It's a truth universally acknowledged that eating fewer calories than you burn off, regardless of the specifics of your diet, will result in at least temporary weight loss. A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine emphasizes that principle; the mix of carbohydrates, fat, and protein in the four diets to which people were assigned didn't make a difference in whether they lost weight. One hopes this means an end to the interminable battles over whether the Atkins diet trumps a low-fat diet, for example, or whether either of those trumps the Zone diet. As the authors said about this and previous research:
These findings together point to behavioral factors rather than macronutrient metabolism as the main influences on weight loss...any type of diet, when taught for the purpose of weight loss with enthusiasm and persistence, can be effective.
The bad news: Those pesky "behavioral factors," i.e., our penchant for eating too much and exercising too little, seem to win out over the enthusiastic and persistent teaching. After two years, the average participant in the study had lost less than 9 pounds, and the trend was toward weight slowly creeping up again. A similar study published in 2007 found much the same thing. Martijn B. Katan of the Institute of Health Sciences at VU University in Amsterdam, put it this way:
Thus, even these highly motivated, intelligent participants who were coached by expert professionals could not achieve the weight losses needed to reverse the obesity epidemic. The results would probably have been worse among poor, uneducated subjects. Evidently, individual treatment is powerless against an environment that offers so many high-calorie foods and labor-saving devices.
Katan, like others, suggests that much broader solutions to the obesity problem are needed, including community-based programs that attack our consumption-promoting, exercise-discouraging environments. That doesn't mean, however, that losing weight is impossible for individuals. Take a look at the gallery below to see some practical, nonextreme tips and ideas from our greatest-hits file: