weight loss maintenance

Right now, we are in the “Pile on the Pounds” season, but before you know it, it will be January 1st and we will all be resolving to diet away the turkey-stuffing-champagne-and-ice cream contributions to our physique. So, what diet should you follow? Weight Watchers? Jenny Craig? Atkins? Which ones work the best?

A featured article in U.S. News and World Report’s Best Hospitals, 2012 Edition, provides us some guidance. According to an article by Angela Haupt and Kurtis Hiatt, a U.S. News team spent six months researching the diet literature, including medical and governmental reports. They provided the data to a panel of 22 experts in diet, nutrition, and diabetes who then ranked the diets from 1 to 5 with 5 being the top score. There were individual scores for each of the following categories:

  • Short-term weight loss
  • Long-term weight loss
  • Diets good for diabetes
  • Diets good for heart health
  • Nutrition
  • Safety

The scores in each category were averaged to come up with an overall score. The article presented multiple versions of the rankings, including best overall, best for heart health, best diabetes diets, and best commercial diets. But most of the focus in the article was how well the diets worked to shed the pounds.


The Top Ten diets

Here are the “Top Ten” diets ranked by the average score for short- and long-term weight loss

1.  Weight Watchers weighed in with a score of 3.8 out of 5.

2.  Jenny Craig tied with Raw Food Diet (3.5/5)

4.  Volumetrics Diet (3.4/5)

5.  Slim-Fast Diet tied with Vegan Diet (3.3/5)

7.  Atkins diet (3.2)

8.  DASH diet tied with Eco-Atkins diet and Mayo Clinic Diet (3.1)

There are several takeaways from this article. First, there is no perfect diet for weight loss. The best is about a “B” or 3.8 out of 5. Second, the “best diets” are all clustered pretty close together in terms of score. There really isn’t that much difference between a 3.1 and a 3.8. Finally, there does seem to be a big difference between diets depending on what you want in a diet (good nutrition vs safety vs heart health, etc.).

Diet Over-all Short-Term Weight Loss Long Term Weigh Loss Nutrition Safe For Dia-betes For Heart Health
#1 DASH Diet 3.9 3.2 3.0 4.7 4.9 3.6 4.3
#2 Mediterranean Diet 3.8 3.0 2.9 4.4 4.8 3.4 4.0
#2 TLC Diet 3.8 3.2 2.8 4.6 4.8 3.2 4.5
#2 Weight Watchers 3.8 4.0 3.5 4.1 4.6 3.1 3.4
#5 Mayo Clinic Diet 3.7 3.3 2.9 4.3 4.7 3.5 3.6
#5 Volumetrics 3.7 3.6 3.2 4.2 4.6 3.4 3.5
#7 Jenny Craig 3.6 3.8 3.2 4.0 4.4 3.0 3.2
#8 Ornish Diet 3.5 3.1 2.8 3.8 4.2 3.5 4.6
#9 Vegetarian 3.4 2.9 2.9 3.7 4.2 3.4 3.6
#10 Slim-Fast 3.2 3.4 3.2 3.4 3.6 3.2 2.8
#11 Nutrisystem 3.1 3.2 2.3 3.7 4.0 2.7 2.4
#12 Vegan Diet 3.0 3.4 3.3 2.8 3.0 3.5 3.9
#13 South Beach Diet 2.9 3.7 2.3 3.2 3.4 2.5 2.9
#14 Eco-Atkins 2.8 3.8 2.5 2.8 3.3 2.5 3.3
#14 Zone Diet 2.8 3.0 2.3 3.2 3.7 2.3 2.8
#16 Glycemic-Index Diet 2.7 2.8 2.2 3.1 3.8 2.7 2.3
#16 Medifast 2.7 3.5 2.0 3.1 3.0 2.6 2.7
#18 Raw Food Diet 2.4 3.7 3.3 2.1 2.1 2.6 2.8
#19 Atkins 2.3 4.0 2.5 1.7 2.2 2.4 2.0
#20 Paleo Diet 2.0 2.1 1.7 2.0 2.3 2.1 2.0

All of the diets require that you do one thing well—follow the diet to limit caloric intake below your daily requirement to maintain weight. It’s the usual advice: Eat less calories and lose more.

So, enjoy the next couple of months in indulgent holiday mode and then pick a diet, any diet on the list, and follow it as best you can.


  1. The DASH diet was rated the best diet overall, and later it was rated the healthiest diet. Why were weight loss ratings a little lower? Because all the research studies were looking at slower, sustainable weight loss, they were not designed to promote super quick weight loss. No other diet plan has been held to this kind of standard.

    The DASH diet is the perfect program for sustainable weight loss. It is packed with fruits and veggies that are filling without being high in calories. It has enough protein to provide satiety. In the book, The DASH Diet Action Plan, the meal plans were designed to be filling, satisfying, so that people don’t feel like they are on a diet. And the DASH diet is recommended for all Americans in the Dietary Guidelines, so it’s a plan you can use for your whole family, and sustain it for the long run. Only the portion sizes change depending on whether you want to lose weight. For more info, see dashdiet. org

    Marla Heller, MS, RD
    Author of the best-selling book, The DASH Diet Action Plan

  2. Pat,
    Having been a weight loss counselor for several years my opinion of weight loss programs is from working with scores of folks around this issue. The most effective way to lose weight is by keeping a food diary. Diets are of little value unless you keep track of every calorie you put in your mouth. You must also know your basal metabolic rate and your level of activity. When you know the calories you are taking in, balanced against the calories you are putting out, then you have a chance to lose weight. Other than this method all you have is a SWAG(scientific wild ass guess).

  3. Interesting. I am surprised to see the tight clustering of major diet programs and happy to see the major surveyed diets all seem to have a positive impact if people take them seriously.

    A hundred years from now people will look back on the “diet industry” in the contemporary U.S. with amazement and ask “why didn’t they just eat less bad food?” I state this because I suspect the food distribution system will change greatly for the better in the next generation. We are probably the first large society in the history world where poor people are fatter than rich people.


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