With so many diet plans and books on the market, how do you choose which one to follow?  Which diets will work for you? In this review, I will give a brief review of some of the most popular diets on the market today. After reading the review, you’ll be able to decide which plans are appropriate for you.

Atkins’ New Diet Revolution

Robert C. Atkins is the founder of Atkins’ New Diet Revolution. Atkins is also the founder and former director of the Atkins Complimentary Medicine in New York City.

The New Diet Revolution diet is a low carb, high fat diet with no restrictions on fat intake. The diet begins with an induction phase (ranging from 2–36 weeks) limiting carb intake to only 20 grams/day. The consumption of fruit, bread, pasta, grains, starchy vegetables, and dairy other than cheese, cream, or butter are prohibited in this phase of the diet. There are two phases following the induction phase where daily carb intake is increased in weekly increments of 5 grams and 10 grams. Then comes the maintenance phase…

Proponents of high-fat, low-CHO diets dismiss the notion that caloric intake is important to either weight gain or weight loss (this is a ridiculous statement). They claim that “most overweight individuals do not overeat” (if you believe this you need a brain transplant) even as they suggest that high-CHO meals leave individuals less satisfied than meals that contain adequate fat, resulting in increased hunger and increased food intake. With respect to weight loss, Atkins claims that on a low-CHO diet there are “metabolic advantages that will allow overweight individuals to eat as many calories as they were eating before starting the diet yet still lose pounds and inches.” Furthermore, proponents contend that the overproduction of insulin, driven by high-CHO intake, is the cause of the metabolic imbalance that underlies obesity. (The overexaggeration of insulin’s role in obesity is commonly promoted by many of today’s most popular nutrition gurus. Needless to say, this issue has been blown out of proportion and is only one factor in weight gain.)

My thoughts: Atkins’ New Diet Revolution

Studies cited by Atkins to support his contentions were of limited duration, conducted on a small number of people, lacked adequate controls, and used ill-defined diets. Some of these as well as other studies actually refute the contention that low-CHO diets in the absence of energy restriction provide a metabolic advantage. Early studies on a limited number of obese men and women indicate that individuals consuming low-CHO diets reduce overall caloric intake and lose weight. High protein in combination with low calcium intake could be detrimental to bone health. Another important consideration is the water loss that occurs with the Atkins plan. In the early stages of the diet, you can expect a substantial loss in water (due to glycogen depletion—for every gram of glycogen you store, you also store 2.8–3.5 grams of water). Believing there are some magical metabolic advantages to this diet is a fallacy and not supported by primary scientific data. Numerous studies have indicated a big reduction of calories (below maintenance requirements) when following low carb diets.

The newest version of the diet promotes the intake of high-fiber foods, which is a good thing.  The diet also made many people realize that dietary fat is not the sole reason people are fat.

In conclusion, if you can stick to the food recommendations and function well while following a ketogenic diet, the Atkins diet may be for you. Athletes using the Atkins’ diet should be highly cautious because performance may suffer (primarily this occurs in glycolytic athletes but not always). Any diet that results in weight loss generally enhances health markers. If you are following the Atkins plan and are not dropping weight, pay close attention to lipid levels.  Numerous studies have shown that in absence of weight loss, ketogenic diets may be detrimental to blood lipids levels while ketogenic diets that result in weight loss are good for blood lipid levels. If you are gaining weight (yes it’s possible), reduce calories further or try something different.

South Beach diet

Arthur Agatston, MD created this diet. His specialty is heart imaging, and he is an associate professor of medicine at the Miami School of Medicine.

The first phase of the diet includes a 14-day initiation to “rid yourself of your sugar addiction.” The consumption of fruit, bread, pasta, baked goods, dessert, and alcohol are prohibited in the initiation phase. In the second phase, lower glycemic index (GI) fruit and lower GI starches are permitted. Once your target weight is reached, you go into the maintenance phase. If weight gain occurs while in the maintenance phase, repeat the first phase.

My thoughts: South beach diet

The diet relies too much on the glycemic index of foods in an attempt to control obesity. When you look at the studies comparing low GI diets to high GI diets, there appears to be little difference in weight loss assuming the calories are the same. The satiating effects of single meal, low GI foods compared to high GI meals are indecisive. There is a wide individual variance factor when considering a food’s effects on appetite. Also, remember that the glycemic index of a food changes when eaten with other foods and when you eat that food in a non-fasted state (you are still absorbing nutrients from other meals). David Jenkins originally created the glycemic index to help diabetics modulate blood sugar levels.

The diet allows for a good balance of foods (good nutritional profile) and is relatively easy to follow for most people once you get pass the initiation phase (no counting carbs, weighing food, or measuring food). Expect a substantial amount of weight loss in the initiation phase (generally creates big calorie deficit and significant water losses) with weight loss slowing thereafter. Even though lower GI fruits and starches are non-calorie dense, you can eat too much of these foods and therefore decrease the diet’s effects on weight loss.

Enter the Zone

Enter the zone was created by Barry Sears, PhD. The plan suggests that every meal be composed of 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent proteins, and 30 percent fats. The goal is to control insulin levels and prevent the overproduction of bad eicosanoids, a group of compounds derived from polyunsaturated fatty acids that have several biologically important actions. Sears claims that high GI foods cause obesity.

My thoughts: Enter the zone

There is no magic macronutrient percentage. People have done fine (weight loss and functionally) using a wide array of different macronutrient percentages while dieting. The information regarding insulin is incomplete and misleading (insulin has numerous roles in metabolism). Also, it’s incorrect to suggest that high GI carbs make you fat. Most people find it difficult and time-consuming to calculate the macro percentage of every meal.

The diet is generally nutritious. It also promotes the consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids, which can have numerous health benefits.

Very low fat diets

Very low fat (VLF) diets contain 10 percent or less fat, very high carbohydrates, and low moderate proteins. Representative VLF diets are those promoted by Dr. Dean Ornish (Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease) and Nathan and Robert Pritikin (The Pritikin Program).

VLF diets are based primarily on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans with moderate quantities of egg whites, nonfat dairy or soy products, and small amounts of sugar and white flour. Ornish’s diet is vegetarian while Pritikin allows a limited amount of low-fat animal protein daily (no more than 3.5 ounces of lean beef, fowl, or fish). (I think this latter suggestion completely ignores individual needs and requirements.)  Each plan includes a nutrition and exercise component. Ornish’s plan includes stress reduction and emotional support as well.  Pritikin also claims medications for heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure may be reduced or completely eliminated by following these plans.

My thoughts: VLF Diets

Nutritional analysis of a VLF diet indicates that VLF diets are inadequate in vitamin E, B12, and zinc. Some VLF diets, based on poor food choices, may mean lower than recommended levels of other certain nutrients such as iron, phosphorous, and calcium. Other nutritional questions that occur when following a VLF is the uncertainty about compromised absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and the impact of increased dietary fiber on the absorption of minerals. VLF diets that result in weight maintenance often cause increases in blood triglycerides and decreases in HDL levels. In general, with weight loss, decreases in triglycerides and LDL levels occur with no change in TC/HDL ratios.

VLF diets are often low in protein for athletes and active individuals (although this depends).

Most people following very low-fat diets will probably lose weight (especially if they follow the guidelines prescribed by Ornish and Pritikin). These diets lack in overall optimal nutrition, and the lack of dietary fat can lead to numerous problems.


UD2 was created by Lyle McDonald. McDonald suggests that if you are a male planning to follow the UD2 diet, you should have no more than 15 percent body fat. If you are female, you should have no more than 22 percent body fat.

The title of the book, UD2, is a tribute to Duchaine and Zumpano’s original Ultimate Diet released in 1982. It is an update to the same diet and incorporates findings about metabolism, fat loss, and muscle gain for optimization. As with computers, newer versions get new numbers (so we have 2.0). McDonald hopes that it will be the last diet you’ll ever need, thus the word “ultimate” in the title.

Basically the diet has two parts—a catabolic/low carbohydrate phase to maximize fat loss and an anabolic/high carbohydrate phase to rebuild and gain muscle. Days one and two are both low carbohydrate days coupled with high rep, short rest period workouts. Day three is nutritionally a repeat of days one and two. No weight training occurs on day three.

On day four, consume both low and high carb meals. During the day on day four, stay with the normal low carb/low calorie diet, but only consume 75 percent of the total calories that were consumed on days 1–3. During the evening of day four, consume 25–30 grams of carbs with about 15 grams of whey before working out (approximately 30–60 minutes before the workout). The workout is a full-body heavy duty/high intensity workout. Following the workout on day four until bedtime on day five, consume 7–8 grams of carbs per pound of lean body mass.

On day six, train full body with heavy weights. Before the workout, consume at least one meal containing moderate protein and carbs. A carb intake of 2–2.5 g per lean body mass is suggested for a daily carb total. Day seven is another day of rest. The total daily carb ingestion should be about 1–1.5 g per lean body mass. The book provides details on protein and fat intake as well.

My thoughts: UD2

I used the diet a few years ago with great success. I have found that for some people (particularly the general fitness crowd) the diet is too technical, and they simply won’t follow it. I’ve suggested the diet to many bodybuilders and athletes, and they seem to be pleased with the results. I have found that there are numerous ways to vary the diet’s set up. However, if you don’t function well on low carbs, this diet is not for you.

The anabolic diet

The basis of the anabolic diet is to carb-deplete during the weekdays and then carb-load on the weekends. This involves five days of high fat, high protein, and low carbs and two days of high carbs, moderate fat, and low protein. This diet was developed by Dr. Mauro Dipasquale, a former world class powerlifter who won the World championships in powerlifting in 1976 and won the world games in 1981.

My thoughts: Anabolic diet

I used the diet in the late 1990s and initially lost a fair amount of weight. However, after about three weeks, the weight loss stopped. I was eating too many calories on the weekend. Most of my clients had similar results. I also used a multivitamin, mineral and fiber supplement while on the diet.

I think most people tend to go overboard and eat too much during the weekend carb load. Generally, I recommend setting aside one day for the “all out eat” feast (depending on the person) when using the anabolic diet. I also suggest more emphasis on comprehensive nutrition and fat types throughout the week, and I recommend taking a fiber supplement (or eating nonstarchy vegetables) and a multivitamin mineral.

Another thing to consider with this diet is your weakness for trigger foods (foods that trigger overeating). If this is a problem for you, the one or two days of carb loading could  cause you to blow the diet completely. It may be more difficult to return to the stricter food consumption guidelines on the day following the free eating day (or days) so you should keep the carb load days very structured.


1.      Aragon A (2007) Girth Control: The science of fat loss and weight gain, 1st edition. Alan Aragon.

2.      Gropper S (2000) The Biochemistry of Human Nutrition: A Desk Reference. Wadsworth: Thomson Learning.

3.      Hale J (2007) Knowledge and Nonsense: The science of nutrition and exercise. MaxCondition Publishing.