Weight loss: Choosing a diet that's right for you

Don't fall for gimmicks when it comes to weight loss. Evaluate diets carefully to find one that's right for you. By Mayo Clinic Staff

When it comes to weight loss, there's no shortage of advice. Check any magazine rack or bookstore or surf the Internet, and you're bound to discover the latest and greatest weight-loss "cures," from diets that eliminate fat or carbs to those that tout superfoods or special supplements.

With so much conflicting advice and so many weight-loss options, how do you know which diet is the one for you? And which weight-loss programs really work? Here's how to choose a weight-loss program that's right for you.

Involve your doctor in your weight-loss efforts

Before starting a weight-loss program, talk to your doctor. He or she can review any medical problems that you have and any medications that you take, and help you set weight-loss goals. You and your doctor can discuss what may be contributing to your weight gain — in rare cases, certain medical conditions or medications can cause unwanted weight gain. And you can discuss how to exercise safely, especially if you have trouble or pain carrying out normal daily tasks.

Talk to your doctor about weight-loss plans you may have tried before and what you liked or didn't like about them. Be honest with your doctor about fad diets you may be interested in trying. Your doctor also may be able to direct you to weight-loss support groups or refer you to a registered dietitian.

Consider your personal needs

There's no single weight-loss diet that will help everyone who tries it. But if you consider your preferences, lifestyle and weight-loss goals, you should be able to find or tailor a diet to suit your individual needs. Before starting another weight-loss program, think about these factors:

  • Your experience with past diets. Think about diets you may have tried before. What did you like or dislike about them? Were you able to follow the diet? What worked or didn't work for you? How did you feel physically and emotionally while on the diet?
  • Your preferences. Do you prefer to diet on your own, or do you like getting support from a group? If you like group support, do you prefer online support or in-person meetings?
  • Your budget. Some weight-loss programs require you to buy supplements or meals, or to visit weight-loss clinics or attend support meetings. Does the cost of such programs fit your budget?
  • Other considerations. Do you have a health condition, such as diabetes, heart disease or allergies? Do you have specific cultural or ethnic requirements or preferences when it comes to food? These are important factors that should help determine which diet you choose.

Look for a safe and effective weight-loss program

It's tempting to buy into promises of rapid and dramatic weight loss, but a slow and steady approach is easier to maintain and usually beats out fast weight loss for the long term. A weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds a week is the typical recommendation. In some situations, faster weight loss can be safe if it's done the right way — such as a very low calorie diet with medical supervision, or a brief quick-start phase of a healthy-eating plan that offers lots of healthy and safe strategies at once.

Successful weight loss requires a long-term commitment to making healthy changes in your eating and exercise habits. Be sure to pick an eating plan you can live with. Look for a plan with these features:

  • Flexible. Look for a plan that doesn't forbid certain foods or food groups but instead includes a variety of foods from all the major food groups. A healthy diet includes vegetables and fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean protein sources, and nuts and seeds — and even an occasional sweet indulgence. A diet plan should also feature foods that you can easily find in your local grocery store.
  • Balanced. A weight-loss plan should include proper amounts of nutrients and calories for your individual situation. Diets that direct you to eat large quantities of certain foods, such as grapefruit or meat, that drastically cut calories, or that eliminate entire food groups, such as carbohydrates, may result in nutritional problems. Safe diets do not require excessive vitamins or supplements.
  • Enjoyable. A diet should include foods you like and that you would enjoy eating for the rest of your life — not just for several weeks or months. If you don't like the diet, if it's overly restrictive or if it becomes boring, you're probably not going to stick to it and therefore won't lose weight in the long term.
  • Active. Every weight-loss program should include physical activity. Exercise plus calorie restriction can help give your weight loss a boost. Exercise also offers numerous health benefits, including improving your mood, strengthening your cardiovascular system and reducing your blood pressure. And exercise is the most important factor in maintaining weight loss. Studies show that people who maintain their weight loss over the long term get regular physical activity.
Jun. 22, 2012 See more In-depth