Weight Loss Planner: This diet or that diet? This workout or that workout?

December 25, 2011

What do dieting and serious dating have in common, other than they often go hand-in-hand?

In both cases, you’re seeking a new body (yours or someone else’s) that you hope will stick around. More important, in sizing up a date or a diet, you need to determine whether there’s long-term potential and how likely you are to truly commit.

The same is true of exercise programs. However, the person choosing a diet and workout routine has far more choices right at the start than the person trying to find a mate.

South Beach or Atkins? Boot camp workout or lunchtime stroll?

Finding an effective weight-loss program is less overwhelming, perhaps, when you keep in mind there is no “right” approach that works for every individual. No matter what the preponderance of scientific or pseudo research says, or what the thinnest celebrity or Biggest Loser is doing, you are most likely to succeed with a personally tailored weight-loss program that takes into account a variety of factors such as health status, lifestyle and preferences. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” says Valley Forge, Pa.-based nutritionist and exercise physiologist Janet Bond Brill. “It has to be individualized or it won’t work.”   

In fact, any number of diets have shown to be effective provided people can stick with them. But what one person finds sustainable may be insufferable to you. 

Permanent changes in eating and exercise habits, not drastic measures promising dramatic results, are the key to lifetime weight management, Brill says. So how do you find or customize a weight-loss program to suit your individual needs and increase your chances of succeeding?

For starters, after determining your ideal weight range based on your height and frame, a doctor or nutritionist can help you determine the number of calories you can consume daily to meet your weight loss goals. Your doctor may prescribe a special eating plan, such as a low-sodium diet, to address medical conditions like high blood pressure.

Based on your fitness level and any physical concerns, such as joint pain, your doctor can also suggest appropriate exercises to start out with.

You then need to consider your food preferences and diet history. If a diet calls for you to cut back drastically on carbs but you love crusty bread and cavatappi, odds are you’ll give up. If you’ve tried diets in the past with short-term or no results, think about why you “broke up” with each diet.

Consider your personality, too. Do you prefer structure or flexibility? Can you make do with a scientifically based diet book, or do you want the support and accountability offered in group meetings?

Stay away from fad diets, which generally enable devotees to lose weight fast. They may work in the short term but are seldom sustainable. “Fad diets usually take something away from you — an ingredient or a food group or a macronutrient like carbs, fat or protein,” says chef-turned-internist Timothy Harlan, medical director of The Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, and creator of, which features customizable meal plans.

If there’s a prohibition against a food or list of foods, “That’s a diet you don’t want,” he adds.

In fact, “The secret to long-term weight management is to pinpoint your favorite foods and incorporate them by cutting back elsewhere,” Brill says.

There’s a place in any healthy diet for the occasional sweet or salty indulgence along with vegetables and fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean protein sources, and nuts and seeds; however, foods you tend to binge on should not be kept in the house, she adds. 

It’s easiest to lose weight by eating fewer carbs and more protein because “the first thing the body burns is carbohydrates, and it will never touch your fat reserves if you’re eating too many carbs,” says West Palm Beach, Fla.-based bariatric physician Daisy Merey.

Protein is more filling, she adds, and takes more calories to metabolize.

But severely restricting carbs deprives the body of necessary fiber and health-promoting plant foods.

“At the end of the day, when it comes to weight loss it’s about calories in and calories out,” Harlan says. If you expend more calories than you eat, you’ll lose weight.

Not all calories are created equal, though. You can lose weight eating nothing but tater tots, provided you don’t take in too many calories. “I cringe at the thought that weight loss would be the only goal” of an eating program, Brill says, because no matter how thin you get the all-tot diet will compromise your health and possibly hasten your death.

Eating small, frequent meals raises you metabolic rate and is a proven weight-management strategy, and not skipping breakfast helps people stay lean. But though science-backed guidelines allow for four or five meals throughout the day following a healthy breakfast, this total includes what we think of as snacks.

When comparing weight-loss plans, keep in mind that successful long-term strategies all have at least two hallmarks: physical activity and slow, steady weight loss. A combination of cardiovascular exercise and strength training is best for weight control and overall health. Gaining muscle mass through strength training increases your metabolic rate, so your body burns more calories even when it’s at rest. Getting started need not be intimidating or expensive. “From an aerobic standpoint, everybody knows how to walk,” says Scott Danberg, director of fitness at Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa, a Miami health resort.

Exercise regimens are tougher to stick with if you are overly concerned at the start with intensity and duration. In the beginning, “Frequency is most important,” Danberg says. “Just get out there five out of seven days. Once you start showing up consistently, you can think about intensity and time.”

Whether a program succeeds ultimately depends on a person’s view of it. Setting aside your reluctance to downsize your portions and limit some of your favorite foods, if you can’t think of a plan as a life-time strategy, it probably isn’t the best match for you.

Weight Loss Planner: This diet or that diet? This workout or that workout?