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Why We Should Stop Seeking the 'Best' Diet


Is the paleo diet the best for losing weight? Or how about Weight Watchers? Maybe low fat? South Beach? Atkins?

Oh, stop. This whole debate over the "ideal" diet is misleading, and researchers and the media need to knock it off, says weight-management expert and psychologist Sherry Pagoto, Ph.D., with the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Pagoto, an associate professor who also counsels weight-management patients at the university's Weight Center, says there really is no such thing as the "best" diet - and trying to rank them "sheds little light on the treatment of obesity and may mislead the public" about the proper way to manage weight.

In a commentary she coauthored Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, she says an analysis of studies comparing diets shows there's not much difference between them in terms of the amount of weight lost.

In fact, she told the Boston Globe, the biggest predictor of long-term success was whether dieters were able to stick with the plan permanently.

Instead of debating which diet people should follow (and spending lots of resources studying it), researchers should be focusing on the specific things that really help a dieter make lifestyle changes - and for older adults, that's often dealing with depression, chronic pain that keeps them from being active, and a lack of structure to their day, she tells AARP.

"Depression is a barrier to weight loss at all ages," Pagoto said in an email, "because it zaps motivation to exercise and can trigger emotional eating."  She says exercise - even starting out with just two to three minutes a day - can be key, because it acts as both a natural antidepressant and a way to start losing weight.

For older adults, she says, "the big challenge I see is the lack of structure in the day." People think it will be easier to exercise after they retire, but the lack of a regular routine actually keeps them from setting a specific time to do this.

She tells her older clients to "schedule their exercise in their calendars and honor it just like an appointment." Getting others to join you also helps you stay on track.

The other big hurdle for many older adults, Pagoto says, is dealing with chronic and acute pain conditions that keep them sedentary. In these cases, she says, working with a physical therapist to develop an exercise program that doesn't cause or exacerbate pain "can be invaluable."

And don't forget the value of behavioral counseling from a weight-loss therapist, she adds. In a study of 161 older obese women with depression that she published in March in the International Journal of Obesity, behavioral counseling eliminated depression in half of the women and reduced its severity in a majority of them.

In addition, those who shed their depression after six months lost more weight than those who did not.



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