With a new year comes New Year’s resolutions. Oftentimes we focus on making changes to our diets, or we strategize ways to lose weight. Ultimately, we vow that this year will be different and we will definitely stick to the plan. But before committing to anything specific, the following information may help guide your choices.
About half of all Americans will be making New Year’s resolutions this year, with “losing weight” and “eating healthier” as two of the most popular.
I’ve certainly participated in my fair share of food-related resolutions over the years. One that was particularly memorable (because it was so ridiculous) was when I was a sophomore in college. My friends and I made a New Year’s resolution pact – no more eating pizza, desserts, and anything after 8pm.
At the time, we felt this was a stress-free way to help ourselves stay in control of our erratic eating behaviors. Inevitably, we all broke the pact because it was too difficult to maintain – especially for a college student.
Perhaps this outcome would have been more predictable had known that 80% of New Years resolutions fizzle out by February anyway!
Why is it so hard to stick with it?
As Americans, 75% of us cite willpower as the biggest barrier to weight loss and 60% of us believe it is a person’s individual responsibility to lose weight. We blame ourselves for failed dieting attempts. But maybe the blame belongs elsewhere.
The diet industry grossed $78 billion in 2019, and it banks on the fact that we will fail and try again. The more we believe we need them, and the more we believe it’s our willpower that needs fixing, the more money they make. And we feed right into this:
- 95% of dieters will regain their weight in 1-5 years
- 1/5th of obese people say they’ve tried and failed at dieting at least 20 times
- Dieting is a consistent predictor of weight gain, with the risk being twice as high for teenagers.
If we succeed at dieting, their business fails. They have a vested interest in our failure.
What if I still want to lose weight?
Despite these stats, there are plenty of people who will embark on a mission to lose weight this year. I understand that. Part of my role here is to meet you where you are, and provide support for your unique nutrition journey.
So, let’s meet half way.
For those who are looking to make some changes, the current list of top ranked diets from U.S. News & World Report follows. To present an honest and balanced understanding, I‘ve included critiques for each plan.
A panel of health experts, including nutritionists and specialists in diabetes, heart health, human behavior, and weight loss, reviewed 39 diets. Here is their top five from 2021.
#1 Mediterranean Diet
Top ranked for the 4th year running, the Mediterranean diet is based off eating patterns traditionally followed by people living in the Mediterranean region. This includes consuming more vegetables and less meat, cooking vegetarian one night a week, eating less cheese, choosing seafood twice a week, using unsaturated oils to cook with, switching from refined to whole grains, and choosing fruit for dessert.
- Restrictions, especially when placed on dessert can oftentimes have the opposite effect, making you crave what you can’t have.
- You may feel like you must eat in this pattern to be healthy. But that’s not the case. There are plenty of traditional diets that combine culture and wellness. You can also eat in a nontraditional way and still be healthy.
- This diet does not cater to those with specific medical conditions (like heart disease) that need to minimize sodium, nor is it specific to diabetes management.
#2 DASH Diet
An acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, this diet has been around for about 20 years. As the name suggests, this diet primarily addresses high blood pressure by capping daily sodium intake. Parameters also include decreasing saturated fat intake (including dairy, sweets, and tropical oils).
- Though this may be helpful for specific cardiac conditions, everyone has unique needs, and it may not be necessary (or helpful) to adhere to these guidelines.
- More recent research on cardiac disease suggests the jury is still out on whether full-fat dairy should be substituted with low-fat dairy.
- There are restrictions on tropical oils because they are higher in saturated fat. These oils are a central part of cooking in some cultures, however, and difficult to eliminate.
- The goal of this diet is to improve metabolic profiles. It can be frustrating if the results don’t happen, or at least not right away, as often promised.
#3 The Flexitarian Diet or Semi Vegetarian Diet (SVD)
A combination of flexible and vegetarian, this diet is all about being vegetarian most of the time with allowances for meat when the craving arises. The concept is that more plants and less meat will lead to weight loss. Non-meat proteins, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and herbs and spices rather than salt are also encouraged.
- “It’s hard to determine the effectiveness of this diet because there is so much variety in the specific parameters of the plan – some people barely eat any meat, while others are eating less than they did before.
- Eating meat when you really crave it can cause a “last supper mentality.” Meaning, we gobble down the whole burger no matter how much we actually want to eat because we are unsure when we will have it again.
- The idea is to avoid processed stuff, but be mindful that meat alternatives and plant-based products can be processed too.
#4 WW (formally known as Weight Watchers)
With this diet, every food is assigned a point system and a certain number of points are allotted for the day based on your weight loss goals. How and when you choose to eat your points is totally up to you.
- There is a cost to becoming a member and tracking points.
- This approach can lead to disordered eating habits because it’s gimmicky – by advertising that WW is a plan that allows freedom in food choice, it inadvertently encourages participants to trick the system to get the most bang for their buck so to speak.
- It’s focused primarily on weight loss, not overall health.
- WW has advertised to teens to get them to start dieting earlier. This is highly damaging for growing bodies and minds, especially because for young women, dieting is associated with increased rates of binge eating and an increased likelihood of becoming a smoker.
#5 Mayo Clinic
Focused on weight loss with an emphasis on low energy density foods (meaning foods that can be eaten in higher volume for lower calories), the ultimate goal of this plan/diet is rapid weekly weight loss until a goal weight is reached.
- Focusing on weight and weight loss makes success challenging. Expectations of rapid and continuous weight loss are difficult to achieve and unsustainable.
- Participants will need to ignore hunger cues in pursuit of weight loss.
Wait, where is Noom on this list?
In case you were curious, Noom is #12, and though the company claims otherwise, is clearly listed as a diet. They also placed an advertisement on the US News site called “Noom Weight.” Read more about my personal experience with Noom for more information.
Dieting and intentional weight loss can do more harm than good. Since 95% of diets ultimately fail, consider skipping food restrictions for this New Year’s resolution. U.S. News and World Report ranks the best diets every year, and even these diets have drawbacks.
If you are tired of dieting and don’t feel like trying something new, consider this: no New Year’s resolution may be the best resolution you will ever make.
What were your best or worst New Years resolutions over the years? We love to hear from you! Please comment below.