Weight loss diets all promise results. People often wonder which weight loss diet will work best for them. There have been many studies on a variety of different diets seeking to determine which one is the most effective. Is low-fat the best weight loss diet? Is low-carb the way to go?

What Science Shows About Weight Loss Diets

I’ve read many comparison studies that show that no particular diet is the key to weight loss. Nutritionists often suggest that the right diet for any particular person is the one they can stick with. I add the caveat that a balanced diet, one that does not eliminate healthy food groups like whole grain carbs, is the best for long term weight loss.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent article from New York Times writer, Gina Golata, who writes about science and medicine. She studied molecular biology on the graduate level at M.I.T. and has a master’s degree in applied mathematics from the University of Maryland. Her work has been twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

What We Know About Weight Loss Diets

Ms. Golata attended a meeting of the Obesity Society in which two leading scientists presented the somewhat contradictory findings of two high-profile diet studies.

In one study, by Christopher Gardner, a professor of medicine at Stanford, patients were given low-fat or low-carb diets with the same amount of calories. After a year, weight loss was the same in each group, Dr. Gardner reported.

Another study, by Dr. David Ludwig of Boston Children’s Hospital, reported that a low-carbohydrate diet was better than a high-carbohydrate diet in helping subjects keep weight off after they had dieted and lost. The low-carbohydrate diet, he found, enabled participants to burn about 200 extra calories a day.

  • So does a low-carbohydrate diet help people burn more calories?
  • Or is the composition of the diet irrelevant if the calories are the same?
  • Does it matter if the question is how to lose weight or how to keep it off?

There was no consensus at the end of the session. But here are a few certainties about dieting amid the sea of unknowns.

What We Know About Weight Loss Diets

  • People Vary In How They Respond To Dieting.

Some people thrive on low-fat diets, others do best on low-carb diets. Still others succeed with gluten-free diets or Paleo diets or periodic fasts or ketogenic diets or other options on the seemingly endless menu of weight-loss plans. Dr. George Bray, an obesity researcher who is emeritus professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., sums it up this way: “Eat the diet you like and stay with it.”

What We Don’t Know About Weight Loss Diets

  • Why Do People Have Such Varying Responses To Diets?

Scientists also have failed to find particular genetic predictors, but that does not mean there are no genes involved in diet and weight loss. But it is hard to disentangle those effects from other possibilities, like motivation. One person may be mentally ready to diet, while another might make only a halfhearted effort.

Some researchers believe that the body’s production of insulin in response to dietary carbohydrates may explain why some dieters lose weight and others do not. Some studies support this conclusion, while others do not.

Other scientists speculate that calories from starchy and sugary foods are big contributors to the obesity epidemic.

The Food Environment Makes Weight Loss Diets Difficult

Certain societal trends, including these, have made weight loss diets especially difficult:

  • ever-larger portion sizes
  • a growing tendency to snack all day
  • smokers are being pressured to quit and then gaining weight
  • more people eating more meals out, and
  • a cultural acceptance of overweight to the point where it now seems almost normal.

The likelihood is that all of these forces work together to make weight loss challenging today.

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