New weight loss programs aim for small changes over longer periods of time.


More than two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. They know they need to adopt healthier eating habits to lose the weight and be healthy. Yet, most people continue to opt for fad diets because they want quick results. These diets, based on calorie deprivation, work in the short run. But, in the long run, they all fail.


New Weight Loss Programs Aim for Small Changes


Now new research adds to the evidence that a more moderate approach can make a lasting difference. A study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health finds that improving the quality of diet over time, even with small changes, may significantly reduce the risk of premature death.

The improvements to diet in the study included consuming more whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and fish and eating less red and processed meat and drinking fewer sugary beverages.

According to lead author Mercedes Sotos-Prieto, who is now an Assistant Professor of Nutrition at Ohio University, “Overall, our findings underscore the benefits of healthy eating patterns including the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. Our study indicates that even modest improvements in diet quality could meaningfully influence mortality risk. On the other hand, worsening diet quality increases the risk of death.

Study on Benefits of New Weight Loss Programs

For the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Sotos-Prieto and her team analyzed data on nearly 74,000 adults over a 12-year period.

• The participants’ diets were analyzed using three different scoring methods: the 2010 Alternate Healthy Eating Index, the Alternate Mediterranean Diet score, and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet score.

• Each model assigns scores to various types of food, with healthier foods receiving higher scores and less healthy foods receiving lower scores.

• The results showed that a better diet quality over a 12-year period was linked to a reduced risk of death in the subsequent 12 years, no matter which method of scoring was used.

• A 20-percentile increase in diet-quality scores was associated with an 8 to 17 percent reduction in the risk of death.

• Whole grains, fruits, vegetables and fish or Omega-3 fatty acids contributed most to an improvement in diet quality.


These types of modest improvements in your diet can be achieved just by swapping out just one serving of red or processed meat and replacing it with one daily serving of nuts or legumes.

Nancy Z. Farrell, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says everyone can benefit from making smart diet swaps as often as possible. She suggests simple changes like a meatless Monday dinner where you incorporate beans or legumes, such as red beans and quinoa. Another possibility is a veggie pizza night.

New weight loss programs make small changes like avoiding high-calorie junk foods like potato chips. Instead, opt for a handful of nuts, or make your own trail mix with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. And if you’re looking for a sweet treat, skip the ice cream and try freezing some fruit instead.

The experts say it’s crucial to not only incorporate such changes into your diet, but to stick with them over time.
“Our results highlight the long-term health benefits of improving diet quality with an emphasis on overall dietary patterns rather than on individual foods or nutrients,” said Frank Hu, professor and chair of the Harvard Chan School Department of Nutrition. “A healthy eating pattern can be adopted according to individuals’ food and cultural preferences and health conditions. There is no one-size-fits-all diet.”

Click here to read about new weight loss programs that incorporate small changes over time.