Diets that Work

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Susan Kirk, MD

Jane Norman, MA, RD/LD, CDE

Ramon E. Martinez, MD 

Dorothy Shulman, MD

Additional Resources
The Obesity Society
American Dietetic Association

Are you confused by all the weight loss diets out there?

It can be hard to know what works and what’s healthy. Everyone wants a diet that promises to take weight off quickly. But the best kind of weight loss is slow and steady—about 1/2 to 2 pounds a week. You’ll want to find an eating plan you can live with for the long-term and that keeps the pounds off permanently.

This resource is about three diets that have been proven to work:

  • The Mediterranean diet
  • A diet moderately low in carbohydrates
  • A vegetarian or vegan diet

Are you ready to lose weight?

  • Have you chosen a way of eating that you can live with over the long-term?
  • Have you removed tempting junk foods from your house?
  • Have you told a friend or relative about your plans?
  • Have you chosen a way to get exercise most days of the week?

These are all questions that you should ask your doctor since they will help you to be successful. 

The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that’s common in Greece, Spain, southern Italy, and southern France. Traditional foods in those areas include fish, vegetables, fruits, beans, breads high in fiber, whole grains, and healthy fats such as olive oil. Nuts are part of the diet as well.

The Mediterranean diet is low in red meat, cheese, and sweets. Many of the meals are vegetarian. A moderate amount of wine can be included daily. This type of diet can help lower your risk for heart disease, prevent type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, and lower cholesterol. Some researchers also claim that this diet can prevent depression, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease.

Sample Dinner Menu

  • Chopped Greek Salad with Chicken and Feta
  • Roasted Eggplant, Onion, and Tomato
  • Greek Yogurt with Figs

A Moderately Low-Carbohydrate Diet

This diet, similar to the South Beach diet, promotes the use of lean protein foods and high-fiber, nutrient-rich carbohydrates, such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. The diet also includes some types of fat (healthy unsaturated fats) and low-fat dairy products. It excludes white flour products and most starchy carbohydrates like potatoes, rice, and pasta. In general, this type of diet is healthy and can result in weight loss. You don’t need to count calories or do other complicated calculations to follow this diet. Nor do you need to deny yourself regular meals. Cooking for this diet is fairly easy. You can also modify the food choices if you are vegetarian or vegan.

Sample Dinner Menu

  • Baked Salmon
  • Roasted Brussel Sprouts
  • Green Salad
  • Tangerines

A Vegetarian or Vegan Diet

A vegetarian diet generally excludes animal products. But some vegetarians do eat small amounts of animal products; for example, some vegetarians eat milk and eggs along with fruits, vegetables, and grains. Other vegetarians might include fish but no meat. A vegan diet is a diet that excludes all animal products. People who follow a vegan diet need to take vitamin B12 supplements and include protein, such as nut butters, beans, and nuts, to make sure they get all the nutrients they need. Most vegetarians eat fewer calories than non-vegetarians. A vegetarian diet can help fight heart disease and high blood pressure.

Sample Dinner Menu


  • Spaghetti with Mushroom-Tomato-Asiago Cheese Sauce
  • Steamed Green Beans with Pine Nuts
  • Fruit Salad


  • Roasted Vegetables with Whole Wheat Pasta
  • Green Salad
  • Sliced Apples

Also consider eating bean-based products instead of wheat-based pastas which are more "starchy". 

What should I do to get started with weight loss?

First, answer the questions above. Think about what works for your family or the people you live with. Then, meet with a registered dietitian for personalized advice. Seeing a dietitian will help you reach your weight-loss goals. If you have a medical condition, be sure to check with your doctor before starting any kind of diet or exercise program.

How can I keep the weight off

Once you’ve lost weight, try these quick tips to keep the weight off:

  • Stay physically active
  • Keep food portions in check
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and some whole grains for fibeR
  • Limit animal fat and use small amounts of healthier fats such as olive oil
  • Choose chicken and fish more often that red meat, and limit serving size to the palm of your hand
  • Eat breakfast almost every day
  • Include splurge or treat foods occasionally
  • Check your weight regularly

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Do I need to lose weight? How much?
  • What health problems might I develop if I don’t lose weight?
  • What are my options for diets?
  • What are the risks and benefits of these diets?
  • How long will it take for me to lose the weight?
  • Should I see a registered dietitian?
Edited: July 2018