Whether it's a resolution for the new year, a goal to get healthier before your next birthday or a kick in the butt from a medical professional, millions of women begin searching for diet plans for women each year. The problem is that there are so many of them. From juice cleanses to long-term, low-calorie programs, the sheer number of plans can become overwhelming for many prospective dieters. This guide takes a close look at two of the most successful programs to help you start your journey.

1

The Atkins Diet

The Atkins Diet has been popular since the early 2000s, but today's version is much different from what people did nearly 20 years ago. Today, the diet is often referred to as the Atkins Nutritional Approach and is available in two versions: The Atkins 40 is for people who need to lose 40 pounds or fewer or for those who need a wider diet, such as women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. The Atkins 20 is for people who want to lose more than 40 pounds, who have type 2 diabetes or who have a waist circumference of 35 inches or more.

The Program's Foundation

No matter which program you choose, the Atkins Diet focuses on restricting net carbs and eating more protein and healthy fats. As you get close to your dieting goals, the plan adds some carbs back into your eating plan. According to Atkins, net carbs are the grams of carbs that are not fiber (which is good for you) or sugar alcohols. Although it should be noted that the Food and Drug Administration doesn't recognize "net carbs" as a nutritional term, the plan has worked for millions of people.

The main difference between the Atkins 20 and the Atkins 40 is the number of net carbs you can have. The plans allow for 20 or 40 net carbs, respectively. Both plans allow users to eat a range of foods, but only those who are doing the 40 plan can eat beans, nuts and seeds, fruit, starchy vegetables and whole grains such as barley and whole wheat pasta.

How the Diet Works

apples

The Atkins Diet has four phases. The first phase is known as the induction phase and lasts anywhere from two weeks to several months, depending on your goals. The next phase focuses on ongoing weight loss but also allows you to gradually increase how many carbs you eat each day. People on Atkins 20 increase carbs in 5-gram increments by adding berries, nuts and seeds, and more vegetables.

People on Atkins 40 add carbs back in 10-gram increments and mainly do it by increasing portion sizes. Dieters should enter this phase when they're within 10 pounds of their final goal weight. Both plans allow you to increase carbs until you see a slow or stop in losing weight. From there, you can either move to the maintenance plan or cut back on carbs again to continue to lose weight.

The final stage of Atkins is the maintenance plan. This part of the plan lasts the rest of your life and helps you to maintain a healthy weight. Dieters in this phase eat up to 100 grams of net carbs each day.

Pros and Cons of the Atkins Diet

PROS

  • For many people, sticking to the Atkins plan is easier than many other plans since it focuses on removing bad carbs instead of on portion control. While it is still important not to overeat, Atkins allows for another small portion if you are still hungry after a meal. The same isn't true for most other diets. A low-carb diet is also helpful for people who have type 2 diabetes because it can lower high blood sugar even if no weight is lost.

CONS

  • The downside to the Atkins plan is that your diet is not as well-balanced when you cut carbs. For this reason, it is important to take a multivitamin or supplements for various vitamins and minerals. You'll likely be lacking fiber, vitamin D and calcium, so these are most important. People on the Atkins plan may also become dehydrated more easily, which leads to feeling lightheaded or less energetic. Carbs help the body to hold in water; without them, you'll need to drink extra water.

2

Weight Watchers

Created by more than Jean Nidetch more than 40 years ago, Weight Watchers started with just a few friends but serves more than 1 million people around the world today. The internationally recognized diet and exercise plan has helped people lose anywhere from a few pounds to more than 200 pounds.

How the Program Works

measuring a sandwich for dieting

Weight Watchers focuses on eating a balanced diet of the foods you want in moderation. People who use the system track their foods using a points system. The number of points a food is worth depends on its nutritional value, including calories, sugar, protein and saturated fat. More than 200 healthy foods, such as eggs, fruits and vegetables, are considered zero-point foods.

Unlike many diet plans, Weight Watchers does not require the dieter to purchase special foods; instead, one creates a personalized menu based on the daily point allowance. Point allowance varies by the person and depends on age, gender, height, weight and goal weight.

The plan is meant to be a slow and steady one, which researchers have shown is more likely to lead to long-term success. In fact, many studies, including a 2013 one conducted by the American Journal of Medicine, show that people who follow Weight Watchers are more likely to drop 10 percent of their extra weight within six months.

Going to Meetings

Some diet plans, such as Atkins, are based on solo work with all the information available online or in books. While Weight Watchers does provide all the information for those who want to take the weight loss journey alone, the program also offers weekly meetings. Studies have shown that those who attend the support meetings are more successful at sticking to the program and losing weight. One study showed a 37 percent increase in success. Meetings last less than an hour and are led by someone who has seen long-term success by using the Weight Watchers program. In addition to talking about concerns, strategies and successes, the meetings include a private weigh-in.

The Cost of Joining Weight Watchers

The cost to join Weight Watchers depends on the plan you choose and where you live. The most affordable program offers online support that includes an online community and food trackers. For those who choose it, there is an option that includes all the online support as well as weekly in-person meetings. A third option provides the online benefits and a one-on-one, over-the-phone coaching program. In Chicago, these prices are $3.15, $7.00 and $8.54 per week, respectively.

Benefits of the Program

woman taking her weight

People who use Weight Watchers tend to learn more about portion control and nutrition since they are responsible for creating their own menus. It is an excellent program for people who want to eat their favorite junk foods on occasion because it shows that everything is acceptable in moderation. As long as the dieter has the available points in her plan, the food is acceptable. This is especially good for people who feel deprived of treats on other diets and end up binge-eating them instead of using them in moderation.

Disadvantages of the Program

While people who use Weight Watchers aren't required to purchase the program's food, the program does offer prepackaged meals for those who want more convenience. The problem is that these meals have much more processed starch than the recommended daily intake.

Instead of using larger portions of lean meats and vegetables, the meals include tiny portions of pasta or rice, which often cause the dieter to keep feeling hungry and eat more than their point allowance. For some, the flexibility is a problem as well.

Since everything is based on having enough points, it is easy to skip healthy breakfast and lunch options to "save points" for a big dessert after dinner. While this is sometimes recommended for special occasions like birthdays, it becomes a problem if someone begins to do it multiple times per week. Even if the dieter still loses weight, the lack of nutrition will mean she remains unhealthy.

What About Other Plans?

Of course, there are dozens of other plans to try as well, but most experts agree they aren't conducive to long-term weight loss and healthy eating. Some of them require extremely low caloric intake, which is not only going to lead to weight gain in the future but is also quite dangerous.

Other plans require the dieter to buy hundreds of dollars' worth of special foods, shakes or other "magic potions" that may create a big "whoosh" of weight loss at first but will be hard to maintain in the long run. Atkins and Weight Watchers are considered two of the best programs because they show long-term success and allow the dieter to choose foods based on one’s taste preferences and grocery budget.

As with any diet or exercise plan, you should not begin Weight Watchers or an Atkins program until you speak to your doctor or a nutritionist. Not all diets are created equally, and some can do more harm than good, especially for people who have underlying health issues that require medical treatment.

Additionally, always talk to your doctor about any negative health changes you notice while on a diet plan. Doing so ensures you get healthier instead of harming your body.

 

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