Looking for a Diet You Can Live With? Go Mediterranean

Most diets can enable you to lose weight. But what happens after you’ve lost the weight? Do you keep the weight off, or regain it almost as quickly as you lost it? Almost more important, do you stick with the food choices of the diet you followed after the initial period of dieting is over?

A group of Israeli researchers, writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, have attempted to investigate those questions. Starting with a two-year study on three types of diet performed in the subjects’ workplace, the researchers then followed up on the subjects’ weight loss and dietary habits for four years following the initial study, to see which of the diets “stuck,” in the sense of both keeping weight off, and being “livable,” a diet that one keeps following without thinking that one is “on a diet.”

The three weight loss plans compared were 1) a low-calorie, low-fat diet, 2) a low-carbohydrate diet plan without calorie restrictions, and 3) a low-calorie Mediterranean-style diet. During the first two-year phase of the study, subjects (most of whom started as clinically obese) did well with all three types of diet; at the two-year mark 85% of them were still following their respective diet programs. But the most dramatic changes came from following a Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables, fruits, fish, legumes, whole grains, healthy fats like olive oil, and moderate amounts of alcohol. More significantly, four years later most of the subjects who ate a Mediterranean diet were still following its general guidelines, and had been most successful at keeping their weight under control.

The Mediterranean diet is easiest to stick with

According to Allison Krall, a dietitian who reviewed the study results, “The Mediterranean diet won out overall. It is a more balanced diet with more options and choices. Finding ways of eating that a person can stick to over the long haul is the key to losing weight and keeping it off because yo-yo dieting is dangerous.”

Weight loss was highest in the Mediterranean diet group – an average of 7 pounds lost – but the researchers found that it also offered better effects on reducing cholesterol than the other two diets, as well as less weight regain during the four years following the initial study. This follow-up period was considered important because the subjects were no longer committed in any way to the original diet study, or to the diets they had followed during that two-year period. The Mediterranean diet plan wound up being more “livable,” that’s all.

What is it about the Mediterranean diet that makes it effective?

That’s what researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health were looking to discover in another study performed at the University of Athens Medical School in Greece and other locations. They followed over 23,000 Greek men and women who were basically following a Mediterranean diet for eight and a half years. What these researchers found was that the nutritional and health benefits from a Mediterranean diet came more from certain food choices in that diet than from others.

Researchers noted that the benefits of the Mediterranean diet came primarily from (in order of importance) “moderate consumption of alcohol, low consumption of meat and meat products, and high consumption of vegetables, fruits and nuts, olive oil, and legumes.” Interestingly, the aspects of a Mediterranean diet that seemed to provide the least benefits were high consumption of fish and cereals, and avoidance of dairy products.

All of these findings sure reflect my experience. I have tried a number of diets and diet plans over the years, but have ended up gravitating to and sticking with a generally Mediterranean diet, for the very reasons specified in the New England Journal of Medicine study. It was easy to live with. What’s not to like about fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish, and olive oil? And even more in terms of “livability” for me, what’s not to like about being able to enjoy all of this with a nice glass of red wine? It’s just so…civilized.

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Juliette Siegfried, MPH

Juliette Siegfried, MPH, has been involved in health communications since 1991. Shortly after obtaining her Master of Public Health degree, she began her career at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Juliette now lives in Europe, where she launched ServingMed(.)com, a small medical writing and editing business for health professionals all over the world.

Juliette's resume, facebook: juliette.siegfriedmph, linkedin: juliettes, (+31) 683 673 767

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