With all the disappointment over prescription weight loss drugs, the search has been on for the best diet plan. You know, the one that gets you to your goal weight (and keeps you there) while still letting you eat whatever you want.
Okay, that's pure fantasy, but some plans work better than others, according to a new diet plan ranking released today by Consumer Reports.
Jenny Craig came out of top -- primarily because a two-year study published last October in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 92 percent of participants were able to stick with a Jenny Craig program for two years while maintaining an average weight loss of more than 8 percent of their initial body weight.
Participants in the Jenny Craig study, however, got all their pre-packaged meals and counseling sessions for free, while in the real world, users have to shell out about $264 for two weeks worth of food, plus $65 for shipping, according to Consumer Reports. Annual membership to get weight loss support through meetings, weigh-ins, and private consultations costs an additional $399 to $499 -- costs that could deter folks from sticking with this plan over the long haul.
Thus, I'm not really sure why Jenny Craig edged out other plans that offered pre-packaged foods like Slimfast, Weight Watchers, and the Zone. (Full disclosure: I previously wrote diet books for all three plans.)
After Jenny Craig, Consumer Reports ranked from best to least: Slimfast (shakes and bars), Weight Watchers (moderate carbohydrate, fat, and protein), the Zone (high-protein, moderate carbohydrate), Ornish (high carbohydrate, low-fat), and Atkins (high-protein and fat). It based its rankings on nutrient content, weight loss -- both short- and long-term -- and dropout rates, with data collected from published studies.
I asked Joan Salge Blake, a registered dietitian at Boston University, what she thought of the Consumer Reports rankings.
She told me she wishes the rankings included an estimate of the cost of the diet for every pound lost. For instance, do you spend more to lose 10 pounds on Weight Watchers than on Ornish? "Folks are investing in the program and the food," she says, "but what are they getting for that investment?"
Blake also takes issue with the statement by Consumer Reports that questions whether saturated fat -- the kind thought to raise levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol -- is really all that heart damaging. The Atkins diet plan allows 18 percent of calories to come from saturated fat, far more than the government's dietary guidelines, which recommend limiting intake to just 10 percent of total calories.
"Based on the scientific evidence," she says, "I think itís well established that saturated fat should be limited in diet."
Others, like best-selling science writer Gary Taubes, disagree, as I recently posted on this debate about why we get fat.
All in all, Blake says, packaged meal plans can be a great way for dieters to learn portion control. "Eventually they'll get a feel for what a Jenny Craig meal looks like, so when they go off of them, they can mimic the portion sizes using foods prepared at home."
And despite the fact that Consumer Reports is in the business of ranking products, the authors of the new diet rankings point out that "past reader surveys have found that the overwhelming majority of people who succeed at weight loss do it on their own."
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