Article contributed by Mayo Clinic staff, Madelynn Strong, Registered Dietician
Maintaining a healthy body weight can help reduce the risk of many types of cancer – including post-menopausal breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, and colon cancer. With so many different types of diets for weight loss, how do you choose the right one for you? Remember, there is no single diet plan that works for all individuals. It’s important to find a plan that works for your lifestyle!
Before starting any weight loss plan, consider checking in with your physician. Your physician may want to review your medical history and assist with providing guidance on the program best suited for you. Additionally, they may want to discuss strategies on how to best incorporate safe physical activity into your routine. Consider asking your physician for a referral to a registered dietitian for additional support.
When selecting a diet, consider the following questions:
- Is it sustainable and easy to follow? Many diets promise rapid weight loss through restrictive diet plans. While this rapid weight loss can be motivating, it is typically not sustainable over time. A successful weight loss plan should be one that you can see yourself following long-term without feeling deprived. A sustainable diet plan should also be easy to follow – plans that are rigid or difficult to follow tend to be less successful.
- Does it include all food groups? Diet plans exist that restrict whole food groups, or even multiple food groups – which may lead to nutrient deficiencies over time. A healthy diet pattern includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, lean protein, nuts, seeds and beans/legumes. Avoid any diet that restricts whole food groups.
- Is it compatible with your lifestyle or family’s needs? A diet pattern that requires special foods or significant food preparation time may be difficult to follow. It should include foods that you can easily find in your local grocery store and require as much preparation time as you are able to comfortably provide. Also consider if you will need to prepare separate meals for other family members and for yourself.
- Does it follow cancer prevention guidelines and dietary guidelines? There is strong evidence that a healthy diet – including foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains – can help reduce the risk of cancer or cancer recurrence. These foods should not be avoided or restricted on a healthy weight loss plan. Many popular diets encourage a high intake of protein, specifically meats, which is not compatible with cancer prevention.
- Does the diet have any red flags? Use caution with diets that promise a quick fix or magic foods. Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes or magic foods. These promises are typically associated with fad diets.
What Are the Options?
Use the following chart to compare various diet plans:
Remember, there is no single plan that works for all individuals. However, a few balanced diet plans that you might consider are the DASH diet, Flexitarian diet, Mediterranean diet and the WW program (formerly the Weight Watchers program). These are nutritionally balanced diets that emphasize lifestyle changes and are consistent with nutrition guidelines for cancer prevention.
DASH diet: Nutritionally complete diet, designed to control high blood pressure and support heart health but it is also compatible with cancer prevention guidelines.
Mediterranean diet: Primarily a plant focused diet with limited amounts of fish, poultry, healthy fats and low fat dairy. This diet is routinely ranked #1 as a top diet for health.
Flexitarian diet (semi-vegetarian): Emphasizes plant foods but allows small amounts of meat, poultry and fish. This can be great choice for people who do not want to give up meat.
WW (Formerly Weight Watchers): One of the best commercial weight loss programs. On this plan, no foods are forbidden and healthy foods are prioritized.
The Keys to Success
The key to successful weight loss is developing long-term changes to our food and exercise habits. If a diet makes you feel deprived of your favorite foods or if it leaves you feeling hungry, it may not viable long-term. Make sure your goals are realistic, aim for a weight loss of about ½ to 2 pounds per week. Also, engage the help of family members and friends – they can help keep you motivated! Finally, consider meeting with a registered dietitian for personalized guidance and support on your weight loss journey.