"When going out for fast food, I used to get the large-size value meal. Now, I satisfy a craving by ordering just one item: a small order of fries or a six-piece box of chicken nuggets. So far, I've shaved off 16 pounds in seven weeks, and I'm on track to being thinner than my high school self for my 10-year reunion later this year." —Miranda Jarrell, Birmingham, AL
U.S. News evaluated and ranked the 41 diets below with input from a panel of health experts. To be top-rated, a diet had to be relatively easy to follow, nutritious, safe, effective for weight loss and protective against diabetes and heart disease. The Mediterranean diet took the top spot, while the government-endorsed DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, came in second.
"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
"How easy it is for someone to lose 10 pounds depends on a lot of things: age, gender, activity level, basal metabolic rate, and how much weight he or she has to lose" explains Kate Huether, MD, of The ReKovery MD, who also holds a master's degree in nutrition. "If someone is very overweight it is easier to lose excess weight as opposed to someone who is thinner," Dr. Huether adds.
If you’re only getting a minimal amount of sleep each night, that leaves more time for you to snack and make otherwise unhealthy decisions that could affect your weight loss. Although it will vary from person to person on how much sleep you actually need to be most effective (and therefore make progress toward your weight loss goals), the ideal number is typically 7 or 8 hours, says Dr. Cheskin.
Going long periods of time without food does double-duty harm on our healthy eating efforts by both slowing down your metabolism, and priming you for another binge later in the day. (Think: You've skipped breakfast and lunch, so you're ready to takedown a whole turkey by dinner!) Make it your mission to eat three meals and two snacks every day, and don't wait longer than three to four hours without eating. Set a "snack alarm" on your phone if needed.
Processed, packaged foods are often loaded with more salt, sugar, and refined carbs than you’d put in the foods you cook for yourself. When you’re looking to drop weight fast, avoid foods that come in packages and stick to whole, unprocessed foods. Build your plates with non-starchy veggies, unprocessed whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, and season with spices, not salt.
In practice, this means salt is substituted with herbs and spices. There are two models: the Standard Model, which recommends less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, and the Low Sodium Model, which recommends less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. Studies suggest DASH is also good for preventing osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
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, RD, a sports dietitian in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Protein is also important for preserving muscle mass as you lose weight. If you cut back dramatically on calories and drop weight too fast, your muscles can suffer. Your body starts pulling from lean tissue like muscles and organs to fuel itself, and your metabolism slows to conserve energy. That’s why super restrictive diets that have you dropping weight fast aren’t healthy over the long run.
Also some research shows that the human body is primed to consume most of its calories during daylight hours. But the lifestyle is problematic for many: Because family meals and dinners with friends often are scheduled for after sunset, "people who try to stop eating after 7pm can’t do it every day for the rest of their lives," says Dr. Seltzer, who supports an alternative strategy: Eating a hearty meal at your regular dinnertime.
The most basic approach to weight loss is burning more calories than you consume. For instance, since 3,500 calories equals 1 pound of fat, a weight loss app—or even just a pen and paper—can help you decide how many calories you need to cut from your diet or burn at the gym in order to meet your goals. “If you were to burn 500 more calories per day 7 days a week, that would lead to 3,500 calories in a week and 1 pound of weight loss,” says Gagliardi.
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, for that matter. 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. 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.