The best low-cal diet plan isn't a diet so much as it is a method. CICO stands for "calories in, calories out" and is based on the mathematically sensible principle that as long as you're burning more calories than you're eating, you'll lose weight. All you need to get started is a way to track your calories—there are plenty of apps on the market although a pen and paper works great too—and a food scale to keep you honest about your portion sizes. (Also read this guide on how to safely cut calories to lose weight.) People love the simplicity and straightforwardness of the plan. And while it may not be the fastest way to lose weight, you're guaranteed to have success long term. (Just know that some weight-loss experts actually don't recommend calorie counting.)
The plan promotes long-lasting, sustainable changes, and undoubtedly a bounty of research backs this up. In fact, one December 2013 study in the American Journal of Medicine shows that people following 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. (20)
"What I don't like about any commercial diet is that the focus is not on your actual food choices," Hogan said. "It's about calories or points or numbers, and that really takes away from your ability to be in tune with your hunger cues and your fullness cues and what you're really craving. If we become more in tune with those things, we naturally consume how much the body needs. Paying too much attention to numbers takes away from that."

If you want to lose fat, you have to eat fat...the right kind, that is. Adding healthy fats, in the form of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, can help you feel more satisfied with your meals. Yasi Ansari, MS, RD, CSSD, national medial spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says, "Fat sources that I recommend boosting in the diet come from unsaturated fatty acids found in foods like olive oil, nuts, avocados, fatty fish, and eggs, as they can help increase satiety while providing a variety of health benefits when consumed in moderation." You can increase your intake of healthy fats by adding some chopped avocado into your salads, enjoying wild salmon twice a week, and having a little peanut butter with your post-workout snack or smoothie. Just remember to enjoy them in moderation as they're still very calorie-dense, Ansari says.
“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.
“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.”
"If weight loss is the goal, I recommend learning how to properly deadlift. Deadlifting recruits more muscle fiber at once than any other exercise. More muscle working equates to more blood flow, an increased heart rate, more metabolic demand and output. It's compound, multi-joint and more bang for your buck, not to mention you'll develop an excellent posterior from them." — Victoria Viola, PN Certified Nutrition Coach, NSCA CPT, Co-Founder, Excelerate Wellness, LLC

Phase 1: This is the “metabolism reboot” phase, and the most restrictive part of the plan (but it only lasts two weeks, so that’s good news). You’ll basically cut all carbs from your diet, as this phase allows for no more than 40 grams of net carbs per day. The purpose of this first phase is to reset your metabolism and help your body burn fat instead of carbs. Carb lovers beware! You will not be able to eat bread, pasta, rice, and some fruit, which might be too restrictive for some. Because of this strict approach, you’ll most definitely see weight loss results at the end of the plan’s first seven days.


Christy is a spokesperson, nutrition and food writer and blogger for Huffington Post and others, a recipe developer and YouTube video producer. She is regularly interviewed by CTV National News, CBC, The Globe and Mail and many more on nutrition and health. She has her finger on the pulse of the latest nutrition and food science and trends, and synthesizes and prioritizes it just for you.
If you're not up for crunching numbers every day, you can take a more generalized approach. “For some people, it’s knowing, ‘Typically I eat a whole sandwich,’” says Gagliardi. “Now, I’m going to eat half a sandwich at lunch and save the other half for my dinner and cut my calories in half." To get started, consider these 25 ways to cut 500 calories a day.
This may explain why the fat-burning effects of eating more protein were confirmed in a study published in the American Journal of Physiology. One group was fed a high-protein diet (just over 1 gram per pound of body weight per day) while the second group consumed an amount closer to the lower recommendation of the RDA (recommended dietary allowance). The group eating the higher-protein diet burned the most fat.
HCG, or Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, 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 (FDA) warns against purchasing over-the-counter hCG, as these supplement products are illegal. (34)

“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.”
“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.
This diet theory, consisting of 10% or less of daily calories from fat, is the flip-side to Atkins, Keto, and Paleo. Proponents of the ultra-low-fat approach adhere to a diet rich in plant foods, low in animal products, and high in carbohydrates (80% or more of daily caloric intake). An example of this type of theory is the TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) Diet created by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Association with the purpose of helping people combat heart disease, lower cholesterol levels, and prevent digestive problems.

Rather than rely entirely on the information provided by the companies to determine weight management effectiveness, we spent weeks browsing through hundreds of unpaid customer testimonies (not endorsed by any company) to get a feeling on the accuracy of the claims they make. In fact, these testimonials provided us with a much more truthful and in-depth insight regarding how effective diet plans really are. 


"What I don't like about any commercial diet is that the focus is not on your actual food choices," Hogan said. "It's about calories or points or numbers, and that really takes away from your ability to be in tune with your hunger cues and your fullness cues and what you're really craving. If we become more in tune with those things, we naturally consume how much the body needs. Paying too much attention to numbers takes away from that."
"Eating directly out of a box or bag (almost always leads to overeating. Serve your food on a plate or in a bowl to keep portion sizes in check and to get used to what one serving looks like. Also, when we take the time to sit down during meals versus standing or driving, we tend to feel more satisfied with our meal. In fact, research shows that you will eat up to 30% more food at the next meal if you ate standing up! Serve yourself, sit down, and enjoy!" — Jennifer McDaniel, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD, food and nutrition expert
"While losing weight for effective long-term benefits takes time, there are a few quick ways to help shed 10 lbs in a month or so. It requires getting into a routine you know you'll stick with, making small nutritional changes so that you can stick with a plan, and having a bit of patience before you notice changes. It takes 4 weeks for you to see changes in your own body, and sometimes up to 8 weeks for others to notice!" — Nicole Houvig, AFPA Certified Personal Trainer with the Rockay expert team

After a free diet analysis based on your Body Mass Index and submitting your ideal weight, Nutrisystem will recommend a plan to help you reach your goal. This plan is designed by nutritionists and allows for six meals a day (4 of them delivered by Nutrisystem and 2 to be prepared by you, following Nutrisystem’s guidance and recipes). This way you won’t be hungry for long, making it easier to stick to the diet plan until its completion.


Phase 2: During this phase some carbs are back, so you have to watch out for any weight gain. (Following the strictness of Phase 1, you might be inclined to overeat your favorite carb-filled foods). You’ll get to eat no more than 50 grams of “good carbs” per day, including whole grains, beans, and fruits. Still, the bulk of your diet will consist of lean proteins, good fats, and vegetables.

When we began our research on Nutrisystem, the first thing that stood out to us was the variety of  plans they offer. In total, there are nine different options, including plans for diabetics, vegetarians, and even special diets for men (a rarity in the diet industry). Also, most of their plans are highly customizable, so if you don’t like their recommendations you can customize your meal plan from chef-created menu items including staples like chicken masala, cheesesteak pizza, muffins, burgers, popcorn, and lots more.

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Sure, you certainly need to drink plenty of water to help combat bloating, you can (and should!) also consume high-water content foods. Reach for cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon, asparagus, grapes, celery, artichokes, pineapple, and cranberries — all of which contain diuretic properties that will also help you stay full due to their higher fiber content.
Phase 2: During this phase some carbs are back, so you have to watch out for any weight gain. (Following the strictness of Phase 1, you might be inclined to overeat your favorite carb-filled foods). You’ll get to eat no more than 50 grams of “good carbs” per day, including whole grains, beans, and fruits. Still, the bulk of your diet will consist of lean proteins, good fats, and vegetables.
Why couldn’t we review for taste? Due to freshness and food safety concerns, the three meal-delivery companies that made our cut (South Beach Diet, Diet-to-Go, and Nutrisystem) only ship inside the continental US, meaning delivery is not available to Alaska, Hawaii, and other US territories. ConsumersAdvocate is headquartered in Dorado, Puerto Rico, which made it virtually impossible for our team to actually try the food prepared by the diet companies being reviewed. To make up for this obstacle, we read hundreds of customer and expert reviews regarding the taste of the food prepared by the companies that made our “best” list. We will continue trying to get the food delivered to our offices; if and when that happens, we will review the meals for taste and upgrade this article accordingly. 
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.

The fad military diet consists of low-calorie, odd food pairings such as bun-less hot dogs with banana, carrots, and broccoli. “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 lb you’re trying to lose.” (32)
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