When my mother was in her 80s, she lost over 30 lbs following the "Fit for Life" eating regime, which was a fairly rigourous food-combining fad. When I visited her and saw her eating a modest serving of fruit for breakfast, instead of a stack of toast or several pastries, I realized they were simply breaking her habitual mindless loading on of calories.
I was sure I had a glimpse behind the curtain of any diet. But for years I had to endure friends touting their "wonder diets", each weirder than the next. Now, every newspaper on the planet is running the results of the Harvard School of Public Health study on four different diets. The study validates what I always asserted: it's the calories, bunky!
The key finding: "No one diet was better for reducing calories or increasing weight loss at six months or two years."
The four diets:
1. Low fat, average protein
2. Low fat, high protein
3. High fat, average protein
4. High fat, high-protein
All were low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fibre.
Each plan cut about 750 calories a day from a participant's normal diet, but no one ate fewer than 1, 200 calories a day. They also exercised moderately for 90 minutes a week.
At the six-month mark participants assigned to each diet lost an average of 13 lbs (6kg); at two years the 80% who hung in had an average loss of 9 lbs and a 2-inch reduction of the waistline. All diets improved cardiovascular risk factors.
The best strategy is finding a diet you like and can stick with, and to focus on calories, not the particular type of content of diet.
Rather than the ratio of fats to proteins, it was other factors, most notably the counseling sessions participants attended, that most affected dieting success. Some people did do far better than others.
The study's main author, Dr. Frank M. Sacks, says "We had some people losing 50 lbs and some people gaining 5 lbs. That's what we don't have a clue about. I think in the future researchers should focus less on the actual diet but on finding what is really the biggest governor of success for these individuals."
Mom eventually tired of the food-combining tyranny. But she maintained a healthy weight by avoiding calorie-dense, low-nutrition foods (except nachos, which she could never resist) for the rest of her days. Cutting 750 calories may be too restrictive for some people; they could try 500.
That's the equivalent of a big meal each day, or one piece of Le Duc's birthday cake, which I made from scratch yesterday. But it's gotta go from somewhere.