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Every year millions of adults in the United States try to lose weight (1).
Along with exercise, dieting is one of the most common methods used to promote weight loss.
However, not all diets are created equal, which can make it challenging to find a weight loss program that’s safe, sustainable, and effective.
The programs featured in this article were selected based on the following criteria:
- nutritional quality
- effectiveness for weight loss
- additional health benefits
- supporting research
This article looks at 16 of the best weight loss programs in 2020.
1. Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet is inspired by the eating patterns of countries like Italy, Spain, and Greece.
A well-rounded Mediterranean diet should include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, proteins, and healthy fats.
Meanwhile, added sugars and foods that have been heavily processed or refined are restricted (2).
For example, one analysis of 16 studies showed that those who paired the Mediterranean diet with physical activity and calorie restriction lost significantly more weight than those in a control group (6).
For an easy resource to help get you started on the Mediterranean diet, check out “The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook,” which features a variety of delicious recipes and in-depth information about the diet.
2. Plant-based diet
Plant-based diets encourage you to eat foods from plants, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils, and legumes.
Unlike vegan or vegetarian diets, most plant-based diets don’t eliminate meat or animal products entirely. However, these foods are only enjoyed in moderation and not generally considered to be the main focus of the diet (8).
Plant-based diets are particularly rich in fiber — the parts of plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that are resistant to digestion. Fiber helps keep you full between meals to promote weight loss (9, 10, 11).
According to one review of 12 studies, people who followed a plant-based vegetarian diet lost an average of 4.5 pounds (2 kg) more than those who followed a non-vegetarian diet over 18 weeks (12).
Another review of 32 studies found that plant-based diets were more effective for weight loss, compared with conventional diets, and even led to greater improvements in blood sugar control, cholesterol levels, and inflammation (13).
To learn more about plant-based diets, check out the book “The Plant-Based Diet for Beginners” by Gabriel Miller, which offers a variety of resources, including recipes and shopping lists.
3. Carb-restricted diet
Carb-restricted diets are often recommended to help support blood sugar control and increase weight loss among those with type 2 diabetes (14).
There are many types of carb-restricted diets, but most of them involve limiting the consumption of foods that are high in sugar or carbs, such as desserts, candy, bread, and pasta.
Although some carb-restricted diets, such as the Atkins or ketogenic diet, also require significantly reducing your carb consumption to 20–50 grams per day, low carb diets are defined as any diet comprising less than 130 grams of carbs per day (15, 16).
One study in 49 people with type 2 diabetes found that a low carb diet was more effective at improving blood sugar levels than a low fat diet. What’s more, it led to reductions in cholesterol and body mass index (BMI) after 3 months (17).
Another study in 124 people with type 2 diabetes found that following a low carb, high fat diet was linked to improved blood sugar control and increased weight loss, compared with a control group (18).
If you want to learn more about carb-restricted diets, you can find valuable resources online, or check out this article to get you started.
4. Mayo Clinic diet
The Mayo Clinic diet is an eating plan originally developed by experts at the Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit hospital system that’s considered to be a leader in medical research.
The Mayo Clinic diet is focused on developing healthy habits like eating breakfast every day, exercising daily, and keeping a food journal.
It also promotes nutritious ingredients, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, while limiting added sugars and saturated fat from full fat dairy and high fat meats.
Although there aren’t any peer-reviewed studies on the Mayo Clinic diet specifically, studies show that following a diet high in fiber and low in saturated fat may aid weight loss and blood sugar control (19, 20).
Other research suggests that reducing your intake of saturated fat or added sugars may also enhance your body’s ability to use insulin, the hormone that’s responsible for carrying sugar from your bloodstream into your cells (21, 22, 23, 24).
You can learn more about the Mayo Clinic diet on the Mayo Clinic’s website, or find valuable information in books on the topic.
5. Low carb diet
Low carb diets involve restricting your intake of carbs, including high carb foods like bread, pasta, and sweets.
As such, low carb diets are often recommended to improve insulin sensitivity and help manage symptoms of PCOS.
What’s more, another review of seven studies showed that low carb diets could help balance hormones and improve fertility in women with PCOS (27).
6. Anti-inflammatory diet
These diets are rich in foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. They also typically limit processed products, fried foods, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
In addition to promoting weight loss, following an anti-inflammatory diet may help alleviate symptoms of PCOS.
In fact, high levels of inflammation are thought to contribute to symptoms of PCOS and may be associated with increased levels of androgens, or male sex hormones (32).
One study in 100 women with PCOS found that pairing a calorie-restricted, anti-inflammatory diet with regular physical activity for 12 weeks significantly increased weight loss and improved hormone levels, menstrual cycle regularity, blood sugar control, and fertility (33).
Dorothy Calimeris and Lulu Cook’s book “The Complete Anti-Inflammatory Diet for Beginners” is an excellent resource for more information on the anti-inflammatory diet.
7. DASH diet
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is an eating plan intended to promote weight loss, reduce blood pressure levels, and protect against heart disease (34).
The diet promotes nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.
Meanwhile, red meat and foods high in added sugar, salt, or fat are limited.
According to one review of 13 studies, participants who followed the DASH diet lost more weight and belly fat than those following other calorie-restricted diets for 8–24 weeks (35).
There are a variety of books and resources on the DASH diet, or you can check out this article to get you started.
8. TLC diet
The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet is a plan developed by the National Cholesterol Education Program to support healthy cholesterol levels.
On the TLC diet, foods high in fat and dietary cholesterol are limited, while foods high in soluble fiber — a type of fiber that dissolves in water — are encouraged.
The diet also recommends aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise daily.
Check out this free guide to the TLC diet online, which is provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
9. Intermittent fasting
Although there are many styles and variations of intermittent fasting, most involve restricting food intake for 14–24 hours at a time.
Some research suggests that intermittent fasting may be particularly beneficial for women during menopause (44).
What’s more, other research suggests that intermittent fasting may help support mental health during menopause by enhancing self-esteem, as well as reducing stress levels and symptoms of anxiety and depression (44).
Therefore, women may benefit from a more relaxed approach to fasting, which could include intermittent fasting just a few times per week, consuming a small number of calories during fasts, or limiting fasting periods to 14–16 hours at a time.
Be sure to also follow a healthy and balanced diet during non-fasting periods to maximize the potential benefits.
To learn more about intermittent fasting and how to incorporate it into your daily routine, check out “Fast. Feast. Repeat.” by Gin Stephens.
10. Pescatarian diet
The pescatarian diet is a mostly plant-based diet that includes fish and seafood.
There are several variations of pescatarian diets, but most of them exclude meat and poultry from the diet but include other animal products like fish, eggs, dairy, and honey.
The diet may also be particularly beneficial for those with thyroid issues like hypothyroidism, as it encourages the consumption of seafood that’s rich in selenium, a mineral that’s essential for the production of thyroid hormones (54).
However, keep in mind that this diet may not necessarily be suitable for all thyroid conditions, and those with conditions like Hashimoto’s or Graves’ disease may benefit from an individualized dietary pattern tailored to their needs.
Many books can provide more information on the pescatarian diet, along with meal plans and recipes to get you started.
11. Ornish Diet
The Ornish Diet is a low fat, plant-based eating pattern that promotes nutritious ingredients like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
While weight control is not the primary goal of the Ornish Diet, multiple studies have found that it may be effective for long-term weight loss.
For example, one study in 311 women showed that participants who followed the Ornish Diet for 12 months lost an average of 5 pounds (2.2 kg) (57).
Another small study found that the Ornish Diet was more effective for weight loss than other popular diet plans like Atkins and the ZONE Diet, resulting in 7.5 pounds (3.3 kg) of weight loss after 1 year (58).
Keep in mind that the Ornish Diet restricts fat intake quite a bit and limits the consumption of several healthy foods like nuts, seeds, and oils. Thus, careful planning is necessary to ensure that you’re meeting your nutritional needs while following the Ornish Diet.
For more information about the diet, check out “UnDo It! How Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases” by Dean and Annie Ornish.
12. Jenny Craig
Jenny Craig is a popular program that delivers prepackaged, portion-controlled meals to help simplify weight loss.
Jenny Craig may be an especially good fit for many older adults, as it’s simple, easy to follow, and doesn’t require extensive planning or preparation.
Plans are tailored to your specific weight loss goals but typically provide 1,200–2,300 calories per day.
One massive review of 39 studies found that Jenny Craig participants experienced nearly 5% more weight loss after 1 year, compared with those in a control group and people who underwent behavioral counseling (59).
In another study in 133 women with overweight, participants who followed Jenny Craig lost an average of 11.5 pounds (5.3 kg) over 12 weeks (60).
13. MIND diet
The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, or MIND diet, combines certain aspects of the Mediterranean and DASH diets to help combat mental decline.
On the MIND diet, foods like fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains are encouraged, while foods high in saturated or trans fats are limited.
To get started, check out “The MIND Diet Plan and Cookbook” by Julie Andrews, which provides shopping lists, meal plans, and recipes aimed at promoting better brain health.
14. WW (formerly Weight Watchers)
WW, formerly Weight Watchers, is a diet program that uses a points-based system to promote long-lasting, sustainable weight loss.
Foods and drinks are assigned a SmartPoints value, and members are allotted a specific number of points to use each day.
Depending on which plan you select, there are also 100 to over 300 ZeroPoints foods available, which are foods that don’t count toward your daily SmartPoints budget.
WW may be a good option for couples that want to lose weight, as the program is flexible and still allows you to eat out together and enjoy your favorite foods.
WW even offers a couple’s package, which provides a discounted rate for a dual membership.
One large review of 39 studies showed that Weight Watchers participants lost at least 2.6% more weight over 1 year than a control group or those who received behavioral counseling (59).
Another study in 1,267 people found that those who followed Weight Watchers for 1 year lost more weight and still had greater overall weight loss after 2 years than those who received self-help materials or brief nutrition advice (63).
However, this study was funded by Weight Watchers, which may have influenced the results.
15. Vegetarian diet
Switching to a vegetarian diet is a great way to lose weight and save some money.
In fact, plant-based protein sources like canned beans, lentils, tofu, and tempeh can be a cost-effective alternative to meat, poultry, and seafood.
Following a vegetarian diet can also be an easy way to boost weight loss.
One review of 12 studies found that people who followed a vegetarian diet lost significantly more weight than those who followed non-vegetarian diets over an average of 18 weeks (12).
In another review, 75% of studies included showed that following a vegetarian diet was associated with better overall diet quality, compared with non-vegetarian diets (64).
Countless books can provide more information on vegetarian diets and their potential health benefits.
BistroMD is a meal delivery service that’s specifically designed to promote long-lasting weight loss.
The program was designed by bariatric physician Dr. Caroline J. Cederquist and features over 150 chef-prepared meals that are ready to enjoy in just 5 minutes or less.
You can select from plans that offer breakfast, lunch, or dinner and mix and match your favorite recipes to create a custom meal plan.
Gluten-free meals and programs geared toward heart health, diabetes, and menopause are also available.
Although there are no studies on the effectiveness of BistroMD specifically, the program provides meals that are low in calories and high in protein, which can help reduce your appetite and promote weight loss (65, 66, 67).
The program also provides access to an online community and individual support from a registered dietitian to help you reach your weight loss goals.
There are a number of factors to consider when finding a diet or weight loss program that works for you.
First, look for a diet that can easily fit your lifestyle and food preferences, which can help ensure long-term success.
Additionally, select programs that are backed by research and have been shown to be effective for weight loss.
Diet programs should also be realistic and sustainable. Steer clear of diets that are overly restrictive or promise a quick-fix for rapid weight loss.
You should also be cautious of programs that require you to purchase expensive products or supplements to achieve results.
Ideally, programs should incorporate other healthy lifestyle habits, such as regular physical activity and mindful eating, which can boost long-term weight loss and support overall health.
If you have other underlying health conditions or are taking any medications, be sure to talk to a trusted healthcare professional before making changes to your diet.
There are many weight loss programs available, making it easy to find something that can work for you.
When picking a diet, look for a program that’s realistic, sustainable, and backed by research.
Be sure to also incorporate other healthy habits, such as regular physical activity and mindful eating, into your daily routine to maximize weight loss and improve your overall health.