The best diet for losing weight is Weight Watchers, according to the experts who rated the diets below for U.S. News. Volumetrics came in second, and the Flexitarian Diet, Jenny Craig and the vegan diet were third on this overall weight loss ranking list, which takes into account short-term and long-term weight loss scores. Some other diets performed as well or better in our rankings for enabling fast weight loss, but long-term weight loss is more important for your health.
Without further ado, here’s the list of best diets for weight loss in 2019:
1: Weight Watchers
Although still used to shed pounds, with a focus on living healthier, Weight Watchers is about far more than its name might indicate. Its WW Freestyle program, launched in late 2017, builds on its SmartPoints system, which assigns every food and beverage a point value, based on its nutrition. The newest program expands dietary options that are 0 points from only fruits and vegetables to more than 200 foods. A backbone of the plan is multi-model access (via in-person meetings, online chat or phone) to support from people who lost weight using Weight Watchers, kept it off and have been trained in behavioral weight management techniques.
Pioneered by Penn State University nutrition professor Barbara Rolls, Volumetrics is more of an approach to eating than it is a structured diet. With “The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet” as your guide, you’ll learn to decipher a food’s energy density, cut the energy density of your meals and make choices that fight hunger. Food is divided into four groups. Category one (very low-density) includes nonstarchy fruits and vegetables, nonfat milk and broth-based soup. Category two (low-density) includes starchy fruits and veggies, grains, breakfast cereal, low-fat meat, legumes and low-fat mixed dishes like chili and spaghetti. Category three (medium-density) includes meat, cheese, pizza, french fries, salad dressing, bread, pretzels, ice cream and cake. And category four (high-density) includes crackers, chips, chocolate candies, cookies, nuts, butter and oil. You’ll go heavy on categories one and two, watch your portion sizes with category three, and keep category four choices to a minimum. Each day, you’ll eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, a couple snacks and dessert. Exactly how strictly you follow Volumetrics is up to you. Though the books contain recipes and some sample meal plans, the point is to learn the Volumetrics philosophy and apply it where you can throughout the day. See where you can replace a category four item (baked white potato) with a category one item (sweet potato), for example.
3: The Flexatarian Diet
Flexitarian is a marriage of two words: flexible and vegetarian. The term was coined more than a decade ago, and in her 2009 book, “The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease and Add Years to Your Life,” registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner says you don’t have to eliminate meat completely to reap the health benefits associated with vegetarianism – you can be a vegetarian most of the time, but still chow down on a burger or steak when the urge hits. By eating more plants and less meat, it’s suggested that adherents to the diet will not only lose weight but can improve their overall health, lowering their rate of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and live longer as a result.
4: Jenny Craig Diet
Losing weight is as simple as restricting calories, fat and portions on Jenny Craig. Jenny’s prepackaged meals and recipes do all three, plus emphasize healthy eating, an active lifestyle and behavior modification. Personal consultants guide members through their journeys from day one. You’ll gain support and motivation, and learn how much you should be eating, what a balanced meal looks like and how to use that knowledge once you graduate from the program. By following the plan, you’re expected to drop up to 2 pounds a week.
Jenny Craig offers two programs: its standard program and Jenny Craig for Type 2, which is designed for people with Type 2 diabetes by including a lower-carb menu, reinforcement of self-monitoring of blood sugar levels, consistent meals and snacks, and other self-management strategies for weight loss and support for diabetes control.
5: The Engine 2 Diet
The Engine 2 Diet, which was created by firefighter, former professional athlete and medical scion Rip Esselstyn, is a low-fat, “plant strong” plan that aims to prevent or even reverse diseases that are linked to the Standard American Diet: heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer. Engine 2 Diet followers can also expect to increase lean muscle mass, sharpen their minds and energize their bodies, Esselstyn says. The diet is essentially a vegan diet with a twist – it cuts out vegetable oils and prescribes only whole, plant foods. Skip the refined grains and shakes and instead focus foods such as whole, intact grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. U.S. News experts rank the diet in the middle of the pack on most measures – while whole, plant foods are undeniably healthy, all of its “don’ts” can make it exceptionally difficult to stick to long term.
6: The Ornish Diet
The Ornish Diet was created by Dr. Dean Ornish – a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in nearby Sausalito – to help people “feel better, live longer, lose weight and gain health.” The diet is low in fat, refined carbohydrates and animal protein, which Ornish says makes it the ideal diet. But it’s not just a diet: It also emphasizes exercise, stress management and relationships. On nutrition, for instance, Ornish categorizes food into five groups from most (group one) to least (group five) healthful. It’s the difference, for example, between whole-grain bread and biscuits, between soy hot dogs and pork or beef ones. Ask yourself what groups tend to fill up your grocery cart, and decide how you want to fill it up. As for exercise, Ornish stresses aerobic activities, resistance training and flexibility; you decide what you do and when. To manage stress (long a core element of his program), you can call on deep breathing, meditation and yoga. Find a combination that works for you and set aside some time each day to practice. Finally, Ornish says that spending time with those you love and respect, and leaning on them for support, can powerfully affect your health in good ways.
While followers can cater the plan to their goals – whether that’s losing weight, lowering blood pressure or preventing cancer – the program to reverse heart disease is the one for which Ornish is best known since, as he says, it’s the only scientifically proven program to do so in randomized controlled trials without drugs or surgery. If that’s your aim, only 10 percent of calories can come from fat, very little of it saturated. Most foods with any cholesterol or refined carbohydrates, oils, excessive caffeine and nearly all animal products besides egg whites and one cup per day of nonfat milk or yogurt are banned, though the plan includes some seeds and nuts. Fiber and lots of complex carbohydrates are emphasized. Up to 2 ounces of alcohol a day are permitted. This regimen, combined with stress-management techniques, exercise, social support and smoking cessation, formed the basis of Ornish’s landmark heart disease-reversal trial in the 1990s. U.S. News experts rank the diet highly in most categories – especially heart health, where it tied for the No. 2 spot in 2018 – due in part to its solid evidence-base.
7: The Raw Food Diet
The Raw Food Diet traces back to the late 1800s, when Maximilian Bircher-Benner, a doctor, discovered he could cure his own jaundice by eating raw apples. Thus began a series of experiments testing the effects of raw food on human health, and the diet has continued to evolve. While there are numerous variations of the raw food diet today, it typically involves food that hasn’t been cooked, processed, microwaved, irradiated, genetically engineered or exposed to pesticides or herbicides. About 75 to 80 percent of what raw foodists eat each day will be plant-based foods never heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit. (Very few people follow a 100-percent raw diet.) Most followers are vegan, but some choose to consume raw animal products, such as raw (unpasteurized) milk, cheese made from raw milk, sashimi, raw fish and certain kinds of raw meat. Proponents say cooking obliterates most of the vitamins in food and nearly all of the immune-boosting plant nutrients (though scientific evidence to support these claims is lacking). Most who follow the plan consume only half the calories they would eat on a cooked diet — just one of the reasons this low-calorie plan isn’t a great idea in nutrition pros’ minds.
8: The HMR Program
The Health Management Resources Program is a weight loss system designed to reduce calories via meal replacement with added fruits and vegetables. Through this program, the aim is to learn healthy lifestyle strategies, increase physical activity and personal accountability.
Any diet may help you lose weight, but people who change their lifestyle through the HMR program maintain significant weight loss through either the medically supervised, in-clinic or at-home options. Three times as much weight is lost and kept off using meal replacements, compared to traditional diets, experts say. The HMR Program was developed more than 30 years ago by Lawrence Stifler, a behavioral psychologist and former president of HMR. HMR meal replacements – low-calorie shakes, meals, nutrition bars and multigrain hot cereal – are eaten in place of other meals and snacks. In addition, eating fruits and vegetables, which are naturally low in calories, helps displace higher-calorie foods from a diet. By mixing vegetables and fruits with HMR meal replacements, you have filling, nutritious meals. Physical activity is essential for successful long-term weight management, and a little exercise – just 10 to 20 minutes of walking per day – will help you attain weight-loss goals.
9: The Mayo Clinic Diet
Weight loss and a healthier lifestyle go hand in hand on the Mayo Clinic Diet. You recalibrate your eating habits, breaking bad ones and replacing them with good ones with the help of the Mayo Clinic’s unique food pyramid.
The pyramid emphasizes fruits, veggies and whole grains. In general, these foods have low energy density, meaning you can eat more but take in fewer calories. Think of it this way: For about the same amount of calories you could have a quarter of a Snickersbar or about 2 cups of broccoli. By sticking with the Mayo Clinic Diet, you’re expected to shed 6 to 10 pounds in two weeks and continue losing 1 to 2 pounds weekly until you’ve hit your goal weight.
In 2013, Mayo Clinic published “The Mayo Clinic Diabetes Diet,” which our experts did not evaluate. A new edition of this book will be available Jan. 1, 2019. This spin on the standard eating plan is designed for people with prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes, and its advice is specific to lowering blood sugar and keeping levels stable.
10: The Slimfast Diet
SlimFast makes losing weight as simple as restricting calories and portion sizes – and allowing for some variety and structured flexibility. You’ll likely drop 1 to 2 pounds per week, research suggests. SlimFast products (shakes, smoothies and meal bars) replace two meals a day and snacks, so you get the right amount of the right nutrients. But you also prepare or eat out a 500 to 600 calorie meal each day, which the company calls your sensible meal, so there’s room to enjoy small portions of your favorite foods. SlimFast is best for people who need to lose about 20 pounds, which should take eight to 10 weeks; most people are likely to have trouble sticking to the regimen longer than that. Still, many dieters use SlimFast products as occasional meal replacements even after losing weight to make maintenance easier.