Friday, March 09, 2007

Atkins Beats Ornish, Ornish Spinning

The results of a study that compared the Atkins, Zone, Ornish and Yale/LEARN diets are out and the Atkins diet beat out the others in terms of weight loss (though not by much) and--more importantly--health statistics. While I'm no fan of the Atkins diet (it includes lots of unhealthy dairy products), it is certainly closer to the optimal science-based diet (an ancestral/Paleo/biologically appropriate diet) than the Ornish diet, which was largely inspired by Ornish's conversion to Hinduism rather than science [if the reports are correct at "Sri Swami Satchidananda, founder of Integral Yoga," and "A Matter of Lifestyle," Frontline magazine of India,]. It didn't take long for the gurus of the losing diets to start spinning the results. Dr. Dean Ornish in particular tried to re-interpret the results in a more favorable light, but his words only further undermined his cause.

Ornish said, "It's a lot easier to follow a diet that tells you to eat bacon and brie than to eat predominantly fruits and vegetables." That's hardly a criticism, since a diet that's easier to follow is more likely to be maintained, and thus more likely to be successful in the long term. Given that the Atkins dieters lost a bit more weight than the Ornish dieters and had better health statistics, the fact that the Atkins diet is also "easier to follow" is a definite plus.

Professor Kelly Brownell of Yale University said the study "shows that nothing works very well." It's amazing that Brownell admits here that his LEARN (Lifestyle, Exercise, Attitudes, Relationships and Nutrition) diet doesn't work very well and is no better than the other major diets, despite also including an exercise program. If he believes that, then why is he still promoting LEARN?

Zone diet creator Dr. Barry Sears said the study "had a good concept and incredibly pathetic execution." Could the fact that the dieters who tried to follow his soy-promoting diet lost the least weight have anything to do with his response?

These sour-grape comments contrast sharply with those of some prominent scientists. Walter Willett, chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health said, "This is the best study so far to compare popular diets," pointing to the size of the study population, the duration (a year) and the small number of subjects who dropped out. The study's findings "are pretty much in line with what all the other studies have shown comparing Atkins and low-fat diets," according to Bonnie Brehm, assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing.

It seems the diet guru's definition of a good study is one in which his diet comes out on top.

Here's a link to the study report:

Gardner CD et al, "Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN diets for change in weight and related risk factors among overweight premenopausal women: the A TO Z Weight Loss Study: a randomized trial." JAMA. 2007 Mar 7;297(9):969-77.