Consumer Reports Weighs In On the New Diets

YONKERS, NY -- The June issue of Consumer Reports features an in-depth report on dieting, identifying "The Volumetrics Eating Plan" as the top-rated clinically tested diet plan and "The Best Life Diet" as the top rated diet book. Consumer Reports also outlines eight winning strategies for losing weight and three tactics that are unlikely to help.

Consumer Reports is available at newsstands beginning on May 8th. Portions of the diet report are available for free online at

New Diet Plan Winners

Consumer Reports rated eight popular diet plans that have been studied in clinical trials.

Ratings are based on adherence to nutritional guidelines (the 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans) and the results of published randomized clinical studies that reported short-term (3-6 months) and long-term (12 months) results and together studied at least 40 subjects per diet.

The top-rated Volumetrics diet employs a strategy of consuming "low-density" foods and encourages dieters to first take the edge off of hunger by consuming a low calorie soup or salad. CR notes that other diets, while not as explicit about employing this promising strategy, recommend ways to reduce calories while consuming larger volumes of food to stay satiated.

While Volumetrics was top-rated, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and Slim-Fast followed closely together.

Weight Watchers uses weekly meetings and weigh-ins for motivation and behavioral support for diet and exercise changes. It scored average on weight loss but first in long-term adherence. CR experts found recipes appetizing and fairly easy to prepare.

Jenny Craig enlists dieters to sign up for individual counseling and meal plans at company outlets, by phone, or online. A study of client histories revealed high dropout rates, though those who stuck with the plan lost considerable weight. A clinical trial revealed better adherence. The Jenny Craig diet requires minimal food preparation.

Slim-Fast is a brand line of controlled calorie shakes and bars, widely available in drugstores and supermarkets. The menu analyzed by Consumer Reports meets dietary guidelines. Clinical studies show above-average long-term weight loss but a high long-term dropout rate.

Diet Books: What the Experts Say

Consumer Reports rated seven diet books in the June issue based on an expert-panel questionnaire and CR's own analysis of nutritional quality.

Unlike the diet plans, the books rated by Consumer Reports have never been put to the acid test of a large clinical trial.

"The Best Life Diet" was the top-rated, followed by three closely ranked books, "Eat, Drink & Weigh Less," "You On a Diet," and "The Abs Diet."

All the books offered fairly healthful menus. But when the panelists evaluated the nutrition advice, they found noticeable differences in the restrictiveness of various books. They also found variations in the quality of the exercise information and the explanations of the science and nutrition behind the plans.

Eight Dieting Strategies That Work

Consumer Reports highlights strategies based on the latest research and statistics gleaned from the National Weight Control Registry, which enrolls people who have documented that they lost 30 pounds and kept the weight off for at least a year. Here are some of the strategies outlined in the report:

Start right: Eating a substantial morning meal is recommended by every diet book Consumer Reports analyzed. Seventy-eight percent of the successful losers at the National Weight Control Registry say they eat breakfast, typically some cereal and fruit.

Crank up the activity: Dieters should get off the couch if they want to lose weight and keep it off. Increasing time spent doing formal exercise and activities such as housework and yard work will help burn calories.

Fill up on low-density foods: One way to spare calories and still eat a satisfying amount of food is to focus one's diet on foods that have fewer calories per bite. The "Volumetrics" diet, which finished at the top of the Consumer Reports ratings, is based on this strategy.

Bring back the scale: Dieters who stay vigilant about their weight can make quick corrections before the pounds add up. While many of the books reviewed discourage the practice of frequent weighing in, 75 percent of the members enrolled in the National Weight Control Registry weigh themselves at least once a week.

Bore yourself thin: This approach is outlined in "The South Beach Diet," "The Sonoma Diet," and "Ultra Metabolism." Since variety stimulates the appetite, the more monotonous one's diet, the less one will eat. People should steer clear of buffet tables, which can be a dieter's worst enemy.

Three Diet Doubtfuls

Consumer Reports informs readers about these dubious tactics, which, though hyped, are unlikely to help:

Diet pills: Weight loss pills have a discouraging track record. "Fat burners" such as amphetamines and ephedra have been linked to heart palpitations, strokes, heart attacks, and deaths, even in healthy people.

Angel and devil food: Though it makes sense to purge one's diet of junk food, there's no evidence that the presence or absence of any individual food will make or break a diet of the right calorie level.

The glycemic index: Research studies have reached conflicting conclusions about whether cutting the glycemic load of a weight-loss diet actually improves results.

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