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A Primer on Some of Today's Popular Diet Plans

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

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Diets are as trendy as designer handbags and camera phones.

"The South Beach Diet" and "The Ultimate Weight Solution: The Seven Keys to Weight Loss Freedom," two recent book titles tossed into the weight loss ring, continuously bounce around the list of top 10 best sellers.

Various editions of books written by the late Dr. Robert Atkins, the no-carb king, have sold more than 15 million copies.

So what's all the hype?

Here's a look at four popular diets along with comments from Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.



Miami cardiologist Arthur Agatston crafted the diet a few years ago to help heart patients.

How it works: Some carbohydrates are good, as in cereals and wheat breads. Bad carbs - biscuits, pasta and such - should be avoided. The diet also cites good fats and bad fats. Users cut out bad carbs first and reintroduce banned foods later.

Claim to fame: Users lose 8 to 10 pounds in the first two weeks.

Alcohol: Beer is a bad carb. Wine and some whiskeys are acceptable. Red wine is a recommended option.

Expert opinion:

The upside: "The second and third phases of the diet can be a fairly healthy way to go about weight loss, because ... it recommends losing weight at a rate of about a pound or two a week." It also stresses eating lean meats and food with healthy types of fat, in addition to avoiding refined grains and choosing whole grain bread."

The downside: "Weight loss in the first phase is largely water weight ... 1/8and3/8 doesn't offer a well-balanced healthy eating plan."

Final word: "A normal healthy person who just wants to lose about 20 pounds is not in danger with this diet, but it's not appropriate for a person with diabetes, kidney problems, hypertension" or for obese people.



Created by Texan Phil McGraw, TV talk show host and bud of Oprah Winfrey.

How it works: Users focus on eating habits, feelings about food and their environment. They find the reasons for failed weight loss attempts of the past and change them while eating better and exercising.

Claim to fame: Weight loss is a lifestyle change, not a temporary fix, Dr. Phil preaches.

Alcohol: Alcohol consumption is not directly addressed in the book.

Expert opinion:

The upside: "It looks at behavioral changes and the lifestyle behaviors that largely lead to a person's obesity. Dr. Phil attempts to get people to look at what they are doing and what they are choosing to eat. The other good part is that the book does mention exercise, which a lot of other diets don't include. It also includes the idea of having some social support from friends, family or a counselor."

The downside: "He sometimes uses negative reinforcement rather than positive reinforcement, and we know that negative reinforcement doesn't change behavior long-term."

Final word: "It offers a low-calorie diet that is fairly well-balanced, but some of the nutrition concepts are a little bit old and could be brought more up to date."



Cardiologist Dr. Robert Atkins, who died this year, published his first diet book in 1972. The book was updated in 1992. How it works: Eat the fat and cut the carbs, choosing bacon and eggs over a fruit salad. Dieters eat almost no carbs in the first two weeks, tricking the body into a starvation state to burn fat. Carbs are slowly increased in the next two weeks. When dieters are within 5 pounds of their target weight, they enter the maintenance stage.

Claim to fame: The diet promises quick weight loss without the loss of flavorful foods.

Alcohol: None in earliest stages. Wine and some liquor are OK later, in the maintenance stage.

Expert opinion:

The upside: "It could be used temporarily to initially get some weight loss started."

The downside: "It does not make the distinction between healthy meats and fatty meats, and piling up on saturated fat is not healthy, no matter how you look at it." By cutting out carbohydrates, you risk losing muscle.

Final word: "It's not a long-term solution to weight loss."



Created by Barry Sears, a former researcher and biochemist.

How it works: Users arrange their eating to include a specific balance of 40 percent low-fat proteins, 30 percent carbohydrates in the form of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables and 30 percent fat. Proteins are eaten at each meal, and carbs are allowed in portions twice the size of protein portions. "Unfavorable carbohydrates," the book says, are foods like pasta, bananas and bagels that should be eaten in small portions.

Claim to fame: The diet is billed as the "revolutionary life plan to put your body in total balance for permanent weight loss."

Alcohol: Allowed as long as it's consumed with the appropriately portioned protein chaser.

Expert opinion:

The upside: "It may be a way to get some weight loss started and ... control portion sizes to some extent. But it doesn't cut carbs out completely and that's good" because you can still have fruits and whole grains as long as you keep them in balance with the 40-30-30 ratios."

The downside: "It's a low-calorie diet that could be too low-cal for athletes or people who work out regularly," because it doesn't provide enough calories to replenish muscle glycogen that provides energy for exercise.

Final word: "There's no scientific research that says this is a proven ratio for weight loss."


(c) 2004, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.


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