Is there a single best diet?
While there may be many studies looking at different diets, it's pretty clear there is no single diet that prevails. An opinion piece in The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, by Freedhoff and Hall (2016) eloquently states the frustration most people have with "diet" research. It's no secret, there is a lot of confusion surrounding weight loss research. Everyone has their own opinion about which diet works best and they are all right to some extent. Almost every diet has been shown to produce weight loss but the key is these studies typically show the most robust weight loss occurring in the first few weeks or months. After that the study either ends or weight plateaus and often creeps back up. Diet exhaustion is usually the reason for this. The stricter the diet, the more difficult it is for someone to follow. They try for as long as they can but feelings of deprivation and restriction can only be tolerated for so long. Eventually people usually end up back where they started.
So how do we fix this endless cycle? Freedhoff and Hall (2016) suggest maybe it is time to switch the focus of studies from comparing diets against each other to understanding more about why some people are able to adhere to diets better than others. This research would better help us figure out how to individualize nutrition plans. Their argument is that obesity is a chronic disease, meaning it exists over a long period of time. Short term diets don't fix the problem if they are only short term. Those who are most successful with weight loss and see the long term benefits are those who have figured out how to lose the weight and keep it off.
"Great! So you're saying people have done it? What is there diet?"
Stop right there.
This is where we all go wrong. Just because a diet works for one person doesn't mean it will work for you. Long term success is really reliant on finding something that fits into your life. A variety of factors play a part in weight loss success, such as socioeconomic factors, cooking skill level, job requirements, and care-giving responsibilities. Everyone has different circumstances so it makes sense that people would have different weight loss approaches. Successful treatment of chronic diseases includes not only lifelong treatment, but skills to handle daily challenges. And with a greater picture of how family and community play a role, it can help maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Focusing on a well-rounded diet that is adhered to coupled with physical activity and behavior modification techniques are effective and sustainable techniques to achieve long-term success. One common element of every popular diet is to eat real, minimally processed food. Whether it's best to do high carb or low-fat or high-protein is still up for debate but you can't go wrong with eating fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins.
So keep it simple: eat real food, exercise, and find ways to handle life's challenges without sacrificing your diet.
Freedhoff Y & Hall KD. Weight loss studies: we need help not hype. Lancet. 2016;388:848-851.