8 Things the Best Weight-Loss Diets Have in Common

Lisa Fields
by Lisa Fields
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8 Things the Best Weight-Loss Diets Have in Common

If you’re hoping to lose weight, there are so many ways to go about it: Cutting carbs, weighing what you eat, keeping a food journal, intermittent fasting, hiring a personal trainer and countless other ideas registered dietitians, health coaches and well-meaning friends might suggest.

When losing weight, experts agree there isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy. From the Mediterranean diet to DASH, there are many different eating plans to help you achieve your goals in a way that fits your lifestyle. However, there are some commonalities that can set you up for success. Here, eight criteria the best weight-loss diets share:



If you try to overhaul your diet all at once, it’s more likely to backfire, says Dr. Shauna Collins, author of “No More Dieting!” Instead, start by highlighting the foods you love and look for the healthiest version, suggests Collins. For example, “if you love sandwiches, try removing one slice of bread and eating it open-faced.” Making small changes is sustainable, and you’ll be more likely to lose weight and keep it off.



Plans with choices are ideal: They’re more likely to suit your lifestyle, which encourages you to continue. “A diet that is too Spartan only broadens our existing polarized views about food as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ which often leads to an inadvertent off-the-wagon episode,” says Rebecca Newman, LCSW, a psychotherapist based in Philadelphia. “A good plan prioritizes making nutritious choices overall, without the use of language that forbids certain foods.”



Weight loss isn’t solely about eating. The best plans highlight the importance of physical activity and recommend you get moving for roughly 150 minutes each week. “The combination of the two is where the magic happens,” says medical exercise specialist Chris Gagliardi, a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. “We know physical activity can increase your metabolism and help you burn more calories. Start slow and work your way up — you’re looking for the lifestyle change, not the quick fix.”



Some plans require you to temporarily follow extreme habits that lead to short-term weight loss, but when you resume your old habits, the weight comes back. The best weight-loss plans encourage you to adopt new healthy habits for life. “Before committing to a certain diet, ask yourself, ‘Could I follow this plan for the rest of my life?” suggests David Ezell, a licensed psychotherapist and certified diet and fitness coach based in New York City. If the answer is no, you probably shouldn’t try it for the short-term.

Real, significant lifestyle change means committing to replacing one way of life with another. “You are undoing a series of bad choices with sustainable, healthy ones. This creates real results and lasting change,” Ezell says.



Instead of limiting or eliminating certain macronutrients from your diet, choose a plan that allows you to eat a mix of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. “Lean proteins can include chicken, fish, eggs, beans and tofu,” says Jana Wolff, RD, director of nutrition for Greater Baltimore Medical Center’s Comprehensive Obesity Management Program. Healthy fats include nuts or nut butters, avocado, olive oil and seeds. Nutritious carbs include high-fiber starches like sweet potatoes, brown rice, oats and whole-grain pastas or breads. Allowing for a variety of healthy foods in your diet helps you feel full and satisfied, which in turn minimizes cravings and overeating.



Knowing how large or small a serving size you should be eating can help you to achieve your weight-loss goals, says Nancy Lee Stamback, RD. This is especially true in the beginning, to get a good visual sense of what that serving should look like on a plate or in a bowl, says Stamback. Ultimately, you shouldn’t have to measure every single ingredient in every meal to stay on track, but rather have a general understanding of portion sizes, says Stamback. That way if you’re out at a restaurant or friend’s house, you don’t have to worry about measuring every little thing, which will be more sustainable in the long-term.



Since nobody’s perfect, a good weight-loss plan should be easy to resume even when you’ve taken some missteps. “I always say, ‘Slip, don’t slide,’ which resonates with my clients, since one slip can often turn into a free-for-all,” says Wolff. Instead of beating yourself up about getting off track, “just come back to your balanced meals at the next meal or snack.” Feeling comfortable with your plan should help you return to it, instead of giving up. “Remember that progress and consistency is always more effective than perfection.”



Weight loss isn’t always linear and if you hit a plateau, your plan shouldn’t make you feel like you’ve failed. Over-emphasis on the finish line can be discouraging. “Plans that focus too much on a numeric result may under-value the work you’ve put in to making changes in your life,” Newman says. “A good plan will encourage you to view the process as a journey, which involves trying a new recipe at home, noticing changes in your energy level, appreciating how your clothes fit differently and, finally, seeing a reduction in weight.”

Originally published April 2019, updated with additional reporting

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About the Author

Lisa Fields
Lisa Fields

Lisa Fields is a full-time freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition, fitness and psychology topics. Her work has been published in Reader’s Digest, WebMD, Women’s Health, Shape, Self and many other publications. A former lifeguard, Lisa swims regularly to stay in shape.You can read more of her work at http://www.writtenbylisafields.com/.


5 responses to “8 Things the Best Weight-Loss Diets Have in Common”

  1. Avatar Polly says:

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  2. Avatar nilay kara says:

    I want to lose weight but don’t know where to start
    Earlier this morning, I stepped on the scale and I now weigh 181 lbs. I’m still not 100% sure where and

    what I should do to get myself started on exercising, so I guess I’ll start here? Are there any exercises

    you guys do that have helped you out with losing weight that can be performed in your home? Along with

    that, do you guys have any advice for exercising, eating healthy, etc? Anything helps!

    I don’t know which program do I need to use.

    • Avatar Colleen Phillips says:

      Ultimately, you’ll have to tailor your approach to meet your needs, and that may require some trial-and-error. No one program works for everybody. Personally, I’ve never found exercise much help with weight loss specifically, but exercise makes me feel so good and I have so much more energy, exercise is still very worthwhile. Walking is a good place to start – you should be walking fast enough to make you breathe harder and break a sweat, but if you are gasping for breath, you’re working too hard. You should be able to walk a mile in 20 minutes or less to start building some endurance to keep your heart and lungs healthy and prevent diabetes. See if you can find activities you enjoy – anything to move more and sit less. As for diet, focus on the positive – I’m not in favor of cutting out whole food groups. If you are satisfying your appetite with good complex carbs, like beans and whole grains, and eating more vegetables and fruits, plus healthy fats from things like nuts, olives, and avocados, you won’t crave as many sweets and junk foods, because you’ll be giving your body what it really needs. No forbidden foods – if you really want a brownie or some ice cream, go ahead! Eat it slowly and savor every bite. Anyone can lose weight, but keeping it off requires permanent lifestyle changes so you don’t get caught in an endless cycle of yo-yo dieting, so don’t get discouraged if it takes some time to figure out what really works best for you. Read and research – knowledge is power! Wishing you success on your journey –

    • Avatar Dr. Shauna Collins says:

      Hi Nilay.
      Rather than starting an ‘exercise program’ or a diet, I recommend immediately (like – NOW) taking small, doable steps towards improved health and fitness and maintain your newly acquired healthy habits for life. For example, commit to eating only when you’re authentically hungry (unless you have medical conditions that require otherwise). Adopting this practice immediately reduces most peoples’ daily caloric intake by eliminating snacking, stress eating, social eating, and eating out of boredom or being tired. Additionally, adopt the practice of ‘mindful eating’ and stop eating during every meal once your body signals it’s had enough to eat – not when you’re “full.” Most people continue eating long after the body’s physiologic need for nutrition has been satisfied.

      I agree with Colleen Phillips excellent eating and exercise advice! Adopt physical activity according to your level of fitness and ability. Start with a type of activity you enjoy and begin doing it at the intensity level and duration of time you can tolerate. Your exercise capacity will increase as your conditioning increases. Eat foods and do activity you enjoy – always striving to improve your health. For instance, if you enjoy flavored liquids – swap caloric drinks f(if you drink them) for non-caloric ones. If you enjoy sandwiches, (as I said in the above article) eat them open-faced by discarding one slice of bread. If you enjoy salads but despise low-cal dressings, use the dressing that you like, but consider diluting it with a little water or vinegar (apple cider or balsamic are my favorite). Swap high-sugar BBQ sauce with a sugar-free brand. Dilute the BBQ with water and/or vinegar as well. I could go on and on…

      Adopting multiple small, painless – yet healthy, doable steps throughout your day everyday, now and forever – starting TODAY (always start TODAY – not “tomorrow”) will reduce your caloric intake by hundreds of calories every single day and your weight will reduce without the since of restriction and overwhelm that tends to come from ‘dieting.’

      Check with your physician before starting any exercise and dietary plan.
      Best of health to you!

      Doc Shauna

  3. Avatar Lesa Thomas says:

    I’ve always suggested people who want to lose weight: it’s easier to add something to your routine than to reduce things you like. So, I suggest them, don’t worry about shedding anything out at first. Just work on adding healthy schedules like regular workout, plenty of water, more veggies, eating less or eating healthy such as, etc. Thank you for sharing the details about weight loss diets.

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