“How can I lose weight?” Over time, millions of Americans have asked themselves that question. In fact, a 2020 survey carried out by market research company Ipsos found that over 50 percent of Americans are trying to lose weight, most of them by eating more healthily or limiting their food intake. And a previous study, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in November 2020, suggested that the most common eating plan followed by participants was a weight loss or low-calorie diet, followed by a diet for diabetes management, a low-carb diet, and a low-fat or low-cholesterol diet.
But even among these few approaches, there are an overwhelming number of different programs available, and finding the right one can prove challenging. After all, there’s no one-size-fits-all plan that’s perfect for everyone.
Heart Health in the Time of COVID-19
How to Pick the Best Diet Plan for You
Before choosing a health or weight loss approach, it’s important to do some self-evaluation by asking yourself some questions.
What Can You Live With in the Long Term?
“There are many diet plans on the market today that promote good health,” says Emily Kyle, RDN, who is in private practice in Rochester, New York. “The key is finding one that does not cause you stress or agony.” Ask yourself questions such as: Would the diet guidelines make you happy? Anxious? Stressed? Are you able to follow them long term? “Factors such as enjoyment, flexibility, and longevity should be strongly considered,” adds Kyle.
If the diet is a quick fix rather than one that promotes lasting lifestyle changes, this could pose a problem. In particular, extreme diets that promise big weight loss up front aren’t always sustainable — and you may end up overeating or even binge eating if you feel deprived. “Consider if the diet’s habits are ones you can continue throughout your lifetime, not just 21 or 30 days,” says Angie Asche, RDN, a sports dietitian in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Which Diet Program Is Best for Your Overall Health?
Some diet plans, such as the MIND diet and the DASH diet, are meant to focus on certain areas of health, and weight loss may be a side effect. Others are created with weight loss as a primary goal. “It is important to remember that we are all very unique individuals,” says Kyle. “We all have different states of health and different lifestyles, which could affect what diet plan is best for us. That means that you should not be considering what is working for your friends or family members and instead should pay attention to what works for you individually.”
Many diet plans cut out entire food groups, which can create nutrient deficiencies as well as health problems. For instance, if the diet is very low in carbohydrates and you are on medication for type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, it’s probably not a good fit. And if it’s too restrictive and you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s not a good idea, either. Keep in mind that pregnancy is not a time for weight loss. Speak with your doctor before making any changes to your diet if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
Is the Diet Approach Safe for You to Follow?
Make sure that the diet has been studied extensively for safety — and discuss any changes with your physician or registered dietitian before beginning a new diet. (If you don’t have a dietitian, find one in your area at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website.) And do a self-check to ensure the diet fits with your own values and preferences.
“Don't like eating meat?” asks Ginger Hultin, RDN, a dietitian in private practice in Seattle and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Then don't be paleo! Travel a lot and rely on eating out? The DASH diet may end in frustration for you.” The bottom line: The diet you choose needs to be safe and effective, while taking into account your lifestyle.
To lessen the confusion and get on the fast track to success, we got the skinny on some of the most popular diets out there today. So read on to see which plan might be best for you — and which diets to run away from at full speed!
Popular Diet Plans Backed by Some Scientific Evidence
Ketogenic Diet (Keto)
This high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carb fad diet sends the body into a state of ketosis, in which the body uses stored fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. Past research suggests the ketogenic, or “keto,” diet can be an effective weight loss method, but to be successful, you must follow the plan consistently with no cheat days — otherwise, you’re just eating a high-fat diet that may be high in unhealthy fats for no reason.
Although the keto diet is popular among people with type 2 diabetes, you should avoid this diet if you have type 1 diabetes or other specific metabolic disorders.
No matter what your current state of health, you should speak with your physician before beginning the ketogenic diet, advises the Cleveland Clinic.
One of this diet's biggest hurdles? Saying goodbye to bread and other carbs. “It can be challenging to make sure to hit the low levels recommended for carbohydrates,” says Hultin. “This diet likely means a lot of planning ahead and bringing food with you to parties and events.”
You'll also want to be prepared for some of the plan's notable side effects, like keto-related diarrhea and constipation, fatigue, mood swings, headaches, and bad breath. These symptoms are a common part of the so-called keto flu, which happens as your body adjusts to burning fat rather than carbs for fuel, experts say.
“A lot of people think the foundation of a paleo diet is high-fat meat, but I suggest that it’s vegetables,” says Hultin. The concept is to eat only foods — including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, fruits, and vegetables — that would have been available to our Paleolithic ancestors. This means grains, dairy, legumes, added sugar, and salt are all no-no’s.
With this eating style, you’re looking at a lot of menu planning and preparation. One past review suggests the diet could lead to weight loss, but the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics warns the plan could leave you low on carbs, plus it doesn’t allow for nutrient-dense foods like whole grains, legumes, and dairy. You’re also at risk of missing vitamins and minerals like calcium, vitamin D, and B vitamins, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
This low-carb, high-protein diet has been around for decades. In fact, some say the keto diet is the new Atkins, though these popular low-carb plans are markedly different.
According to the Atkins website, the plan works in phases, with a very low daily net carb allowance of about 20, 40, or 100 grams (g) in the first phase, meaning the diet may send you into ketosis. How many net carbs you need to stay under depends on the plan you opt for. (You can calculate net carbs by subtracting fiber and sugar alcohols from total carbs. This value, though an unofficial nutritional term, can give you an estimate of how much a food might affect blood sugar levels.) Unlike the keto diet, you’re allowed more carbs as the phases continue.
Because the diet is low in carbs, it may not be appropriate for someone who is on insulin or has diabetes — and because it’s high in protein, you’d want to avoid it if you have kidney disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“This is a great way of eating that I highly recommend to many clients, and I even model in my own life,” says Elizabeth Shaw, RDN, who is in private practice in San Diego and is the co-author of Fertility Foods Cookbook. “Since the premise of the diet is designed to help people who have high blood pressure, low-sodium foods are recommended. But considering that most Americans exceed their daily sodium levels anyway, it’s not surprising that dietitians recommend this style of eating for treating many different conditions, such as heart disease and obesity.”
In one past study, people following the DASH diet saw an improvement in blood pressure compared to a control group who did not follow the DASH diet.
U.S. News & World Report has also consistently listed the DASH diet as a top diet in its annual rankings.
The MIND diet, or Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, is a sort of hybrid between the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet. It features foods meant to slow the progression or development of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia and an incurable neurodegenerative condition that more than 6.5 million Americans are living with, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Some research backs up this notion, including one past study that found a link between following the MIND diet and a reduced risk of the disease.
Because the MIND diet focuses on cutting unhealthy fats and emphasizes eating whole, fresh foods, people who follow this eating pattern may lose weight while doing so.
Many diets, including Atkins and the keto diet, fit into this umbrella. A typical low-carb diet limits carbs to less than 57 g daily, but this can vary, according to the Mayo Clinic. A past review observed that people following low-carb diets saw modest weight loss — although study authors note that long-term effects of the diet require further research.
Following this type of eating plan can result in certain nutritional deficiencies, and children, as well as pregnant or lactating women, should avoid it. “The low-carb diet is best for individuals who truly enjoy savory diets that involve more animal-based products and less sweet, refined carbohydrates,” notes Kyle.
South Beach Diet
Created in 2003 by the cardiologist Arthur Agatston, this low-carb diet features three phases. The first phase is the most restrictive, limiting carbs such as potatoes and rice. Each subsequent phase becomes more lenient, and the diet emphasizes lean protein, unsaturated fats, and low-glycemic carbs such as nonstarchy vegetables. South Beach promotes lasting lifestyle changes, according to the Mayo Clinic.
In a past study, people with metabolic syndrome who followed the first two phases of the diet noticed significant weight loss — but also experienced some shifts in satiety and hunger hormones, possibly leading to higher levels of hunger during the diet.
Like other low-carb diets, the South Beach Diet isn’t appropriate for pregnant or lactating women, or children.
There are many ways to do intermittent fasting — ranging from fasting for a number of hours each day up to an entire 24-hour fasting period one or two times a week. “If you're trying to kick a habit like eating late into the night, then stopping eating earlier in the evening and fasting overnight could be beneficial for you,” says Hultin. “There are many types of intermittent fasting, so ensuring you pick one that works for you and your lifestyle is important.”
The idea is that fasting induces mild stress on the cells in your body, helping them become better at coping with such stress and possibly helping your body grow stronger. The verdict is still out regarding the diet’s long-term effectiveness with weight loss, according to a review of preliminary animal research (PDF).
But data suggest the approach still presents potential problems, as its restrictive nature may lead to overeating or binge eating, suggests a past article (PDF).
“Intermittent fasting can be really challenging if you have an ever-changing schedule,” adds Hultin. “If you're traveling and crossing time zones, it could be very difficult to follow. It might be best for people with more stability in their lives.” Intermittent fasting isn’t safe for people with type 2 diabetes, children, pregnant or lactating women, or anyone with a history of disordered eating.
Dubrow Diet (16:8 Diet)
If you want to kick intermittent fasting up a notch, you may consider the Dubrow diet, popularized by the husband-and-wife duo Terry and Heather Dubrow. On this diet, you'll fast for 16 hours and eat for eight, also called the 16:8 eating plan, a type of intermittent fasting. Over three phases, you will also limit calories, fat, and carbohydrates, which may aid weight loss, say registered dietitians.
A plus of this eating plan is that it takes a whole-foods approach, and calls for avoiding processed and packaged foods, along with sources of refined carbs and desserts in general. One minus is that the plan limits healthy complex carbs.
WW (Formerly Weight Watchers)
In September 2018 Weight Watchers International announced that it would be changing its name to WW, in what many outlets dubbed a rebranding effort. Their goal: to make the eating and lifestyle approach about wellness rather than only weight loss.
With Oprah as one of its most notable proponents, this eating plan has been around for years. Jean Nidetch founded the organization in the early 1960s, according to the WW website. It’s gone through many iterations, its most recent version being WW PersonalPoints. On this plan, you’ll take a personal assessment, which takes several lifestyle factors into account in order to give you a holistic, all-over approach to weight loss and your PersonalPoints.
Evidence suggests that WW’s plans promote long-lasting, sustainable changes, and undoubtedly a bounty of research backs this up. In fact, one past study showed that people following then-Weight Watchers were close to nine times more likely to lose 10 percent of their body weight, compared to people following a self-help diet plan.
WW might also be a good option for you if you like the idea of community support. Connect is a members-only social community for people following a WW approach, and many people find that this support is key to their success. In fact, past research suggests that participants in an online weight loss plan who were highly involved with the online community aspect of the program lost more weight over six months than participants who did not engage in this type of social networking. (While the exact online weight loss plan was not specified, the community aspect is very similar to WW’s approach.)
Vegan and Vegetarian Diets
“A vegan or vegetarian diet is best for individuals who do not like to consume animal products, whether for health reasons, environmental reasons, or animal welfare reasons,” says Kyle. “There are many health benefits of consuming more plant-based foods, such as a reduction in chronic disease.”
There’s a large spectrum of where people can fall on a vegetarian diet: For example, vegans consume no animal products, whereas ovo-lacto vegetarians eat both dairy and eggs. The eating style may help with weight loss, suggests a past review in Nutrients, but some vegans and vegetarians may become deficient in specific nutrients, such as calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12, according to a past article in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases.
Raw Vegan Diet
The raw vegan diet is a more extreme version of the traditional vegan diet. In addition to eating no animal products (that means no cheese or dairy too), raw vegans do not eat any foods cooked above 118 degrees F, the idea being that nutrients may be lost during the normal cooking process, per a past article. While this diet can be difficult to stick with because it's so restrictive, it does offer the same health benefits of a vegan diet.
Pescatarians are vegetarians or vegans who also eat fish. Prioritizing fish as your main protein can provide a bounty of health benefits, such as a lower risk of stroke and heart disease, per a May 2018 advisory published in Circulation.
You can think of think of the flexitarian diet as a plan for part-time vegetarians. With this approach, plant proteins, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fruits and veggies will be staples, with the occasional meat dish thrown in.
Because the diet isn’t as restrictive as a traditional vegan or vegetarian diet, it may be simpler to stick with — hence its No. 2 ranking in U.S. News & World Report’s Easiest Diets to Follow category. Because you’ll be eating meat some of the time, you may also be at a lower risk of the aforementioned nutrient deficiencies that vegetarians and vegans may face.
While there isn’t a wealth of research on this eating approach, U.S. News points out that, because of the focus on plants, those who follow the Flexitarian Diet tend to weigh less than meat eaters, and have a lower risk of certain conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.
“Diets such as the Mediterranean diet are sustainable, have been shown to improve health, and aren’t restrictive or short term,” says Asche.
The Mediterranean diet is meant to reflect the eating pattern of people living in the Mediterranean. So think plenty of vegetables, fruits, olive oil, fish, nuts, beans, legumes — and only a moderate amount of red wine and dairy.
The diet can be helpful for weight loss, as well as decreasing risk of developing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, according to past research and the Mayo Clinic. It has been consistently ranked as a top diet in the U.S. News annual rankings.
This popular diet program is fairly restrictive — and for the first 30 days, dieters must cut out grains, legumes, most dairy, added sugar, and alcohol without any slip-ups, according to the Whole30 website. The aim is to “reset” your body and to adopt dietary habits resulting in weight loss. Cutting out added sugar and alcohol has merit, but all the restrictions prove challenging and could lead to nutrient deficiencies and disordered eating.
“The Whole30 diet does not allow for any whole grains or legumes, which are extremely beneficial to your health,” says Asche. “Whole grains are rich in fiber and micronutrients and are linked to helping to lower your risk of heart disease. The fact that the diet eliminates nutritious foods is a big red flag for me.”
Mayo Clinic Diet
This diet is a scientifically sound way to lose weight and lead a healthier lifestyle.
The Mayo Clinic created a healthy food pyramid to go along with the diet to help participants learn which foods to eat more of and which ones to limit, per its website. The pyramid emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, plus healthy fats in smaller amounts.
In the initial two-week “Lose It” phase, participants can drop 6 to 10 pounds. In fact, in the diet’s pilot program, 53 obese Mayo Clinic employees lost an average of 8 pounds during the initial phase.
Though not always followed for weight loss per se, an anti-inflammatory diet is rich in whole foods (including fresh fruits and veggies), and low in packaged, processed ones (like french fries and pastries), so there is a chance you will still shed pounds with this approach. But usually, folks follow this diet to help prevent or treat chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. And that’s smart, considering there’s a bounty of research to support this notion, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Adopting this diet is relatively simple. It isn’t focused on counting calories or carbs, or following any sort of specific protocol. Instead of constantly thinking about the quantity of food you are eating, an anti-inflammatory is all about prioritizing the quality of what is on your plate.
Designed for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the low-FODMAP diet limits certain types of carbohydrates called fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, or FODMAPs for short. These are essentially short-chain carbs that the gut has a hard time absorbing, thereby stimulating IBS symptoms, according to Monash University, which developed the low-FODMAP diet and conducted the research.
Unlike commercial diet plans, intuitive eating doesn't require you to buy packaged food from a specific brand. And unlike fad diets, it doesn't ask you to count macronutrients or calories. Instead, this approach asks you to eat what you want but check in regularly with your body, so you know when you're full and need to stop eating. It sounds simple, but it can be a sustainable way to approach healthy eating, for weight loss or otherwise, say Evelyn Tribole, RDN, a private practitioner in Newport Beach, California, and Elyse Resch, RDN, who coined the term "intuitive eating" in 1995. Tribole and Resch coauthored the groundbreaking book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works and their more recent book, The Intuitive Eating Workbook: Ten Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship With Food.
Similar to intuitive eating, the satiating diet isn't strict — the main thing it calls for is eating whole foods, like apples, oatmeal, peppers, and salad. The idea is these fiber-, protein, and fat-rich foods promote a feeling of fullness, so you're less likely to overeat. There's legit science behind prioritizing these foods over packaged ones. For instance, a past randomized controlled trial, obese men assigned to follow the satiating diet instead of a higher-carb diet lost more fat and weight, and had more success sticking to the eating plan.
The veteran nutrition researcher Barbara J. Rolls, PhD, created Volumetrics, an eating approach that closely resembles the satiating diet. Rolls, who is currently the director of the Laboratory of Human Ingestive Behavior at Penn State University in University Park, Pennsylvania, argues that prioritizing whole, energy-dense foods including beans, whole grains, lean meats, and fresh fruits and veggies, can help with weight management. There's research to back up this notion. For instance, a past review suggested that considering foods' energy density could aid in weight management.
If you don’t want to commit to counting calories, monitoring macronutrients, or meal planning, the Nutrisystem diet may be a good option for you. While on this eating plan, you’ll sign up to receive premade, low-calorie meals delivered to your home, as outlined on their website. Each meal has a fixed amount of calories based on your age, your sex, and any dietary requirements you may have. Generally speaking, the macronutrient composition of your meals will be high carb, and moderate protein and fat.
But the key factor for weight loss on this diet is your calorie deficit: Nutrisystem meals are designed to provide you with 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day, allowing you to lose weight while staying nourished.
There are a couple of things to be aware of before you commit, though: The cost of Nutrisystem meals for one person per month works out at about $300 minimum, and you’ll want to supplement them with fresh fruits and veggies, nutrient-rich carbohydrates, and what the plan calls “extras” or “free foods” (such as condiments or add-ons) to make your plate more palatable.
Also, the bulk of your diet will consist of prepackaged foods, which may not appeal to you if you usually prepare and enjoy fresh foods.
Jenny Craig Diet
The Jenny Craig diet is a weight loss program that combines regular food delivery with one-on-one support from a coach to help you lose weight. Each day, you’ll have three Jenny Craig meals, two Jenny Craig snacks, and one snack of your choice. Then once a week, you’ll meet with your coach, who will answer your questions and provide support and motivation. The Jenny Craig diet also incorporates some elements of intermittent fasting — you’ll eat during a 12-hour window, and fast for the remaining 12 hours of the day. Thanks to the combination of intermittent fasting and low-calorie meals, you are likely to lose some weight while following the Jenny Craig eating plan.
That being said, this is another diet that relies heavily on prepackaged foods, which will cost you an average of $200 per person, per week, per the Jenny Craig website. (For reference, the USDA estimates that a nutritious, moderate-cost diet should cost between $71 and $85 per week for most adults.)
And that’s before you supplement your meals with fresh fruits and vegetables, which are not covered by this plan. Moreover, while you have access to a personal coach, they are not necessarily trained or accredited professionals (such as registered dietitians). That’s fine if you’re mainly seeking support and motivation while following this diet, but it’s important to keep in mind that they may not be qualified to offer in-depth health or nutrition information. Overall, though, this diet may suit you if you like the idea of being coached through your weight loss journey, and like the thought of having your meals premade and delivered to you.
As the name implies, the SlimFast diet claims you can lose weight — fast — by limiting your food intake to SlimFast-brand shakes for breakfast and lunch, a low-calorie meal (less than 500 calories) of your choice for dinner, and three 100-calorie snacks per day. While that may sound complicated, the weight loss mechanics of this diet are not: Per the SlimFast website, you’ll limit your daily caloric intake to 1,200 calories for women or 1,600 calories for men, which will put you on track to lose a moderate amount of weight initially. Over time, your rate of weight loss will likely slow as your body adjusts to your new routine, and once you’ve hit your goal weight, you can replace one of your daily shakes with a second “sensible” meal of your choice.
The SlimFast diet is also offered in a number of different categories depending on your dietary needs, including SlimFast Keto and Slimfast Diabetic Weight Loss.
While you are likely to lose weight while following the SlimFast diet, the plan’s reliance upon SlimFast shakes may be unappealing or repetitive if packaged drinks like these don’t appeal to you. Plus, the shakes and SlimFast snacks are highly processed — which means you’ll need to balance your diet with healthy whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, to lose weight healthfully on this plan.
This diet focuses on the traditional diet of people who live in Nordic countries — e.g., Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Overall, this eating pattern is whole food–focused, plant-based, and features lots of seafood; it also emphasizes the sustainability of one’s food choices.
The foods included in the Nordic diet are healthy and have been linked to positive health benefits. One systematic review and meta-analysis found that following a Nordic diet is associated with “small, important” reductions in the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. That may be in part because the diet can help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. In addition, another review and meta-analysis found that eating a Nordic diet may help with weight loss. The diet requires you to make a lot of your food at home and forgo processed foods, both drastic changes that can be a barrier for some people.
Blue Zones Diet
Blue zones are five locations around the world where inhabitants are 10 times more likely than the average American to live to age 100. They are Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. The traditional diets enjoyed in these places are a major factor in their effect on longevity. Research shows that their emphasis on plant-based eating and stopping when 80 percent full are two dietary factors that help them eat moderate amounts of nutritious foods. (A decrease in stress and a strong sense of community are other driving factors.)
Research has shown that eating more plant-based foods is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and death from any cause in middle-aged adults. This is a plan that’s focused on eating more nutritious foods, rather than overt weight loss. Depending on what your diet was before, you may lose weight on the plan, particularly if it helps decrease calorie intake.
Whole Foods Diet
Nope, this isn’t a reference to eating all of your food from the grocery chain Whole Foods. Rather, the diet is a call to prioritize whole foods in their least processed form (like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean meats, nuts, and seeds) and avoid ultra-processed ones.
This eating plan is more of a guideline than a diet with set rules. There is no formal definition of a whole foods diet and less data surrounding what it looks like, so it’s open to interpretation for each person doing it — which can be a major plus, as it’s relatively easy to follow. Research shows that consuming ultra-processed foods contributes to excessive calorie intake that causes weight gain. And one randomized controlled trial found that a whole food, plant-based diet lowered body mass index and cholesterol levels in participants (who all were overweight or obese) compared with a control group.
That said, not all processed foods are created equal, per Harvard Health Publishing. Lightly processed foods, such as frozen fruit and canned beans, can also be nutritious and convenient and help you stick to a healthier diet. On the whole foods diet, it’s more important to steer clear of ultra-processed foods like frozen dinners, cakes, cookies, sugary drinks, potato chips, and processed meats.
Those who have a history of disordered eating may want to avoid this plan, as it’s possible to dangerously fixate on clean eating.
Elimination or Exclusion Diet
This is not a weight loss diet, so going on an elimination or exclusion diet should come with no weight-related expectations. Instead, this category of diet helps you identify foods that may be causing food allergies, according to Food Allergy Research and Education.
It’s a two-phase eating plan. In phase one, you’ll stop eating certain foods or food groups for a specific amount of time; in phase two, you’ll slowly reintroduce them into your diet one by one and watch for symptoms to reappear. If you experience symptoms during reintroduction, you have an idea of what types (or portion sizes) of foods trigger your symptoms. Some common foods that may be eliminated include dairy products, wheat, eggs, soy, nuts and seeds, and fish.
Popular elimination or exclusion diets include the low-FODMAP diet, gluten-free diet, lactose-free diet, and more. Doing an elimination diet can be a challenge, and it’s important to connect with a knowledgeable registered dietitian who can help guide you through it.
HMR stands for “Health Management Resources,” and it’s a diet that’s been around for more than three decades.
Ranked as the No. 2 best fast weight loss diet by U.S. News & World Report (but No. 27 in Best Diets Overall), the HMR diet is a low-calorie diet that relies on food replacements via portion-controlled shakes and entrées from HMR, plus fruits and vegetables.
The purpose of the diet is to bring about fast weight loss. After you have lost the weight, you enter the maintenance phase, which helps you slowly move away from meal replacements to cooking and purchasing your own food and meals. There is limited research behind the efficacy of the HMR diet, and you have to take into account the cost of the meal replacements, as well as supplemental fruits and vegetables.
If you have a preexisting medical condition, talk to your doctor before starting a low-calorie diet like the HMR diet.
There isn’t an official “Asian diet,” but this eating plan is based on the traditional diets of people living in Asian countries. Overall, this diet focuses on plant-based foods and minimizes dairy and red meat. Specifically, it emphasizes rice, noodles, fruits, vegetables, legumes, soy, nuts, seeds, and tea. You can also consume alcohol occasionally. Making these overarching changes to your diet can help improve your health.
There isn’t a wealth of data available on Asian-style diets, but there is evidence that people in these regions enjoy benefits due to some of the elements of their diets, such as a focus on fish in Japan, research suggests.
The Ornish diet is an eating plan that focuses on sustainable, long-term lifestyle changes. On this plan, you’ll prioritize plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and low-fat or nonfat dairy products, per the program’s website. It’s a low-fat diet, meaning fat should make just up 10 percent of your daily calorie consumption; you’ll avoid saturated fats in favor of healthy fats like those found in fatty fish, nuts, and seeds. You’re also encouraged to implement healthy lifestyle changes, like managing stress with meditation or yoga and adding a half-hour of daily exercise to your routine.
U.S. News & World Report consistently lists the Ornish diet among the healthiest eating plans for heart health, and it notes its potential for weight loss, thanks to its focus on whole and plant-based foods.
Diet Fads to Think Twice About Before Trying
This diet claims you can lose up to 10 pounds in one week, a loss that can be dangerously fast.
The fad military diet consists of low-calorie, odd food pairings such as bun-less hot dogs with banana, carrots, and broccoli, per the Military Diet website. But dietitians are skeptical. “Any diet like the military diet that severely limits the amount of calories you consume or eliminates one or more entire food groups puts any individual at risk for nutrient deficiencies,” says Kyle. “This can be more harmful than holding onto those 10 extra pounds you’re trying to lose.”
Although potentially less harmful than some of the other fad diets out there, this type of eating plan may promote binge eating or other forms of disordered eating patterns.
Apple Cider Vinegar Diet
Proponents of this increasingly popular diet approach believe that consuming apple cider vinegar — essentially fermented apple cider — will help with both weight loss and blood sugar control.
“Although there are studies showing benefits of adding apple cider vinegar to your diet, there’s not enough evidence to show that consuming it on a daily basis promotes weight loss,” says Asche. “It is also highly acidic, which could cause irritation in some people, especially if consumed without being diluted or in large amounts.”
Take note that while apple cider vinegar has many possible uses, it also poses side effects, such as tooth erosion. It's also no replacement for blood pressure or diabetes medications — or for any traditional treatment, for that matter, notes the University of Chicago.
Cabbage Soup Diet
This diet has no research to support its benefits, and revolves around eating plain cabbage soup three times daily, plus other foods on certain days of the diet. For instance, on the first day you can eat fruit except for bananas, and on the second day you can have nonstarchy vegetables but no fruit. The claim? You’ll lose 10 pounds in just seven days, proponents say.
While it’s true you might be successful in losing weight, it likely won’t last. Once you return to your normal eating habits, you’ll likely put the weight back on — and then some.
French doctor Pierre Dukan, MD, conceived this high-protein diet, whose proponents boast that it can lead you to lose 10 pounds within the first week of the plan.
The Dukan diet consists of four phases, each with a rigid set of rules. The first phase, the “Attack Phase,” for instance, allows you to eat nothing but protein sources such as beef, chicken, eggs, and liver.
Once you reach the last phase, you’re supposed to eat three tablespoons of oat bran daily and consume pure protein one day a week, the Dukan diet website notes.
The diet may present nutritional deficiencies — and it should be avoided by anyone with kidney problems because it is high in protein.
Human chorionic gonadotropin, or HCG, is a hormone produced during pregnancy by the placenta after implantation, and doctors sometimes prescribe it for fertility issues. But this hormone has also gained popularity as a weight loss supplement — and using it as such can be dangerous. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns against purchasing over-the-counter HCG, as these supplement products are illegal.
Consequently, researchers have widely discredited the HCG diet, which involves using HCG injections, pellets, sprays, or drops, and consuming as few as 500 calories daily. The diet is problematic not only because there’s a lack of research on HCG supplements, but also because the calorie requirement is dangerously low, potentially leading to nutrient deficiencies, fatigue, hormone imbalances, blood clots, and other issues. Thus, most experts agree the HCG diet is not safe for anyone, the Mayo Clinic notes.
Cleanses and Detoxes
Ranging from just-juice to just-tea cleanses, these typically short-term plans can be dangerous. “Detoxes and cleanses are usually low in calories, protein, and fiber, all nutrients that our bodies need to function,” says Alissa Rumsey, RDN, who is in private practice in New York City. “These plans leave you feeling hungry and cranky, causing a rebound food binge once you stop the detox.”
Plus, a healthy body does a fantastic job of detoxing itself. Bottom line? Eat a healthy diet that provides enough energy (aka calories) for you to get through the day.
The idea of this diet is to help control the pH of the body through the foods you eat — encouraging dieters to cut back on acid-forming foods such as red meat and wheat-containing products, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Although eating more fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods promotes good health, the human body does a good job of regulating its pH on its own. Eating alkaline foods cannot sway that.
“The alkaline diet often has a focus on eating lots of fresh produce and unprocessed foods, which could be a good thing,” says Hultin. “However, keep in mind that this is not an evidence-based therapeutic diet. When people take it too far — for instance, drinking baking soda — or become too restrictive or obsessive over food choices, it can definitely turn negative.”
The diet may be low in certain nutrients, including calcium and potassium, and it is not appropriate for anyone who has kidney disease or a heart condition.
Blood Type Diet
It’s no surprise that this diet, also called the Eat Right 4 Your Type diet, focuses on an eating style based on your blood type.
For instance, if you’re type O, you’d eat high-protein diet focusing on poultry, fish, and other lean meats. The diet claims better digestion and absorption of foods, although there’s no scientific evidence to back this up.
Type B? You’re supposed to cut out corn, buckwheat, wheat, lentils, tomatoes, peanuts, and sesame seeds.
The diet doesn’t take chronic health conditions into consideration — and you might develop nutritional deficiencies based on its restrictive nature.
One benefit: “The blood type diet gets people to dump processed junky food,” says Robin Foroutan, RDN, an integrative dietitian in New York City and a spokesperson for the AND.
The CICO diet — short for “calories in, calories out” — has made waves on social media for its straightforward model: Take in fewer calories than you burn, and you’ll lose weight. While past research shows that’s true, there’s a lack of research on this specific diet. And because it doesn’t specify which foods you should be eating and avoiding, it may lead to nutrition deficiencies, experts warn.
Be sure to consult your doctor before trying the CICO diet.
Body Reset Diet
Similar to the CICO diet, Body Reset has gained popularity via social media, and there isn’t any definitive research that suggests the approach is safe and effective. Celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak created the plan, which is essentially a three-phase liquid diet comprised of smoothies and moderate exercise. While U.S. News notes that you may lose weight on this diet, it may be tough to stick with and isn’t safe for people with diabetes or heart disease.
If you like eating meat and want to lose weight, you might be tempted to try this recent extreme diet fad that proponents have made some pretty outrageous claims about. One: that eating nothing but meat can cure you of autoimmune diseases. The problem is that there’s no good research to support that notion, or any other health claim.
Indeed, omitting foods known to be good for you — fruits and veggies among them — can lead to a bunch of unwanted side effects, including constipation and potentially dangerous nutrient deficiencies, reports Popular Science. Still, since you’re cutting out so many food groups, there’s a decent chance you’ll lose weight, experts say.
Regardless of any possible benefits you might see, this restrictive approach is definitely one you’ll want to ask your doc about before you even consider diving in.
Boiled Egg Diet
The premise of the boiled egg diet is eating eggs every day. So, if you like eggs, this eating plan might be for you. There are many versions, according to The Boiled Egg Diet: The Easy, Fast Way to Weight Loss! by Arielle Chandler, but one of the most popular versions involves eating at least two to three boiled eggs per day.
Because you're allowed to eat foods besides boiled eggs, this diet isn't sustainable or sensible for long-term health and weight loss, registered dietitians say.
The Optavia diet, formerly called MediFast, is a commercial eating plan that comes with prepackaged meals. There are three plans designed to help with weight loss or maintenance, per the Optavia website. Proponents say that the Optimal 5&1 Plan can lead to a 12 pounds weight loss in 12 weeks, but there is no rigorous research on the Optavia diet.
Also, some registered dietitians argue that the eating approach doesn't teach people how to change their eating and lifestyle habits for the long haul.
Steven Gundry, the author of The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in “Healthy” Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain, popularized the lectin-free diet. Lectins are in nightshades (tomatoes, peppers), legumes, lentils, beans, seeds, and nuts. Dr. Gundry and his followers argue that lectins can increase inflammation, cause gastrointestinal issues, and contribute to weight gain. While the diet may benefit some people, experts agree research on this diet is limited, and eliminating these foods is not necessary for good health.
Proponents of this diet claim that it can help eliminate extra yeast and "balance" the gut. Yet there is a lack of research on the Candida diet, and there is no proof that it can treat yeast infections or thrush, which are two conditions caused by Candida overgrowth. In fact, experts say that if any of your symptoms improve as a result of following this cleanse, it is likely because of a simple improvement in your eating habits.
Body Type Diet
Body type diet advocates believe that knowing your body type can help you determine the best diet and exercise plan for optimal health and weight. There are three so-called body types: ectomorphs, or lean and lanky people; mesomorphs, or those who have a muscular, hourglass frame; and endomorphs, or people who are often described as curvy or stocky. The book Just Your Type: The Ultimate Guide to Eating and Training Right for Your Body Type suggests specific eating and fitness regimens for each type. Yet the premise of eating based on your body shape or where you carry fat lacks rigorous research, so keep this major limitation in mind if you want to try the approach, and be sure to work with your healthcare team if you choose to follow it.
The Golo diet may lead to some initial weight loss, but that’s likely because it restricts your caloric intake — and it's unclear whether that's helped by Release, the patented plant-based supplement that Golo sells on its website (starting at $59.95 for a 30- to 60-day supply).
Some preliminary evidence suggests that individual components of this supplement may have a positive effect on body fat cells and glucose levels, but there is not enough peer-reviewed, controlled research available on the Golo diet or its Release supplement to prove that they can lead to weight loss. (On its website, Golo does list four studies that indicate that this diet may lead to weight loss, but these studies were relatively weak because they didn’t include a control group, and because they were all conducted by Golo, there is high potential for bias in the study results.)
In general, be cautious of any diet that includes a magic pill.
On this membership-based program, you’ll choose your meals according to the list of approved foods, including plenty of objectively healthy fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low- or nonfat dairy products. That said, the Shibboleth eating plan was not developed by credentialed experts, and no evidence is provided for its claim that it has “cracked the code on adult and childhood obesity.” The language used, such as “the fat bus” or “your perfect weight,” may feel off-putting and body-shaming to some, while others may not agree that “without a relationship with Christ, there can be no long-term success,” as the program’s website claims.
The Mayr method attracted attention after the actor Rebel Wilson credited it with her 2020 weight loss. To follow this eating plan, you’ll need to sign up for a stay at one of the VivaMayr luxury resorts, where coaches will prescribe you a “cure” based on four pillars: medicine, nutrition, exercise, and awareness. This holistic approach to weight loss may combine treatments such as oxygen therapy, nutritional consultation, aqua cycling, and personal training, per their website, though the individual treatments will vary depending on your choice of plan, as outlined on the Viva Mayr website.
That said, this is not a feasible weight loss plan for most people, mainly because you will need to travel to a Mayr clinic to receive treatment — which can be costly and time-consuming. Moreover, while you’re likely to make progress on such an immersive retreat, it may be difficult to sustain your weight loss once the retreat has ended and you return to your normal routine. Last but not least, many of the reported therapies used on these retreats, including laxatives, are not a safe way to lose weight, some experts warn.
This eating plan became popular in 2020 after the singer Adele posted a photo of her dramatic weight loss on Instagram, and the media, including People, reported that she transformed her body on it.
But what’s the 411 on this plan? First off, it’s named for sirtuins, a family of proteins involved in a number of metabolic functions, according to a past article. Proponents of this two-phase diet claim that increasing your sirtuin intake, through polyphenol-rich foods like kale and dark chocolate, will lead to weight loss.
In the first phase, you’ll focus on limiting yourself to one meal a day, and drinking plenty of green juice (the Sirtfood-recommended juice blends several ingredients including kale, arugula, ginger, and matcha). After a few days, you’ll move up to two meals per day, along with two servings of green juice. In phase two, you’ll spend two weeks eating three Sirtfood-centric meals along with one green juice a day. Once your three weeks are up, you’re encouraged to continue eating sirtuin-rich foods and drinking green juice, but you can gradually reincorporate other approved foods into your diet as well.
While this diet may lead to some weight loss, that probably has more to do with the fact that you are restricting your calories for the first phase of the plan. But at 1,000 calories per day (and, later, 1,500 calories per day), you’re falling below USDA recommendations for daily caloric intake, and you may experience hunger, mental fog, and fatigue. And while proponents of this diet tout sirtuins as key to weight loss, there isn't sufficient research to back their claims. You can enjoy many of the purported benefits of the Sirtfood diet by simply eating with a focus on plant-based and antioxidant-rich foods.
The popular Netflix cheerleading series Cheer brought this diet front and center. As the name suggests, this cleanse-style diet involves consuming nothing but watermelon (or watermelon plus light meals) for three to seven days. Watermelon itself is nutritious; the fruit contains vitamins A and C, antioxidant lycopene, and is 92 percent water, so it’s hydrating, as Watermelon.org points out.
The watermelon diet likely works because you’re severely restricting calories, which will contribute to weight loss. That said, cleanses provide only temporary weight loss and may contribute to excessive hunger, headaches, weakness, and irritability — and they’re not necessary for your health. Plus, there is no research to suggest that this diet is effective, healthy, or safe. Overall, watermelon is a nutritious and delicious fruit to add to your diet — but you should be eating other foods too, as part of a balanced diet.
The warrior diet has been around for 20 years and is a type of intermittent fasting. The crux is that followers eat in patterns that follow how our ancestors supposedly ate. On the warrior diet, you are limited to eating during a brief period of the day; some proponents encourage fasting for up to 20 hours a day, leaving you a four-hour window to eat one main meal. In the evening, you eat your one meal without any restrictions. As for the other food you’ll eat during your window, there’s a focus on raw vegetables and fruit, small amounts of protein, and beverages (water, natural juices, coffee, and tea).
There is also an exercise element to the diet that’s important. On the warrior diet, you are encouraged to exercise during the day (focusing particularly on strength training).
While there are some benefits to intermittent fasting, with early research showing that it may be effective for blood sugar control for those who have diabetes and weight loss, there are no studies on the warrior diet itself, and experts consider it an extreme version of intermittent fasting.
Created by Mary Claire Haver, MD, this eating plan is geared toward improving menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and brain fog, as well as aiding with weight loss and helping women feel better overall. On this eating plan, you’ll avoid inflammatory foods (sugar, processed grains, fried foods, lunch meats, diet sodas), practice intermittent fasting (eating for a window of eight hours and fasting for 16 hours), and decrease carbohydrate intake while increasing sources of healthy fats.
The overall basics of the diet — eating whole foods, exercising, and avoiding processed fare — are sound. Unfortunately, there is no evidence via clinical studies that the Galveston diet eases menopausal symptoms or causes weight loss. Plus, the program costs anywhere from $59 as a one-time fee to $49 per month, which can be prohibitively expensive.
OMAD stands for “one meal a day.” The rules are straightforward: Consume all of your daily calories and nutrients at one meal each day. Fast (or don’t eat) for the remainder of the day.
Eating one meal for an entire day will naturally decrease your calorie intake, which can lead to weight loss — and overall, research indicates that intermittent fasting diets can be safe for healthy, normal weight, overweight, or obese adults. However, OMAD is an extreme version of an intermittent fasting diet, which can lead to overeating and discomfort during your one meal. It’s also not suitable for children, women who are pregnant or nursing, or people who have a history of disordered eating. If you’re on medication that needs to be taken with food, consult with your doctor before trying OMAD, and avoid it if you have diabetes and are taking insulin.
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