09/03/2014 07:51 EDT | Updated 11/03/2014 05:59 EST

All Popular Diets Do the Exact Same Thing, So Pick One You Like


As night follows day, you can bet your french fries that, at this September moment, North American publishers are already grooming their diet book authors for their upcoming January "get thin" launches. Those authors lucky or unlucky enough to wade into the diet book bun throws which happen annually a few weeks after we all ditch our eggnog lattes and shortbread will claim that their diet is the best diet, a diet that surpasses others and pretty much guarantees that you will lose 10 pounds, or 40 pounds, or whatever.

I wonder if any of these publishers will pay attention to a study released today. In an analysis of data from nearly 50 trials (7,300 people) significant weight loss was observed with any low-carbohydrate or low-fat diet, with weight loss differences between diet programs small, so small as to be insignificant.

That's "any" low-carb or "any" low-fat diet. Any.

So the message here is not the old one we've heard that diets don't work, but rather that one diet works as well (or as poorly) as another. Good news for dieters, not so good for publishers.

In this study, Bradley C. Johnston, Ph.D., of Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute, Toronto, and McMaster University, Hamilton, and his colleagues searched the medical literature to find studies in which overweight or obese adults (body mass index of 25 or more) were randomized to a popular self-administered diet. These were diet programs advertised through books and TV and included Weight Watchers, the Zone, Atkins, Ornish, Biggest Loser, Jenny Craig, South Beach, and Nutrisystem, among others.

As we know, these programs represent a multi-billion dollar industry, each one claiming that its macro-nutrient composition is better than the next. But as Johnston points out in the JAMA article, "Despite potential biological mechanisms explaining why some popular diets should be better than others, recent reviews suggest that most diets are equally effective, a message very different from what the public hears in advertisements or expert pronouncements."

All popular diets are "equally effective" Johnston writes, though among the 48 original randomized

controlled trials included in the meta-analysis there were differences. Even so, he says, "although statistical differences existed among several of the diets, the differences were small and unlikely to be important to those seeking weight loss."

Another diet study also released this week from Tulane University in New Orleans noted that when it comes to losing weight and lowering your risk of heart disease, a low-carb diet is better than a low-fat diet. But when it comes to weight loss alone, Johnston's study has shown that one diet is no better than another. He suggests that people are better off choosing "the diet that gives them the least challenges with adherence."

Another way of putting it? Just pick one you think you can stick to and live with. In other words, whatever works!


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