Atkins to South Beach: diets garner similar results, Canadian study suggests

Watch above: Global News medical contributor Dr. Samir Gupta’s tips for successful dieting

It happens in the New Year, when summer rolls around and right before weddings, reunions and pool parties: consumers empty their pockets to sign up for weight-loss programs and popular diet books.

But a new Canadian study suggests that it doesn’t matter which brand name diet you take on – they all garner similar results if you stick to them.

On average, consumers lose between 17 to 19 pounds. But by the end of the year, some of that weight is already gained back.

Scientists at the Hospital for Sick Children, McMaster University and the University of Alberta stacked the weight loss results of several popular diets together to see which were most successful.  Atkins, Weight Watchers, the Zone, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, and South Beach were some of the programs studied.

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The study was needed, the researchers say. Diet advice and programs are a multi-billion-dollar industry and consumers readily sign up with the promise of dramatic weight loss and life-changing eating habits.

READ MORE: Do fad diets followed by celebrities work?

“Given the popularity of these diets around the world, there has been a real lack of research to examine their relative benefits,” said Dr. Geoff Ball, an obesity expert and professor at the University of Alberta.

About 100 million people commit to structured diets in the U.S., and the statistics could be similar in Canada, Dr. Bradley Johnston, the study’s lead author told Global News. He’s a McMaster University professor and SickKids Hospital scientist.

“Which diet is best is a hotly debated topic and it’s accompanied by mass advertising so it’s an important public health question that needs answering,” he said.

So, the duo and its team conducted a meta-analysis: 48 randomized clinical trials were studied, including the results of more than 7,200 overweight and obese adults. They were about 46 years old and weighed 207 pounds on average.

READ MORE: 13 tips for eating healthier in 2014

The researchers say they’re the first to compare, in an “evidence-based fashion” all of the existing data on these brand-name diets.

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Each program touts a magic nutrient, low-carb fat-burning, or a low-fat diet that melts away pounds, but that’s all a moot point, according to the researchers.

At the six month follow-up, people on low-carb diets lost 19 pounds more than their counterparts who weren’t dieting. Those on low-fat diets lost 17 more pounds than others who weren’t dieting. But by the end of a full year, there was no difference between the two diets.

And it turns out, it was the diets with behavioural support and encouraged exercise that were the best bet. Counselling during the diet increased weight loss by about seven pounds and exercising helped consumers lose another 4.5 pounds at the 12-month mark.

Across the board, the consumers committing to the programs ended up gaining back about two pounds at the year-end follow up.

“It’s quite common in these so-called fad diets: people get on [a diet], there’s support upfront, they make lifestyle changes but it’s hard to make changes over the long term,” Johnston said.
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The researchers even tried to zero in on potential health hazards. But adverse events were poorly documented – only five of the 48 studies reported any negative feedback. Most of the time, it was related to the low-carb diets: headaches, cramps, bad breath, constipation, for example.

Diet-to-diet, the differences were minimal, too. The Atkins diet resulted in a 3.8-pounds greater weight loss next to the Zone diet six months in.

Johnston suggests the team’s results are encouraging. They say that there is no one-size-fits-all to weight loss and many strategies work, as long as you stick to them.

“The bottom line is structured dietary programs work and they should involve exercise, behavioural support and lifestyle changes you can adhere to. It doesn’t have to be a brand – people need to choose a diet that they can stick to,” he explained.

He said his next steps are to look into the long-term success of these programs, as far as three years in. He also plans to look into interventions – such as texting reminders or directly monitoring exercise – that might help with weight loss.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Public Health Agency of Canada funded the research. It was published Tuesday afternoon in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Global News medical contributor Dr. Samir Gupta’s tips for successful dieting

1. Make sure you exercise

Having an exercise routine is an essential part of any diet regimen.

The study suggested people who exercised at least once a week lost about five more pounds over 12 months than people who didn’t, Gupta said.

2. Seek help

The people who had some kind of support while dieting seemed to lose more weight early on, according to the meta-analysis.

“At the six month mark, people who had some type of counselling, whether that’s group or individual counselling, some type of support with their diet, seemed to lose more weight as well,” Gupta said.

3. Consume high-quality (low glycemic) carbs

Not all carbs are created equal: a chocolate chip cookie may have the same number of calories and carbohydrates as handful of vegetables and fruits but the latter is a much better choice if you’re trying to lose weight.

If you’re on a low-fat diet, you’ll have to consume relatively more carbs but you should try and fill up with low-glycemic carbs commonly found in unprocessed foods like beans, brown rice, quinoa, fruits and vegetables.

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“You’re going to get your nutrients and your high-fiber and you’re going to get relatively low-glycemic carbs compared to processed foods,” Gupta said.

4. Consume high-quality “healthy” fats

Similarly, not all fats are the same. If you’re trying to lose weight, try to avoid trans fats in processed foods and limit the amount of saturated fats commonly found in red meat.

Instead focus on unsaturated fats found in nuts and fish.

 5. Look at the nutritional labels and find out what you’re actually eating

Most dieters look forward to a “cheat meal” every once in a while and if you do plan on dipping into some processed foods, be wary about what you’re consuming.

“If you are going to consume processed foods, be very careful about reading nutritional labels to make sure that you stick within the bounds of your diet,” Gupta said.
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