slice a zucchini, or cut broccoli into florets, many of us say, “Too much trouble!” and reach for chips instead.

To make things easier, stock your freezer with frozen vegetables, Blake tells dieters.

They are already clean, chopped and ready to cook in the microwave,” she says. “It’s like having Rachael Ray in the freezer.”

An even better way to be sure you eat more vegetables: Cook the frozen veggies ahead of time. Microwave the whole bag of green beans, for instance. Then keep them in the refrigerator, ready to dump into canned soups, add to a salad, or just eat by the handful.

Weight Loss Tip No. 5: Make Yourself a Party Tray

The type of party tray Jackson Blatner is talking about is a big vegetable platter, maybe with some low-fat dip on the site — the kind you put on the buffet for weight-conscious guests.

But this one is just for you and any interested family members. Keep it in the fridge at eye level, encouraging you to snack healthy and avoid the higher-calorie contents of your refrigerator.

Several studies have found that we tend to eat more when food is within easy reach. Secretaries who placed candy on their desks ate about 48% more than when the candy was 6 feet away, according to research by Brian Wansink, PhD, director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University.

Weight Loss Tip No. 6: Turn Down the Thermostat

Spending time in a chilly house — about 61 degrees Fahrenheit — may boost the fat-burning power of the “brown fat” in your body.

Brown fat is considered “good” fat, as opposed to regular or white fat, which stores calories and tends to accumulate. Researchers believe that lean people have more of the brown type of fat, and that the amount of brown fat a person has declines with age.

Scandinavian researchers found that exposure to these chilly temperatures boosted the metabolic rate of brown fat 15-fold, helping burn more calories.

But Jackson Blatner cautions not to expect too much: “It’s not going to be any kind of a miracle,” she says. And beware if you’re the type who eats more when you feel cold.

Weight Loss Tip No. 7: Downsize Your Dinnerware

Experts say they’ve seen it again and again: The larger your plate, the more you’re likely to put on it. So serving your meals on smaller plates can help you eat less.

But don’t throw out those dinner plates, Blake suggests. Use the smaller, lunch-size plates to serve dinner, and use the dinner plates for salads.

Weight Loss Tip No. 8: Go Out for Treats

If you’re the type who overdoes it on sweets and snacks, Jackson Blatner suggests, make yourself work a little for your favorite indulgences. Don’t keep them in the house, but give yourself permission to go out and get them when you really need to.

Want a brownie? You have to go to the bakery. Craving a frozen yogurt? You must find the nearest frozen yogurt shop.

“The more hassle tasty treats are, the less likely you are to eat them,” says Jackson Blatner, who does this herself and finds her sweets consumption has declined without making her feel deprived.

Weight Loss Tip No. 9: Try on Your Skinny Jeans Every Friday

Find a pair of pants that is tight, but not impossible to zip, Blake suggests to her weight loss patients. “Every Friday morning, try them on,” she says.

Why Friday? Weekends are typically a tougher time to stay on diets, she says. And the Friday morning try-on will motivate you to watch your eating during the weekend.

“If they are loose, you will say to yourself ‘I am making progress, I am staying on track during the weekend,”’ she says.

And if they’re snug? That will provide motivation to stick to your diet so they’ll fit better next week, she says.

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