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The Best Weight Loss Diets: Which Ones Work and Which are a Waste of Money? (Plus 16 Key Tips to Help Nearly Everyone Slim Down)


Fad diets promise dramatic weight loss results in a short amount of time, and at the never-ending quest to lose weight many people will try anything … from the questionable fads like the snack 100-calorie pack diet, 12-day grapefruit diet, lemonade diet, 3-day hot dog diet to some of the more bizarre like the Twinkie diet.

Ultimately there is no one “right” diet for everyone.

According to a survey released by Consumer Reports, 41 percent of Americans are following some kind of diet plan and 63 percent admitted to trying some kind of diet plan at least once throughout their lives.

Weight-loss plans are a growing commodity and many Americans (an estimated two-thirds) are picking out a plan and trying it on their own. A report published by Consumer Reports broke down some of the most popular diet plans and books and rated their effectiveness. Here’s a breakdown of eight of the most well-known diet plans along with their benefits and downsides.

Leader of the Diet Pack


This diet plan scored the highest among the diet plans in helping with weight loss. The creator of this diet, Barbara Rolls, PhD, agrees that deprivation doesn’t work with diets, so her plan’s approach is to help people find foods they can eat while still losing weight in the process.

The magical key to the diet is to focus on the feeling of fullness and eating foods that aren’t loaded with calories and instead are filled with high water content like fruits and vegetables. Deciding what foods to eat on this plan is determined by the energy density of the food. Energy density is defined as the number of calories in a specified amount of food. The equation used is as follows: Energy Density = calories per serving / weight of serving in grams.

Very Low-Density Foods:

  • Non-starchy vegetables
  • Nonfat milks
  • Soup broths

Very High-Density Foods

  • Crackers
  • Chips
  • Cookies
  • Chocolate and Candies
  • Nuts
  • Butter
  • Oils

Volumetrics Highlights:

  • Well-researched and based on healthy eating
  • Includes a well-defined exercise component
  • Contains many recipes to choose from

Possible Downsides:

  • Recipes take a fair amount of time to make
  • People may find the calculation of energy densities time-consuming and tedious
  • The concept of feeling feel may be subjective from person to person
  • May downplay the importance of healthy fats in your diet

Weight Watchers

This plan took a close second to the Volumetrics diet plan. Over the years, Weight Watchers has introduced several versions of their program, but the company’s chief scientific officer, Karen Miller Kovach, MS, RD, firmly believes that the latest version called “Momentum” is the most successful yet.

The program combines the point system, which involves tracking your food intake and eating low-energy-density foods that produce the feeling of fullness. The program is designed around four key principles: eating better, exercising more, getting support when needed and cultivating better lifestyle habits.

Weight Watchers Highlights

  • Comes with a built-in support network online or the option to attend actual meetings
  • Website contains several helpful diet tools and resources such as recipes, calorie calculators, restaurant guides and meal trackers
  • Freedom to choose the foods you want to eat as long as it is within the point allotment and are foods that are energy dense and filling

Sample of foods based on the point system:

  • 1 cup broccoli: 0 points
  • 1/2 cantaloupe: 2 points
  • 1 small bean burrito: 5 points
  • 1 6-ounce steak: 8 points
  • 1 3-ounce grilled chicken breast: 3 points
  • 1/4 cup regular creamy salad dressing: 8 points
  • 1 slice bread: 2 points
  • 1 ounce chocolate: 4 points
  • 1 scoop vanilla ice cream: 4 points

On the downside, the program may be too regimented for some people to follow.

Jenny Craig Weight Loss Program

This ranked just behind Weight Watchers. The Jenny Craig program centers on three areas:

  • Teaching clients how to eat sensibly and prepare healthy menus
  • Teaching the client ways to increase their exercise levels and strategies to develop daily physical activity and teaching clients how to incorporate a working balance between eating, exercising
  • Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle by remaining positive and nurturing the body with nutritious foods

Jenny Craig’s Highlights

  • Program offers a 24/7 telephone line where clients can call whenever they feel they need assistance or support
  • A medical advisory board with certified professionals in medicine, psychology and nutrition are behind the program
  • Clients are supplied with prepackaged meals that are representative of the federal guidelines and USDA pyramid


This program tied with Jenny Craig’s weight loss program. Extending beyond just shakes, Slim-Fast now includes soups, pasta, meal-in-one bars and snacks all to be used as meal replacements to help with weight loss. The Slim-Fast program follows a four-step weight loss approach: proper portion sizes, making healthy meal choices, getting daily physical activity and support system. The program allows you to eat six small meals and snacks a day, giving you the remainder of the day to pick what you want to eat, with a strong emphasis on lean proteins, fruits and vegetables.

Slim-Fast Program Highlights

  • The weight-loss goals established in the program adhere to the government safe weight-loss guidelines -- lose 10 percent of body weight in the first six months at the rate of two pounds a week
  • The Slim-Fast Web site provides medical guidelines for doctor’s whose patients are following the program
  • The program comes in with built-in interactive resources such as message boards, online chats and “Ask the Dietitian” to give the clients that extra encouragement and support

Possible Downsides:

Middle of the Diet Plan Pack

The Zone Diet

Ranked in the middle of the road among diet plans. The creator of The Zone diet plan, Barry Sears, PhD, constructed the diet around retooling the metabolism with a diet comprising of 30 percent protein, 30 percent fat and 40 percent carbohydrates, enabling the body to work in peak efficiency. One of the biggest health claims of the diet is that it contends you can turn back impending heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes and achieve enhanced athletic performance. The premise of the Zone’s plan is to eat a small amount of low-protein, fat and carbohydrate such as fiber-rich vegetables and fruit at every meal.

The Zone Diet Highlights:

  • Offers a lot of free information on the website
  • Diet plan is easy to follow

Possible Downsides:

  • Diet may restrict carbohydrates more than necessary
  • Questionable diet food recommendations
  • Possibly exaggerated scientific findings

Two Diet Plans on the Bottom of the List

Rounding out rear-end of the list were The Ornish Diet and Atkins Diet.

The Ornish Diet

Dean Ornish, MD, the doctor behind the Ornish Diet, touts his claim to fame for reversing heart disease without surgery or drugs. His diet is based on the combination of eating a high-fiber and low-fat vegetarian diet and exercising at least 30 minutes a day to burn fat and kick up the metabolism. His plan also encourages using stress management and relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga.

Here is a breakdown of foods that you can eat until you feel full, foods to eat in moderation and those to avoid.

Foods you can an eat abundance of or until you get that full sensation:

  • Beans and legumes
  • Fruits -- anything from apples to watermelon, from raspberries to pineapples
  • Grains
  • Vegetables

Foods to eat in moderation:

  • Nonfat dairy products -- skim milk, nonfat yogurt, nonfat cheeses, nonfat sour cream, and egg whites
  • Nonfat or very low-fat commercially available products --from Life Choice frozen dinners to Haagen-Dazs frozen yogurt bars and Entenmann's fat-free desserts (but if sugar is among the first few ingredients listed, put it back on the shelf)

Foods to Avoid:

  • Meat of all kinds -- red and white, fish and fowl (if we can't give up meat, we should at least eat as little as possible)
  • Oils and oil-containing products, such as margarine and most salad dressings
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Dairy products (other than the nonfat ones above)
  • Sugar and simple sugar derivatives -- honey, molasses, corn syrup, and high-fructose syrup
  • Alcohol
  • Anything commercially prepared that has more than two grams of fat per serving

The Ornish Diet Highlights

  • Simple and well-supported explanations for weight loss
  • Strong regular exercise and stress management component incorporated in the plan
  • Findings are backed up with scientific research
  • Gives you greater energy

Possible Downsides:

  • The plan cuts out important healthy fats and animal products
  • Requires learning completely new eating habits which some people may find drastic
  • Doesn’t contain a lot of choices for those accustomed to the Western Diet
  • People may tire of eating foods with very low-fat contents

The Atkins Diet

The Atkins diet is based on the premise that eating too many carbohydrates leads to obesity, so the theory is that by drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and by adding more protein and fat to the diet, you’ll naturally start dropping pounds.

There aren’t many limitations as to the amount of food you eat, but there are heavy restrictions to the kinds of food you can eat on this diet, including refined sugar, milk, white rice or white flour.

What you can eat

  • Eggs, meat, fish (all proteins)
  • Olive oil, butter, cheese, olives
  • Lettuce, cucumber, tomato, broccoli, avocado (most vegetables)
  • Artificial sweeteners (such as Splenda)

Foods that aren’t allowed

  • Sugar and baked goods
  • Starchy vegetables, like corn and sweet peas (none in Phase 1, added back in later phases)
  • Bread, pasta, potato (none in Phase 1, added back in later phases)
  • Fruit (none in Phase 1, added back in later phases)
  • Alcohol (none in Phase 1, added back in later phases)
  • Nuts (none in Phase 1, added back in later phases)

Highlights of the Atkins Diet

  • You are allowed to eat what are normally considered rich foods such as meat, eggs and cheese
  • You don’t have to forgo butter with your cooking, adding mayo to your tuna salad or olive oil on your salads
  • Refined carbohydrates are limited or eliminated entirely

Possible Downsides:

  • Concerns over the long-term health effects of the diet
  • Diet is very restrictive and limits foods that are normally eaten such as fruits and vegetables
  • Diet theories remain unproven
  • Artificial sweeteners are allowed

Leader of the Diet Books

The Best Life Diet

Exercise physiologist Bob Greene’s “The Best Life Diet” was the front runner of the diet books rated. Greene developed this diet plan that focuses on lifestyle change, healthy eating and regular exercise. The goal of the plan is to gradually redefine your old eating and exercise habits and turn them into healthier ones that will carry throughout the rest of your lives.

The guidelines are set up according to your gender and activity level and involve calorie intakes of 1,500-2,500 a day, following a simple philosophy that states the more active you are, the more you can eat.


  • Offers you lots of helpful tips, recipes and menu ideas along with great tools and resources to keep you on track and motivated
  • Personalized to individual lifestyles, activity levels and food preferences
  • Based on a non-dieting mind-set, to discourage you from dwelling upon deprivation and instead set your sights on living a better quality life and overcoming your eating and weight struggles

Possible Downsides

  • Overweight people may seek out this diet plan as a quick fix and may get discouraged after realizing the results take a gradual process
  • People may find counting calories too difficult and tedious and give up

Eat, Drink & Weigh Less

“Eat, Drink & Weigh Less,” “You: On a Diet,” and “The Abs Diet” followed behind “The Best Life Diet.”

New York Times best-selling author Mollie Katzen wrote “Eat, Drink and Weigh Less,” a diet book that emphasizes replacing good nutrition in your diet and removing the bad foods. The book equips you with the tools you need to maintain a healthy weight for your lifetime without having to depend on the book for the rest of your life.


  • Contains 100 flavorful recipes to choose from
  • Based on scientific research and written by reputable authors who are experts in their field
  • Follows a balanced diet that doesn’t exclude anything

Possible Downsides:

  • The recipes are elaborate and some people may find them inconvenient or difficult to prepare
  • The exercise component isn’t discussed in detail
  • Food Pyramid described in book seems complicated

You: On a Diet

“You: On a Diet” is a best-selling diet book written by Dr. Mehmet Oz, the surgeon made famous by Oprah along with co-author Dr. Michael Roizen. This plan is a little different from other diet plans as unlike focusing on weight control it targets waist management and how unhealthy the fat is around your waist.

  • Contains tips and tricks on the ways to successfully keep the weight off and get on the road to improved health
  • Written by respected physicians and experts in the field
  • Stresses the importance exercise

Possible Downsides:

  • Meal options for breakfast, lunch and snacks come from a small list of options
  • Monotony in the food options
  • Allows fast-food

The Abs Diet

Editor-in-Chief of Men’s Health, David Zinczenko, wrote The Abs Diet, a diet that promises to give you a flat stomach. The diet follows a three-meals-a-day eating plan plus a small snack two hours prior to each meal, so there is a built-in component of staying full. The diet stresses the value of exercise and includes an exercise regime of exercising 30 minutes three times a week and increasing that amount over time with weight-training and cardiovascular activities.


  • The Web site contains interactive software and graphic illustrations of recommended exercises
  • Offers a variety of food choices
  • Encourages the positive effects of exercise

Possible Downsides:

  • Only one chapter is dedicated to the “how-to’s” to getting toned abs
  • The diet may hold a greater appeal to men over women
  • Weight-loss claims may be unrealistic and exaggerated

Regardless of what diet plan or book you decide to try, the bottom line is that every diet may not be suited to your personal needs. Below are some everyday weight-loss and healthy lifestyle tips that apply to every individual and lifestyle -- tips that you can incorporate into your life starting today.

16 Top Diet Tips

  • Stay hydrated without exposing yourself to BPA toxins plus save thousands of dollars by replacing bottled water with healthy water from your kitchen tap with the Wellness Kitchen Water Filter, plus carry and filter water at work or at the club with Wellness H2.O on the go to get your recommended 8 large glasses of healthy water a day or more and cut out all high-sugar drinks like soda.
  • Change your mindset to thinking about the healthy foods you can add to your diet, not take away by getting the book “Alive in 5” delicious quick recipes -- Healthy fast food that tastes good and is also good for you.
  • Ask yourself if you’re really hungry and look for physical signs of hunger
  • Choose your nighttime snacks very carefully to avoid mindless eating (another consideration for Alive in 5 delicious ideas for healthy fast foods to keep around your house and office).
  • Take pleasure in eating your favorite foods in moderation. Rule of thumb is to eat no more than an entire meal being no more than the size of your closed fist. Also replace prior unhealthy foods with new favorite healthy foods (i.e. Alive in 5 delicious fast foods in five minutes or less).
  • Enjoy an occasional treat outside of the home and keep fresh fruit as snacks inside the house
  • Plan several mini-meals to eat throughout the day to help control your appetite i.e. Alive in 5 delicious quick recipes.
  • Include a healthy protein like yogurt, cheese, nuts or beans with every meal to preserve muscle mass and satisfy hunger
  • Kick your sugar craving to the curb by taking Gymnema Sylvestre insulin, an ancient Indian herbal supplement designed to lower blood sugar levels and improve your body’s ability to metabolize and respond to
  • Add spices to your foods to stimulate your taste buds and induce satisfaction
  • Stock your cupboards with easy, healthy foods such as fat-free microwave popcorn, whole grain wraps and pre-cooked chicken breasts to be able to make a quick and healthy meal
  • When eating out, order from the children’s menu to help with portion control or ask to have half of your meal boxed up before it arrives at the table
  • Pick up foods that are in season at your local farmer’s market
  • Trade in your pasta for vegetables, or at least switch to whole-grain pasta
  • Rely on non-food activities to cope with stress such as reading a good novel or listening to music
  • Stay physically fit with regular exercise

What Else are Many Diet Programs Lacking?

Because your body and mind are so closely linked, a weight loss program that only focuses on your physical being will miss out on the incredibly important mental and emotional aspects of health.

This is why you will also want to include a form of physical activity that addresses your mind-body connection, and we are extremely excited to introduce for you a one-of-a-kind fitness program called SheaNetics, which is an ideal addition to your weight loss journey.

SheaNetics, founded by fitness expert Shea Vaughn, blends ancient and contemporary movements with eastern philosophy, creating a stylized approach to fitness designed to improve the quality of today’s western living.

Shea spent years researching and teaching in the commercial fitness industry and has a first-hand understanding of the physical, mental and emotional benefits of living a life of exercise.

The SheaNetics program incorporates the philosophy that “fitness is both a state of the body and mind.” This fitness program is unlike any other in that it also offers a source of strength and inspiration to support you on your journey to health and well-being.

We encourage you to check out Shea’s new 6-Disc DVD/CD workout set to get started on your pathway to well-being!

This groundbreaking DVD collection contains:

  • 3 core-building, mind-boosting, complete body-charging workouts!
  • As a FREE GIFT you will also receive 3 empowering, “original music” CDs specially composed to power up your journey!
  • You also receive the SheaNetics Booklet with The Five Living Principles -- a life-changing guide to finding Your Pathway to Well-Being!

Find Out More and Order SheaNetics at Your Pathway to Well-Being Now!

We think you will find it to be the perfect compliment to your healthy eating program … and a source of continued inspiration and strength in your daily life.

Recommended Reading

Does Alternate Day Dieting Really Work?

Aging and Weight Gain: How NOT to Get Fatter as You Get Older


WebMD: 15 Best Diet Tips Ever

WebMD: Weight Watchers

WebMD: Jenny Craig

WebMD: Slim Fast

WebMD: The Zone Diet

WebMD: The Ornish Diet

WebMD: The Best Life Diet

WebMD: You: On a Diet Eat, Drink and Weigh Less You on a Diet The Abs Diet

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