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Ultimate Diet Guide

Your best friend has gone low carb. Your boss is a Weight Watchers regular. Your mom survives on meal-replacement shakes. Sound familiar? With so many “I swear it works” diets, deciding on one could drive you into a french-fry frenzy. Before you reach for grease relief, dig into SELF’s last-word report on 13 of America’s most popular plans.

Five leading weight-management experts scored each diet based on an exhaustive 30-item questionnaire. Then we number-crunched 325 pages of ballots to separate the winners from the losers. The result: our at-a-glance diet cheat sheet, which shows you which plans rank—and which tank— when it comes to permanent pound control; plus definitive advice on how to pinpoint the diet you’ll do best.

Two Gold-Medal Diet Plans: Volumetrics and Dieting for Dummies

The two diets that scored highest in SELF’s survey have one wonderful thing in common: they deliver slow but steady weight loss, the undisputed healthiest approach. Both plans encourage you to watch calories and portion sizes, essential to losing weight for good, and they do it without sounding punitive or preachy (a major diet turnoff).

Our five diet judges unanimously loved Volumetrics (final grade: A- and the highest combined score in our survey) because the book features a healthy regimen that helps you feel satisfied, not deprived. The premise? You follow a plan (recipes included) packed with low-calorie foods you can fill up on, including fruits, vegetables, grains, poultry, and soups.

Fiber-rich, air- and water-packed eats are encouraged because they also deliver volume for relatively few calories. (Rice Krispies and a fruit smoothie, anyone?) On this plan, you can have a single cup of cream-of-broccoli-with-cheese soup for 200 calories, or you can more than double your portion with 2 1/2 cups of vegetable-and-beef broth for the same 200 calories. Says panelist Jackie Newgent, R.D., nutrition consultant in New York City and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association: “This diet will help anyone take-off weight permanently, though it may favor those who can spare kitchen time to concoct the stews and smoothies.”

Unlike Volumetrics, Dieting for Dummies (final grade: A) doesn’t provide meal plans; instead, it lists low-fat foods and explains how to fit them into a sample day. The book also offers guidance on handling cravings and fitting exercise into your life, and it’s packed with calorie-cutting tips, such as a list of six condiments that deliver flavor, not fat (mustard, hot sauce, chili powder, balsamic vinegar, salsa, and horseradish). As diet judge Martha McKittrick, R.D., nutritionist at New York’s Presbyterian Hospital, points out, if you want to eat healthier for life and keep those pounds lost off for good, this diet is for you.

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