Weight Loss: 5 Tips for Finding the Diet That’s Right for You

Follow these do's and don'ts for long-term success

You’re hitting the reset button, and you’re pumped. When you start that new diet, you will lose weight — and, this time, the weight loss will stick! But if you’re not exactly sure which diet to commit to, these pointers from our dietitians should help.

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1. Don’t go to extremes.

“If you’re inspired to make some changes in the way you eat, make sure they’re not too drastic, or they won’t serve you in the long run,” cautions functional medicine dietitian Katherine Wohl, RD, LD.

Too many of us focus on limiting food, counting calories or overthinking nutrition when they start a diet, she notes.

For example, it may be tempting to reboot your diet with a juice cleanse after overindulging during the holidays or on vacation.

But juice cleanses can backfire, she says. Fruits and veggies, stripped of fiber, provide only carbs — and without protein, fiber or healthy fat, can lead to hunger and overeating.

“Any diet that eliminates an entire food group may provide short-term results, but they won’t be sustainable,” notes cardiovascular dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD.

And when you’re on a restrictive diet, unless you follow instructions to a T or are under medical supervision, you can wind up with nutritional deficiencies, she warns.

“Food is first and foremost meant to nourish you,” says Ms. Wohl. “You want to create a good relationship with food by tuning into all that it’s doing for your body.”

2. Do focus on whole foods.

“A whole-foods, plant-focused approach is always best,” notes wellness dietitian Beth Bluestone, RD, LD. “That means cutting out junk, sugar and overly processed foods from your diet.”

Instead, commit to eating high-quality meals with nutrient-dense foods. “Think of foods that are as close to their natural state as possible,” Ms. Wohl says.

“Choose quality protein, healthy fats, lots of colorful vegetables, and some fruit, nuts and seeds.”

Structuring meals around these foods will help your cells function properly, balance your blood sugar and maintain your energy, she adds. Functional medicine experts believe this will also support detoxification, help fight inflammation and help build a healthy gut.

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3. Don’t fall for fads.

Ever get sucked in by testimonials about a “miracle diet” (remember the cabbage soup diet and the taco diet)?

It’s best to hit the pause button before jumping in. “Steer clear of fad diets that promise fast results with very little work,” says Ms. Bluestone.

Any weight loss you achieve will be short-lived, and you usually won’t find research to back up the claims.

“Once the diet ends, or you can no longer continue it because it’s too difficult, you will typically quickly regain the weight you’ve lost — along with a few additional pounds,” she says.

The ketogenic diet is trending now, for instance. While it benefits certain people, it’s not a diet that everyone should try, cautions cardiovascular dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD.

“It is hard to sustain ketogenic diet over the long term,” she says. “And there isn’t enough long-term evidence to support the benefits of this high-fat diet.”

4. Do rely on research.

You can’t go wrong with the Mediterranean diet or the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. “They’re tied at No. 1 for best overall diet in U.S. News & World Report,” says Ms. Zumpano.

The Mediterranean diet rules when it comes to well-researched diets; it’s proven to improve heart health, brain health and longevity. It features lots of veggies and fruit, healthy fats (like olive oil), fatty fish, whole grains and legumes, and a small amount of lean meat and poultry.

“Think of it not as a diet but as an eating pattern and way of life,” adds Ms. Patton. “Research consistently supports the benefits of the Mediterranean style eating pattern, and that includes reducing your risk of heart disease by 30 percent.”

The DASH diet combines lots of veggies and fruit with low-fat dairy and animal products. It significantly lowers both blood pressure and cholesterol — critical because heart disease is the leading cause of death for U.S. men and women.

“Both of these whole-food, plant-heavy diets are easy to follow,” says Ms. Zumpano. “And as a bonus, a significant amount of research points to their weight-loss benefits.” They also don’t eliminate any food group or category of food.

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5. Do incorporate time-restricted eating.

“You can add time-restricted eating to any healthy diet or lifestyle plan, and you will gain additional benefits,” says Ms. Bluestone.

Research shows that time-restricted eating can help to improve your metabolism, promote weight loss, reduce cravings and decrease your appetite.

What is time-restricted eating? It’s a type of intermittent fasting. Instead of eating throughout the day, you focus on eating within a smaller window of time.

“The rest of the time, you’ll be fasting,” she explains. “For example, you might fuel your body within an eight-hour window and then fast for 16 hours.” That might look like waiting until 10 a.m. to start breakfast and then finishing your dinner by 6 p.m.

Fasting after dinner helps you avoid the mindless habit of snacking in the evening.

“You want to be consuming calories — your source of energy — when you’re most active, so you can use that energy instead of storing it,” she notes.

Ms. Bluestone adds that it works best to stick to the same eating schedule every day, and that it’s important to stay well-hydrated with calorie-free beverages like water and tea whenever you’re fasting.

Need a little help?

If you’re still not sure which diet will be best for you — especially if you have a medical condition and need to make lifestyle changes — it’s easy to get help from a registered dietitian.

“We will help you find the nutrition plan that is the best fit for you,” says Ms. Wohl.

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