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NUTRITION: No such thing as the 'best' diet to lose weight

Sticking to a healthy eating and exercise plan is more important than choosing the "right diet," according to a 2014 study. Getty Images

It's that time of year when you're looking to revamp your lifestyle, lose weight, get in shape and improve your health. But which diet do you select? How do you know which one will work for you?

Here is the shocking fact: When it comes to weight loss, it doesn't really matter which "diet" you choose, so long as you stick to it. Yes, you still need to make intelligent food choices for overall health, like eating your fruits and vegetables. But the question of whether you should go low-fat or low-carbohydrate or try out Paleo, vegan or keto may not be as important as you think.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2014 compared multiple popular diets, including Atkins, South Beach, Zone, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and Ornish. These diets range from low-carbohydrate to low-fat to a balanced mix of macronutrients. Over the course of 12 months, researchers found there were minimal differences in weight loss between the diets. Their conclusion: "This supports the practice of recommending any diet that a patient will adhere to in order to lose weight." In other words, the most important factor is picking an approach that's easiest for you to stick with. Consistency is often the missing link for people struggling to lose weight and improve their health.

Here are some tips to help you stay consistent with your nutrition:

• Plan ahead. Find a routine that works for you. Have a weekly meal plan, prepare foods in advance, research restaurants before traveling and plan for healthy snacks.

• Hack your environment. Make the places you spend the most time as conducive as possible to supporting your health and nutrition. Keep your home and workplace stocked with healthy choices.

• Seek out support. This could be a spouse, family member, friend, colleague or professional. Having someone to cheer you on and keep you accountable to your goals is key.

• Focus on your behaviors, not the end result. You have no control over the scale (if weight loss is your goal) but you can control the actions you take every day. Pick one to three daily habits you can implement and focus on each week. These could be things like packing a healthy lunch for work, going for a daily 30-minute walk, or eating two cups of vegetables at every meal.

• Be curious and compassionate. Check in with yourself at least monthly and assess how things are going. What has gone well? Where could you improve? How will you reward yourself in a healthy way for your efforts thus far? What more would you like to accomplish next month? What is likely to stand in your way and how can you prepare to make sure those things don't get in your way? Adjust your plan accordingly.

When you get off track or things don't go as planned, be compassionate with yourself. Roadblocks such as an illness, travel or other life commitments will always come up. You're never going to be perfect but developing the ability to bounce back will help you remain consistent with the plan you've chosen. Instead of beating yourself up and allowing one poor choice to spiral into many, compassion will allow you to come back to your healthy habits quicker.

Jean Larson

Jean Larson is a licensed and registered dietitian in the Integrative Health Department at the Essentia Health-Duluth Clinic. Contact her at Jean.Larson2@EssentiaHealth.org.

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