UK HealthCare

Small Changes are Sometimes More Effective than a Diet Overhaul

LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 8, 2014) -- "Bathing suit weather" has arrived -- are you considering that new diet you read about in the check out line? Before you stock up on protein bars, know that most nutrition professionals do not advocate any one diet plan, since no single plan suits all people. However, we recognize that structured diet plans make the process of diet change easier. Our goal is to tailor a diet strategy to the goals and personalities of each patient.

In a recent article, U.S News and Report evaluated the 32 most popular diets and ranked the diets by outcomes – best diets for weight loss, heart health, diabetes control, etc. Alarmingly, many of the most popular diets in 2014 fall squarely in the bottom of the USNWR rankings. And several diets face negative scientific scrutiny due to their unbalanced approach to eating.

One of the inherent issues is that no diet is right for everyone.  This includes not just the trendy diets, like Atkins, Zone, and Paleo, but also popular, government-sponsored diets such as DASH and TLC. Human physiology and genetic variability are too complicated for one diet to meet everyone's goals and expectations.  Furthermore, the lists of restrictions in certain programs are often not sustainable. We often forget that nutrient needs change throughout life and with the onset of stress, pregnancy and/or medical conditions. These real-life events influence evidence-based recommendations that are often not conducive with following the next popular diet trend.

The top diets in each category share similar attributes, such as balance, high fruit and vegetable consumption, and self-monitoring/awareness of what you eat. An emphasis on frequent, structured exercise and high levels of physical activity are also common themes. Any or all of these features can be incorporated into small lifestyle changes that will improve overall health without the perceived rigidity of a traditional diet plan.

Put simply, if you thrive on structure, check out the top-rated diets based on the outcome that interests you most, think about the diet’s positive attributes, and adopt some of the structure that diet provides to get you on a healthier path. If you prefer not to commit to a long list of changes that may be unsustainable, choose one or two healthy habits shared by the top-rated diets and incorporate those into your daily life.  You can also log on to for general diet and lifestyle advice.

Recognize that significant diet overhauls may be difficult to maintain long-term and are not always indicated or scientifically validated. Consider starting with small, manageable changes to help you on your way to a healthier life.   

Travis Thomas, Ph.D., RD, CSSD, is an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences, Division of Clinical Nutrition

This column appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader.