Four popular diets compared

Maintaining the ideal weight is important for living a long and healthy life, and here we outline everything you need to know about four popular diets.

Even though being overweight puts people at risk for serious health issues, losing weight is difficult for almost everyone. Finding a diet plan that works for you can help you get down to a healthy weight, but with so many options it is difficult to know which one to try.

Four of the most popular diets are intermittent fasting, the hCG diet, Tim Ferriss’ ‘Four-hour body diet’, and the Zone diet. Each have unique advantages and drawbacks, and by considering those you can choose one that will get you to your weight loss goal.

Diet 1 – Intermittent fasting


Intermittent fasting is not a new idea, but books like The Fast Diet and The Overnight Diet have brought the concept back into the limelight. Instead of fasting for a long period of time, intermittent fasting involves skipping meals for certain periods during each day or for a couple of days each week. These mini fasts are all about timing, not starving yourself.


Several methods for intermittent fasting exist, which gives you the freedom to find one that fits into your lifestyle. What they all have in common is a set schedule of time during which you don’t eat. One popular option includes limiting your eating time within an eight-hour window, and therefore fasting during the other 16 hours of each day.

Proponents say that benefits include not only weight loss, but also enhanced fat burning and fewer cravings for unhealthy food.

A study presented at the American College of Cardiology in 2011 stated that fasting triggered an increase of the production in human growth hormone in female participants by 1,300%, and by 2,000% in male participants. This important hormone contributes to faster metabolism and muscle growth, as well as longevity.


Intermittent fasting doesn’t require you to buy any products or restrict your food choices. It merely takes some willpower at first to adjust to a new eating schedule based on restricting meal times.


Fasting for long periods of time can lead to appetite reduction, but once you start eating regularly again your appetite can rebound stronger than before, making it even more difficult to eat healthy portions. This could happen if you stop following an intermittent fasting lifestyle.

Diet 2 – hCG diet


Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) is a pregnancy hormone that a woman’s placenta makes in large quantities during pregnancy. It allows for fat storage between meals, fat that is released to provide a constant stream of nutrients and calories to the unborn baby. For people who are not pregnant, taking hCG can unlock stores of fat in the abdomen, thus allowing for that fat to get burned for energy.


The hCG diet involves taking the hormone along with following a diet program. Because people on the hCG diet ingest small amounts of food, nutritional supplements are recommended to ensure dieters don’t become deficient in important vitamins and minerals.

The safest way to follow the diet is to be under the supervision of a physician. In some places, like Australia, this is required for using hCG programs instead of ordering products online and doing the plan on one’s own. The doctor provides hCG injections and monitors patients’ health, including their diet and supplements.

The diet basically breaks down into four stages. The first stage involves taking supplements with no other changes. The second stage is often three-to-six weeks long and involves hCG injections and a restricted diet. The third stage is a three-week-long maintenance period where a person resumes his or her regular caloric intake, but still avoids certain unhealthy foods. The final stage reintroduces starch to the diet and sets up a lifelong program for healthy eating to maintain weight loss.


It is illegal in many places to sell hCG products over the counter, which forces people to get assistance from a doctor. This greatly increases the safety of the diet and chances of it working. The diet itself may only last a few weeks, which is easier to stick with than longer diets. It also stresses an adjustment period back to normal eating that could lead to a healthier lifestyle.


The hCG diet requires a very restricted, low-calorie eating plan. Very-low-calorie diets can be dangerous without medical supervision. It is difficult for some people to stick to restricted plans that may allow for only 500 to 800 calories per day. The hCG diet has never been proven to promote weight loss, though low-calorie diets do cause people to lose weight. It should also be noted that studies show that oral hCG products may be ineffective because the hormone may not enter the bloodstream; injections are preferable.

Diet 3 – Tim Ferriss’ ‘Four-hour body’ diet


One of the other popular diets is Tim Ferriss’ ‘Four-hour body’ diet.

Tim Ferriss wrote a book that claimed people could lose weight and basically become ‘super-humans’ without exercising by following his dietary recommendations. The basic idea is based off a theory that certain foods lower your body’s set point for weight. If your set point lowers, you’ll naturally lose weight. Without lowering the set point, you must constantly struggle to keep your weight below your set point.


Tim Ferriss outlines a complete set of dietary guidelines, some that are quite common and some that are uniquely his.

One such idea is to avoid all white foods, from white rice to potatoes. He forbids drinking anything with calories, except two glasses of red wine daily, and does not allow for eating fruit. The diet recommends three meals a day spaced four hours apart, and each containing 20 grams of protein. Mainly though, the diet advocates eating the same few meals most of the time and sticking to spices and balsamic vinegar for flavor.


Ferriss’ diet gives you a cheat day: one day each week to eat whatever you want. This could make sticking to the diet easier. The idea of using a standard meal plan means you don’t have to think too much or learn a bunch of new recipes. You can still change up the vegetables you use and some of the grains or legumes for variety.


Tim Ferriss claims that you can lose 20 pounds (9 kg) 30 days, but not only is that unlikely, it is also not healthy to lose that much weight that quickly. Restricting your eating options could make you vulnerable to deficiencies over time.

It’s important to note that Tim Ferriss is not a doctor or even a nutritionist. He is basing his claims purely on his own experiences.

Diet 4 – Zone Diet


The Zone diet is based on a hugely popular diet book, Enter the Zone, by Barry Sears, PhD, and Bill Lawren. Dr Sears was a bio technology researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The Zone diet involves eating a certain percentage of calories from protein, fat and carbohydrates that differ widely from the recommendations that are currently in vogue. The authors say that the diet can lead to improved exercise performance and lower risks of cardiac disease, hypertension and diabetes – not to mention help people lose weight.


The Zone diet advocates eating 30% of calories from protein, 30% from fat and 40% from carbs. Following this program is supposed to put your body in ‘the zone’ of peak efficiency.

The book breaks down specific recommendations for eating, such as consuming some protein with every meal. It advocates having ‘favorable’ carbs such as vegetables and whole grains, and avoiding ‘unfavorable’ carbs, such as pasta and fruit juices. Low-fat and non-fat dairy products are preferable to ones with more fat.

The diet also advocates eating three meals a day plus snacks so that you never go more than four hours without eating. It recommends eating within an hour of waking up and having a snack before bed.


You are unlikely to feel hungry on this diet because you are allowed to eat often. Although the diet is higher in fat than most experts recommend, it is closer to accepted norms than many high protein diets that are popular today. It’s also easier to stick to recommended food groupings rather than counting calories.


Some experts, including some of Dr Sears’ former colleagues, question his findings from the research he based the Zone diet on. This diet may be difficult for some people to adhere to because it could require a major overhaul in their eating habits if they are not used to eating breakfast, snacking, or combining proteins, fats and carbs during meals.

No matter which of the popular diets you decide to use you should always consult a doctor when making changes to your eating habits.

Dieting can’t replace the benefits of exercise, such as building strong muscles, strengthening the cardiovascular system and maintaining a healthy bone mineral density.

You may have an easier time focusing on a short-term diet plan and then adopting a workout program rather than attempting to modify your eating and exercising habits at the same time. However, you’ll get the best results in the long run with a healthy diet and exercise routine.


ACP hCG Diet Program Patient’s Manual

Last Reviewed 09/Feb/2017

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