The easier it is to seamlessly fit a diet plan into your life without major lifestyle changes, the better. After all, by focusing on holistic long-term results rather than trendy short-term solutions, sustainability becomes the number one enemy of the feared “yo-yo” effect. During our investigative process, we asked ourselves: What makes a diet plan sustainable? After long hours of research, we decided that the following factors can determine a plan’s sustainability, and thus its odds of success:
"A study by David Jenkins, MD, PhD—the University of Toronto pioneer in low-glycemic eating — demonstrates that eating small portions at frequent intervals is good for your health in a number of remarkable ways. Within the study, they found that people who ate every three hours reduced their blood cholesterol by over 15% and their blood insulin by almost 28%. That's key, because in addition to regulating your blood sugar level, insulin plays a pivotal role in fat metabolism, inflammation and the progression to metabolic syndrome. When your body produces less insulin, you're much less likely to convert dietary calories into body fat.
DASH stands for "dietary approach to stop hypertension" and was created by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a way to help reverse national trends of obesity and heart disease. Scientists combed through decades of research to come up with an expert-backed list of diet tips, along with a prescription for exercise. And it worked: The DASH diet has topped nearly every diet list for nearly a decade. Doctors particularly recommend it for people looking to lower high blood pressure, reverse diabetes, and lower their risk of heart disease. (Here's the basic list of DASH diet-approved foods.)
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.
Interested in following a more historical approach to eating? The Primal Blueprint is similar to the Paleo diet, which has roots in how our long-ago ancestors supposedly ate. This plan ditches grain, sugars, and processed foods while focusing on clean eating with plenty of protein (both animal- and plant-based), lots of vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats. The Primal Blueprint acknowledges other health factors too, advocating for lots of low-intensity activity, some high-intensity exercise, strength training, and plenty of sleep.
If you've been trying to eat healthy for a long time, you know how quickly you get sick of chicken breasts and broccoli. Break out of your diet rut with the Middle Eastern diet. It's based on the same principles as the Mediterranean diet but with more of an emphasis on plant-based foods and a different flavor profile. With all the tasty and healthy spices, you'll never get bored of making dinner and you'll get all the same heart-healthy benefits as its geographical cousin's diet.
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)
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 have 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.
On average, the daily caloric intake on Nutrisystem is 1,500 calories for men and 1,200 for women (low enough to lose weight but high enough to prevent “hangryness”). The daily menus are high in fiber to help you feel full, and are divided as follows: 50% carbs, 25% fat, 25% protein. According to a 2015 study by the American College of Physicians, people on Nutrisystem lose 3.8% more bodyweight than dieters who only receive guidance and counseling. Plus, thousands of positive customer reviews attest to Nutrisystem’s effectiveness, as long as you follow the program faithfully.
However, the most unique aspect of Diet-to-Go is its freshness, as all meals are prepared in-house and flash-frozen so preservatives never have to be added. This freezing process allows for fresher foods that last longer and taste more natural. What’s more, Diet-to-Go’s kitchens adhere to several guidelines for food safety and handling, including the HACCP, USDA, and FDA.
Variety: Nobody wants to eat the same thing day in and day out. That's why a variety of food items is essential for a diet plan to be sustainable. Also, variety as a criterion for determining the best diet plans refers not only to food items but also to groups of people. For example: Is the diet plan available to diabetics? Men? Women? People with allergies or special conditions?
The researchers explain that people who cook their own meals may simply have other good-for-you habits, like exercising more. However, they also concluded that home cooks ate more fruits and vegetables (along with a wider variety of foods), have healthier methods of prepping their food, and splurge less on foods high in calories and sugar. Consider any of the healthy eating books below to get started.
"The best thing you can do for your belly is to give up processed foods. A study in the journal Food & Nutrition Research found that our bodies burn only 50 percent as many calories digesting processed foods as they do real foods. So it's like eating twice as much, even if the calories are the same!" — Mark Langowski, celebrity trainer, CEO and Founder of Body By Mark
"The American Heart Association recommends that men eat less than 36 grams of added sugar and that women consume less than 24 grams. However, for optimal weight loss, I tell my male clients to consume less than 20 grams of sugar per day and I tell the women to consume less than 15 grams. The easiest way to cut back on the sweet stuff is by consuming less sugary drinks and dressings. Cut the sugar, lose the fat, regain your health and life." — Dr. Sean M. Wells, DPT, PT, OCS, ATC/L, CSCS
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)
The best diet for losing weight is Weight Watchers, according to the experts who rated the diets below for U.S. News. Volumetrics came in second, and the Flexitarian Diet, Jenny Craig and the vegan diet were third on this overall weight loss ranking list, which takes into account short-term and long-term weight loss scores. Some other diets performed as well or better in our rankings for enabling fast weight loss, but long-term weight loss is more important for your health.
"Even though a smart diet is key, exercise can help boost your body's metabolism to shed fat. Through health care providers often recommend brisk walking or jogging, these exercises may not help you see the results you want. Instead, try interval training," shares Dr. Sean M. Wells, DPT, PT, OCS, ATC/L, CSCS Owner and PT, Naples Personal Training, LLC
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.