But nutritionist Elisa Zied says she dislikes the word "diet," because it is associated by many people with deprivation, and most wind up gaining back the weight they lost, and frequently even more.
In the third and final part of The Early Show series on families and food Wednesday, Zied looked at the study putting Atkins in the best light, and championed a healthy eating lifestyle over any "diet."
Zied, a spokesperson for the iAmerican Dietetic Association and author of the new book, "Feed Your Family Right!: How to Make Smart Food and Fitness Choices for a Healthy Lifestyle," says that lifestyle gives people the key vitamins, minerals and other nutrients they need.
In the study, which appears in the latest Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers at Stanford University compared the success of about 300 young and middle-aged women. After a year, women on Atkins lost 10 pounds on average, compared to an average of five among women in the other three groups.
The study looked at more than just weight loss. Health professionals have worried that the high fat content in very low-carbohydrate diets would be bad for people's cholesterol levels and blood pressure. But in this study, blood pressure and cholesterol stayed at healthy levels in the women who followed the Atkins plan.
The study's authors suggest that women were successful on Atkins because of its simplicity, cutting out simple refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice, high fructose corn syrup and soda pop, and instead drinking water and eating healthy, high-protein foods.
Zied says it's good for people to limit refined foods or any products that don't come from the key food groups.
In this study, she points out, part of the Atkins-related weight loss stemmed from shedding water weight: Water binds to carbohydrates and, without the excess carbs in their diet, they didn't retain as much fluid.
But in reality, Zied says, our diets need to be 50-50: 50 percent carbs and 50 percent protein and fats.
Carbs aren't necessarily bad, Zied said. The right carbs provide your body with the proper amount of fuel and fiber. If you think carbs only equal white bread, it's not true: You can find carb sources in milk, beans, vegetables or whole wheat items.
She showed how lo-carb diets can be very restrictive:
Zied noted that people have to consider other aspects of their daily intake, such as vitamins, minerals and fiber. Just worrying about carbs, protein and fats isn't good enough.
That is, in part, she says, why she doesn't like the word "diet."
When people start to lose big pounds on the scale, they forget to consider their overall nutrition, because the number on the scale becomes much more important.
Also, any diet can help you lose weight, but it's keeping it off long-term that counts.
And, she says, the challenge for most people is finding a "diet," or rather, a way of eating or a healthy lifestyle that gives them the key vitamins, minerals and other nutrients they need.
Zied, indeed, considers "diet" a "four-letter word."
When most people think of the word "diet," she said, they think of restriction and deprivation; they think about what they're not going to eat. People spend $43 billion a year on weight loss products and services but, in most cases, gain back what they lose
Most diet studies don't look at the long-term effects of these diets, Zied says. The study in JAMA only followed people for a year. A recent report by the Institute of Medicine showed that while people do lose about 10 percent of their body weight when they join a weight loss program, after a year they gain about two-thirds of that weight back, and they regain most of the weight they lost after five years.
Too much dieting, she adds, can put people at risk for not getting the key nutrients you need, and this is especially true when eliminating specific foods or entire food categories.
In teens, according to a five-year study in this month's Journal of the American Dietetic Association, dieting could lead to weight gain. The researchers believe this was because the mere act of dieting led to less-than-healthy behaviors, including breakfast skipping, binge eating, decreased fruit and veggie intake, and decreased physical activity.
Also, once you go off a diet, it's likely you'll gain most of the weight back if you resume old habits and abandon some of the strategies that helped you lose the weight in the first place.
What's more, Zied says, many families sabotage themselves. Skipping meals such as breakfast, or choosing the convenient, quick and easy breakfast instead of a more healthy one, only hurts your body.
Also, we're eating too much refined and fast foods. People who eat fast food more often tend to consume more calories and fewer nutrients and weigh more. Fast food equals fast calories and few nutrients much of the time.
One more thing: We've lost touch with the family meal. Eat more often as a family. Set dates to eat meals at home with your family. Families who eat together take in fewer calories, get more nutrients into meals, and tend to relate better and have more quality time together.
To read an excerpt of "Feed Your Family Right," click here.