While perusing the stacks and stacks of diet books and packages on Amazon, ever wish someone could just tell you which one will help you lose weight?
A recent research paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association tried to do that — but, spoiler alert, you’re not going to love the results.
With some help from the number crunchers over at FiveThirtyEight, who looked at the paper, here’s what the researchers found.
Studies have already been done comparing the effectiveness of doing Atkins, Jenny Craig and South Beach (and many more) to not dieting. But in order to understand which works best — by helping you lose weight and keep it off — these results need to be compared head-to-head.
So the researchers grouped the diets by their focus: Atkins and South Beach are low carb; Ornish and Rosemary Conley are low fat, and Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig are low calorie. All of the above diets cut your calorie intake.
The scientists used the previous studies comparing the diets to no diet and compared their effectiveness by measured overall weight loss, FiveThirtyEight writer Emily Oster writes.
Here’s the good news: All of the diets work in that you lose more weight while you are on them than when you aren’t. (Duh.)
After a year, the low carb and low fat diets show about the same results, around 16 pounds of weight loss. The low calorie diets only show about 12 pounds after a year.
But here’s the bad news: All but one diet group gained weight back.
After six months, Atkins had the best result, with over twenty pounds, according to the study. Jenny Craig had the worst, with just over 12 pounds.
After a year, Jenny Craig jumped to second place, with 14.3 pounds. Atkins dieters gained almost eight pounds back.
But here’s what FiveThirtyEight missed: While Jenny Craig lost to Ornish for total weight lost over a year by .1 pounds, Jenny Craig was the only diet whose participants didn’t regain weight. Ornish participants gained back about 5 pounds between the six month and one year mark.
The main takeaway here is changing habits and paying attention to what you eat will help you lose weight — but adhering long term to a specific diet doesn’t necessarily mean significant — or sustained — weight loss.