Rating Alternative Diets for Seniors

Alternative diets for seniors may be just as safe and  as other diets. See more pictures of healthy aging.

While most diets focus on portion control and balanced nutrition, there are some diets out there that take a more unconventional approach. While these diets should always be viewed with caution, seniors need to be especially wary because of their special diet needs.

Healthy Aging Image Gallery

This article will discuss the mechanics of ten alternative diets for seniors, rate them, and cover any positives and/or negatives for each.

The alternative diets covered in this article include:

  • The Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy Diet
  • The Eat More, Weigh Less Diet
  • The Eat Right 4 Your Type Diet
  • Eating Well for Optimum Health
  • Fit for Life
  • Making the Case for Yourself
  • The Metabolic Typing Diet
  • Slim Fast
  • The TOPS Diet
  • Volumetrics

In the first section of this article, read about The Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy Diet for Seniors. Continue to the next page to find out if this diet is right for you.

To learn more about senior health, see:

The Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy Diet for Seniors

Dr. Walter Willett, a well-known Harvard researcher, believes that the Food Guide Pyramid developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is not only wrong, it's dangerous to your health. In its place he offers his own new and improved pyramid that focuses more on plant foods and de-emphasizes dairy. He even incorporates daily exercise and weight control into the pyramid.

Quick Take

  • A plant-based diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Makes physical activity and weight control an integral part of the diet
  • Dairy products are not considered an essential part of the diet
  • Glycemic load, rather than glycemic index, dictates which foods should be included

This Diet Is Best For

Anyone who is willing to make the switch to a mostly plant-based diet, cut out most rich indulgences, and exercise daily

Who Should Not Try This Diet

Anyone looking for a short-term weight loss program. This diet requires a commitment to long-term changes that ultimately will lead to better health.

The Premise

Willett falls somewhere between the pro-dairy and the anti-dairy camps that are duking it out these days. He's not totally against dairy products but doesn't believe there's a "calcium crisis," as many experts do. In fact, he says that drinking too much milk can actually make your body lose calcium because milk is high in protein, which causes the body to excrete calcium. He advocates getting calcium from other food sources and from supplements, if necessary.

Other than that bit of controversy, Willett's diet offers up a healthy dose of good nutrition that's free of gimmicks and exaggerated promises. While the overall theme of the book is good nutrition, Willett calls weight control the number one nutritional factor for good health.

The Rationale

Control your weight, eat a plant-based diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, limit dairy foods, exercise every day, and take a multivitamin for insurance: That's pretty much Willett's philosophy in a nutshell. He also says that drinking alcohol in moderation is probably healthy for most people, though he doesn't advise people to start drinking if they don't already.

To back up his diet advice, he cites a lot of studies (he's been involved in much of the research himself) that suggest that these dietary changes are a boon to your health, reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke. By eating a plant-based diet, Willett points out that you increase your intake of phytonutrients, many of which are antioxidants that prevent disease-causing damage to the body's cells. It's not about deprivation or counting calories; it's about eating more of the right foods and much, much less of the wrong ones.

While many diets admonish people to avoid foods with a high glycemic index (foods that cause a sudden rise in blood sugar), Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy offers a slightly modified version, called the glycemic load, that factors in a food's carbohydrate content, which Willett says is a more accurate representation of the impact specific foods have on blood sugar levels.

Eating on the Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy Diet

Though there is no strict diet plan per se, the book provides a week's worth of sample menus and about 50 recipes in keeping with Willett's pyramid. But you're pretty much on your own in devising your menus and tracking your calorie intake. A typical day's menu might include fresh-squeezed orange juice and multigrain hotcakes for breakfast; grilled chicken, salad, cantaloupe, and strawberries for lunch; and mushroom meat loaf, roasted vegetables, green salad, and a spiced poached pear for dinner.

Some of the sample menus have made allowances for a snack, and one even lays out the day's intake over six small meals. Coffee is allowed but sugar is not. A few sweet treats such as orange juice sorbet and rum-glazed pineapple are allowed, but there is no allowance for an occasional indulgence in fudge ice cream or cheesecake.

What the Experts Say

Though Willett's advice about dairy foods is controversial and his diet won't provide the amount of calcium currently recommended for folks over 50, the rest of his philosophy about how you should eat and control your weight is sound. He lays out a nutritious plan that will improve your health over the long term and fend off chronic diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, which become increasingly common with age.

Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy is not a plan for rapid weight loss. It's a diet designed to help you change your eating habits for good and improve your health. However, if you follow Willett's guidelines and adjust your calorie intake for weight control, you should lose weight while reaping the health benefits he promises.

Calorie quota: The sample menus and recipes provided in the book are based on a diet of 2,000 calories a day and include suggested adjustments to cut back to 1,600 calories a day for weight loss.

Yes: Following Willett's own plant-based Healthy Eating Pyramid; eating lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains; exercising daily; controlling your weight; moderate alcohol intake if you already drink

No: Following the USDA Food Guide Pyramid, eating lots of animal products such as beef and dairy, inactivity and being overweight, foods with a high glycemic load such as rice, white bread, potatoes, pasta, and sweets

Other similar diets: The Origin Diet; Eat More, Weigh Less

On the next page, learn about The Eat More, Weigh Less Diet for Seniors.

To learn more about senior health, see:

The Eat More, Weigh Less Diet for Seniors

Dr. Dean Ornish is famous for his strict low fat diet program that reduces heart disease risk and even reverses arterial damage. The findings from his now famous "Lifestyle Heart Trial" research, which show that major lifestyle changes can significantly reduce the risk of developing atherosclerosis and heart disease, are so well accepted that participation in one of the lifestyle program's hospital sites is even covered by some health insurance companies.

Quick Take

  • A very low fat diet (10 percent of total calories)
  • Includes lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes
  • Prohibits sweeteners and refined carbohydrates
  • Requires meal preparation to ensure variety in the diet
  • Encourages meditation and exercise

This Diet Is Best for:

People who are ready and willing to overhaul their lifestyle and eating habits and to sacrifice some of the pleasures of eating. Following the diet may only be possible if your whole family is up to the challenge.

Who Should Not Try This Diet:

If you have trouble adjusting to change, then this diet is not for you. If you're into convenience foods and aren't willing to spend time preparing special low fat dishes, don't choose this diet.

The Premise

Ornish's program restricts fat intake to ten percent or less of daily calories and prohibits animal products, oils, and sugar. The Ornish plan calls for eating a very low fat vegetarian diet, relaxation, and exercise. A side benefit of the program, he discovered, is weight loss.

How much the diet benefits you is not a matter of age but how well you follow the program. This book is already a classic; it was one of the first to advocate such a major cutback in fat while increasing the intake of complex carbohydrate foods. Here Ornish translates the Lifestyle Heart Trial program for people focusing on weight loss.

The Rationale

Ornish believes that it's better to make broad, comprehensive changes in your diet all at once rather than to make small, moderate changes. Thus, he advocates dropping your fat intake from the typical 30 to 40 percent of calories to 10 percent and switching from a diet high in sugar to one that contains virtually none.

The rationale for the drastic reduction in fat, Ornish says, is that fat calories are more easily converted to fat in the body. A diet high in complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, is inefficient at converting the calories to fat. In fact, some calories are wasted during the conversion, allowing you to eat more calories than you could on a higher fat diet.

Moreover, a diet low in fat is by default low in calories and reduces the body's production of free radicals, which are destructive compounds that are believed to contribute to the aging process.

Eating on the Eat More, Weight Less Diet

Eat More, Weigh Less provides more recipes than most diet books -- and with good reason. It's tough to buy and prepare foods with such a low fat content. In fact, more than half the book's pages are devoted to recipes.

A typical day's menu might include Scrambled Mexican Tofu, salsa, whole-wheat toast, and orange juice for breakfast; Black Pepper Polenta with Bell Pepper Sauce and Shiitake Mushrooms, Italian Bean Salad, Tossed Green Salad, and Melon Sorbet for lunch; Roasted Tomato Sandwiches, Anasazi Bean Soup with Corn and Chili, Oven-Roasted Potatoes with Fresh Herbs, green salad, fresh fruit, and Apples and Raspberries in Apple-Ginger Consomme for dinner.

A table of some common foods and their nutrient content is also provided at the end of the book.

What the Experts Say

Most experts acknowledge Ornish's body of research showing the dramatic opening of clogged arteries experienced by most people following his program. However, the biggest problem most experts have with Ornish's diet is that it's just not realistic for most people.

The real test of any diet program is how easy it is to stick with over the long haul. Regardless of how healthful a diet may be, it's useless if you can't stay on it. That lack of stick-to-it-ability may be the downfall of Ornish's plan for the majority of people.

There's no doubt that if you're able to stick with it, Ornish's diet works. The question is whether you're willing to go that far with your dietary changes. Though exercise is encouraged, especially walking, few specifics are provided about how to get started and keep going. And because the diet is so low in fat, you'll need to do some special food preparation every day if you want to avoid meal monotony.

While the diet should help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, it could be low in some fat-soluble vitamins that are so important as you age, such as vitamins D and E, if you don't supplement them. The same is true of calcium. While calcium-rich, fat-free dairy products are allowed on the diet, the sample menus provide only about one serving a day -- not nearly enough to meet your increased calcium needs.

Calorie quota: There is no calorie quota and no food exchanges or allowances. The focus is on the type of calories, not the number. Generally speaking, it's rather difficult to overeat on a diet that contains only ten percent calories from fat.

Yes: Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, meditation, exercise

No: Fatty foods, oils, sugar, sweeteners, refined grains

Other similar diets: The Pritikin Weight-Loss Breakthrough

In the next section, get information on how to eat right for your body type and find out if this plan is safe and effective.

To learn more about senior health, see:

The Eat Right 4 Your Type Diet for Seniors

This diet was developed by Dr. Peter D'Adamo, a naturopathic physician who maintains that your blood type is the key to weight gain as well as to health, disease, longevity, vitality, emotional strength, and personality.

Quick Take

  • Meal plans are based on the four basic blood types
  • Diet plans can range from vegetarian to one that encourages a lot of meat consumption, depending on your blood type
  • No calorie limits but a lot of forbidden foods
  • Complex and confusing lists of foods that are allowed and forbidden, depending on blood type and ethnic background

This Diet Is Best For

No one. There's no scientific evidence to support the diet's premise, so there's no reason for anyone to subject themselves to the dietary acrobatics required to follow it. And, despite its reputation as a weight-loss diet, it's not designed for people to lose weight.

Who Should Not Try This Diet

No one should try this diet. It's a waste of time and likely to be extremely frustrating.

The Premise

According to D'Adamo, your blood type (O, A, B, or AB) is a part of your biological heritage. Each blood type handles food differently and, therefore, requires a different diet.

Type O's, for instance, are descended from hunters and must be meat eaters to maintain optimum health and to lose weight. Type A's, on the other hand, are vegetarians. Eating foods incompatible with your blood type poses considerable health risks according to this theory.

But if you stick with the complicated do's and don'ts of the different blood type diets, you are supposed to be able to fight off viruses and infections, rid the body of toxins, and even prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

This diet is promoted for overall good health, with weight loss as a side benefit. D'Adamo also claims to have discovered a critical link between blood type and aging. By following the diet, he says, you will absorb nutrients as well as you did when you were younger and slow down the aging process during your entire adult life.

The Rationale

According to D'Adamo, certain foods contain compounds called lectins that, if incompatible with your blood type, deposit themselves in tissues and damage them. Eat a food containing lectins that are incompatible with your blood type, he says, and they will target organs and cause blood cells to clump together.

D'Adamo claims that weight loss is a natural side effect of following the appropriate blood type diet. In addition, he says that incompatible lectins interfere with the production of insulin and upset the body's hormonal balance, which in turn causes weight gain. D'Adamo claims to have tested virtually all common foods for blood type reactions; his findings are the basis for the diet.

Eating on the Eat Right 4 Your Type Diet

The menus vary greatly, depending upon your blood type. For example, Type O's are supposed to eat a lot of meat, but dairy products are all but forbidden. You would need to carry the book with you at all times in order to follow the plan with accuracy.

For example, Type B's can have salmon but not sea bass. Type O's are allowed blueberries but not blackberries. And the lists go on...and on...and on. It gets even more complicated with further breakdowns into separate diet lists for Type B's who are of Asian descent and Type O's of African ancestry.

What the Experts Say

D'Adamo provides complicated and detailed biologic explanations for the blood type connection. These explanations sound impressive but have little basis in fact. Timothy Gorski, M.D., associate editor for the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, says it's a cutesy theory that's more fiction than fact. He points out that AB blood typing is only one system for identifying blood types.

There are many other blood factors that make each person's blood profile unique, which are not taken into consideration. Other doctors take exception to the idea that lectin proteins in food cause the blood to clump in people who are not genetically suited to consume it.

They say that this kind of blood coagulation is so serious and life threatening that if this were a common phenomenon, scientists and doctors would be well aware of it. And, they say, D'Adamo has presented no photographic evidence of the difference between muscle fibers in people who are eating a diet that is "correct" for their blood type and people who are not.

The diet planning is so difficult, it's tough to determine if someone would actually lose weight. D'Adamo barely addresses exercise, and again, different suggestions are made depending on blood type. Planning around the dietary do's and don'ts becomes an almost impossible task in a family, where more than one blood type is likely to coexist.

You also could end up consuming less-than-adequate amounts of some nutrients and over-consuming others, depending on which diet type you follow.

Calorie quota: There is no limit on calorie intake. However, serving sizes sometimes vary according to the dieter's ethnicity and there tends to be a range to choose from. If you opt for the smaller servings, you'll probably lose weight.

Yes: Depends on your blood type

No: Depends on your blood type

Other similar diets: None

In the next section, learn about The Eating Well for Optimum Health for Seniors diet.

To learn more about senior health, see:

Eating Well for Optimum Health for Seniors

Dr. Andrew Weil is a well-known guru of alternative medicine and the author of several books on health and nutrition. This diet guide ties together his philosophy about lifestyle, nutrition, and well-being. His "eating well" program is designed not just to keep you fit and healthy but also to satisfy your senses, giving you pleasure and comfort.

Quick Take

  • Based on the principle that eating should be an enjoyable as well as a healthy experience
  • Primarily a vegetarian diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • No specific calorie counts or meal plans
  • Not a weight-loss plan per se but a diet plan to improve health

This Diet Is Best For

Anyone who wants to be gently guided into a new way of eating healthfully that makes mealtime a slow-paced, enjoyable experience. The diet is well-balanced and is well-suited to anyone of any age who wants to feel their best.

Who Should Not Try This Diet

There really are no caveats against following Weil's Eating Well plan.

The Premise

Austerity is not a part of his plan. Weil presents his eating-well plan as one strategy for managing disease and restoring health. Much of the book is devoted to providing good, basic nutrition information, and only one chapter is devoted to weight loss. But weight loss or weight maintenance are not Weil's primary goals here. Instead, he focuses on eating a variety of healthy foods and adopting a healthy lifestyle.

The Rationale

Weil says that by embracing and enjoying the eating experience rather than trying to subdue and deny it, you'll find it easier to make wise food choices that can improve your quality of life for years to come. His message on diet and health seems to be that you should delight in eating, choose foods wisely, exercise, and be happy.

The diet is one that follows almost all of the tenets currently accepted as the nutrition path to good health, including eating less refined and processed food, avoiding foods containing partially hydrogenated oils, including soybeans and soy foods in your diet, eating fish at least two to three times a week, keeping your protein intake between 10 and 20 percent of your caloric intake, reducing your consumption of red meat; eating beans, legumes, and whole grains; and eating lots of fruits and vegetables.

Eating on the Eating Well for Optimum Health Diet

Though there are no menus nor a strict diet plan to follow (only eating guidelines and recipes), Weil recommends that your daily diet provide about 50 to 60 percent of calories from carbohydrates, 10 to 20 percent of calories from protein, and about 20 percent of calories from fat.

If you drop below 20 percent of calories from fat, he says, you may develop a deficiency of essential fatty acids. Weil encourages a diet filled with high-fiber complex carbohydrates, and low glycemic-index foods (those that don't raise blood sugar much). He discourages sugary foods, foods sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, and products made with refined flour but says that many popular diet plans are overly concerned about sugar intake.

The book provides several lists of foods and sample meals, but the mixing and matching and menu planning are up to you. He does, however, give about 80 tasty-sounding recipes.

Weil doesn't come right out and recommend a complete vegetarian diet, but you won't find any meat- or egg-based dishes in the meal plans or recipes. He does suggest minimizing your intake of animal-based foods while increasing your intake of plant-based ones.

What the Experts Say

Weil enjoys considerable respect from both conventional and alternative camps alike. His dietary advice, for the most part, is in line with what most mainstream health experts and nutritionists recommend. However, he does steer readers away from dairy products, which could make it tough to get all the calcium and vitamin D your bones need to stay strong.

His recommendation for fiber intake is higher than most -- about 40 grams a day -- and could cause some stomach discomfort if you don't ease into it gradually.

If you follow Weil's guidelines for eating well, you may not only lose weight and improve your health but actually allow yourself to enjoy your meals. If your diet doesn't include all the foods in his healthy eating plan, he recommends a variety of supplements, including B vitamins, vitamin E, and selenium, to bridge the gap.

In addition, it would be a good idea to take supplemental calcium and vitamin D as insurance against the increased loss of calcium from bones you experience as you age.

Calorie quota: Calories are not counted, and there are no specific meal plans. You should lose weight, though, if you follow Weil's advice on which foods to avoid and which ones to eat more of.

Yes: Lots of fruits and vegetables; soy foods; foods rich in omega-3 fats; minimal amounts of dairy, eggs, meat, and poultry; plenty of fluids; leisurely meal times; satisfying hunger

No: A lot of animal foods, such as meat, poultry, and dairy; inactivity; severe dietary restrictions; not enjoying meal time; high glycemic-index foods; overly processed foods, especially those that contain hydrogenated oils, which are high in trans fatty acids

Other similar diets: Eat More, Weigh Less; Eat Right, Live Longer

On the next page, read about the Fit for Life Diet for Seniors.

To learn more about senior health, see:

Fit for Life for Seniors

This 1985 diet book by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond has sold millions of copies over the years and continues to be a popular volume, despite more than 15 years of scathing criticism from health experts.

Quick Take

  • Food-combining diet that dictates which foods should be eaten, in what combinations, and at which time of the day
  • Based on the theory that eating foods in the "wrong" combinations causes weight gain and illness
  • Deficient in several important nutrients

This Diet Is Best For

This diet is not recommended for anyone.

Who Should Not Try This Diet

This diet is not recommended for anyone.

The Premise

There are two basic tenets of this food-combining weight-loss diet: 1. It's not what you eat but when you eat and how you combine your food that determines weight loss and health. 2. Always eat fruit alone, never just before, just after, or with other foods.

Though those two themes are constant throughout the book, the Diamonds give many more dietary rules that must be followed in order to lose weight and be healthy. The book generally follows the food combination teachings of Herbert M. Shelton, a naturopath who developed the Natural Hygiene diet. According to Shelton's theory, the body experiences three digestive cycles during the day: appropriation, which is eating and digesting (noon to 8 p.m.), assimilation, which is absorption and use of nutrients (8 p.m. to 4 a.m.), and elimination of body wastes (4 a.m. to noon).

The Diamonds say that only by eating foods in the right combinations at the right times, following these natural cycles, can the body rid itself of toxins and excess weight. They also clearly suggest that following the program can fend off diseases related to aging, such as heart and kidney disease, stroke, diabetes, and other age-related conditions including balding and hearing loss.

The Rationale

The rationale behind Fit for Life is anything but rational. Among the nuggets of nutritional wisdom dispensed by the Diamonds are: Eating foods in the wrong combinations causes them to rot so they cannot be used by the body and they turn to fat; fruits and vegetables, because of their high water content, wash and cleanse the body of toxins, but if fruit is eaten at the end of a meal, it ferments and causes digestion and weight problems; all the nutrients the body needs are found in fruits and vegetables; eating combinations of foods, such as meat and potatoes or bread and cheese, causes obesity and disease; and toxic waste material is kept inside the body if there is not enough energy (through proper food combining) to excrete it. Improper food combining, they say, leads to many age-related diseases.

Eating on the Fit for Life Diet

If you follow the Diamonds' do's and don'ts, a typical day's menu calls for only fruit or fruit juice before noon, fruit and a salad for lunch, vegetables and either a starch or protein food for dinner, and fruit for a snack -- but only if you wait at least three hours after dinner.

Eggs and dairy products (except for unpasteurized butter, sour cream, whipping cream, white cheese, and yogurt) are all but forbidden. Simply put: Any food besides fruits and vegetables is considered a "concentrated food" (having a low water content) and these cannot be combined with one another; fruit must be eaten on an empty stomach.

What the Experts Say

Although Shelton died in 1985, the basics of his theories have been recycled and reinvented many times over by several diet book authors in addition to the Diamonds. Despite their broad appeal, these theories have been universally panned by experts as unscientific, ineffective, and potentially dangerous.

That's because they dictate a nutritionally unbalanced diet, recommend eating unpasteurized dairy products, and ignore potential negative physical reactions dieters might have to the eating plan. No scientific proof exists that this food-combining diet either prevents the buildup of harmful toxins or helps weight loss.

On the plus side, the Diamonds encourage dieters to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, that's at the expense of other healthful foods. Though anyone who sticks with the Diamonds' program will likely lose weight, it's not because the food-combining diet rids the body of fat-causing toxins.

You lose weight on this diet because it's quite restrictive and low in calories. One analysis of the diet found it to be low in several nutrients that are important for seniors, including calcium, zinc, and vitamins B12 and D. Especially alarming is the fact that the Diamonds urge dieters to ignore signals that something could be wrong, such as diarrhea, dizziness, or headaches, which they attribute to the body ridding itself of toxins.

Calorie quota: Calories are not counted or restricted on the Diamond program. However, calorie intake is likely to be reduced because the emphasis is on fruits and vegetables, which are low in calories, and many foods are forbidden or severely restricted.

Yes: Lots of fruits and vegetables (but only if eaten in the right combination with other foods)

No: Combining different types of food, such as proteins and carbohydrate foods, or combining fruit with any other foods; dairy products (except butter); sugar; cooked eggs

Other similar diets: Suzanne Somers' Eat, Cheat, and Melt the Fat Away

The next page in this article discusses the Making the Case for Yourself for Seniors diet.

To learn more about senior health, see:

Making the Case for Yourself for Seniors

Susan Estrich, a prominent lawyer and frequent CNN legal commentator, uses her impressive legal skills to build a case for dieting. And her arguments are compelling and motivational. She doesn't target a specific age group, only a specific gender: women.

Quick Take

  • A motivational, self-help book for women who want to lose weight and keep it off
  • Emphasizes making a contract with yourself to lose weight
  • Guidelines for how to face reality and take responsibility for what you eat

This Diet Is Best For

Women who want to be independent, motivated, and strong and just need an extra push in the right direction

Who Should Not Try This Diet

Women who feel they just can't go it alone and need the support that weekly meetings and expert counseling provide; this is a do-it-yourself dieting approach

The Premise

According to Estrich, a woman's brain is her secret dieting weapon. She urges women to think positively, to use logic when face-to-face with a 600-calorie blueberry muffin (no matter how lousy your day has been, the muffin will only make it worse, and it's probably stale anyway), and to take responsibility for their actions. Estrich, who used to be overweight herself, says that it was a profound attitude change, not a particular dieting gimmick, that allowed her to finally lose weight and keep it off.

She made a commitment to herself -- a contract, if you will -- and she didn't break it. She came up with a plan for keeping her commitment, and she constantly reminded herself about what she was doing and why she was doing it. Using her own experience, Estrich shows readers how to do the same for themselves.

The Rationale

Estrich approaches dieting as a lawyer approaches a case. It's not the specific rules of law that are most important, she says, but rather the arguments one uses that make or break a case -- or your diet. So Estrich helps you build the case for yourself so you can stick with your weight-loss efforts. She shows you how to resist whatever food is calling out to you by anticipating temptation and being ready with logical arguments against them.

Estrich maintains that following impulses and emotions, becoming stupid about our bodies, is what ultimately blows a diet. You have two choices, she says: You can decide that losing weight is important and make space for it in your life or you can decide it's not important. Once you've made up your mind to do it, she offers dieters a three-week contract to sign.

The three-week commitment is crucial because that's how long it takes to really alter your eating behavior. To start you off, Estrich then provides four diets (although they're pretty loose as diets go) for you to follow during those first three weeks.

Eating on the Making the Case for Yourself Diet

Estrich's four-phase miracle diet is actually a blend of some popular diet plans. The purpose of following the diet for three weeks is to take advantage of your early enthusiasm for dieting, to provide you with early weight-loss success, and to show you that you have power over food. She starts with a modified cabbage soup diet for the first three days, then provides different basic meal plans for various periods of time.

Estrich doesn't provide specific quantities of food but does tell you what kinds of food to eat, concentrating on vegetables, fruit, and lean protein. A few recipes are included at the back of the book. Along with general guidelines, Estrich offers a steady diet of no-nonsense motivation. She knows what your weakness will be and where diets fail, and she prepares you to deal with those. And she provides a list of foods you can eat that contain 100 calories.

What the Experts Say

Estrich's book hasn't received as much attention as the more outrageous diets. But it's worth serious consideration. However, at least one weight-loss expert says that while it may be just right for some women, it may not be enough for others.

"While she offers very good strategies for anyone who wants to alter their current eating habits, there may be people who find they need help from someone else in order to help make that happen," says Cindy Moore, M.S., R.D. director of nutrition therapy at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. "However, it might very well act as a supplement to more specific nutrition guidance."

There really are no risks involved in trying Estrich's approach since there is no diet plan or even specific meal planning guidelines to use. Be prepared for a lot of comparisons to the law, court cases, and legal arguments. If that's not your cup of tea, then her arguments against being overweight and for dieting may leave you cold.

On the other hand, they can give you a new way to think about dieting, one that may provide the impetus you've needed. If you follow her general diet guidelines, however, you could easily fall short of calcium and vitamin D, essential fatty acids, fiber, and some B vitamins. All of this is bad for your bones, your heart, and your bowels (constipation).

You might be better off reading her book for motivation but following a diet plan that provides more of the nutrients you need. If you follow Estrich's diet guidelines, be sure to take a multivitamin plus a calcium supplement.

Calorie quota: Because there is no diet plan or food exchange lists, there is no calorie limit.

Yes: Determination, logic, and commitment

No: Fad diets, placing blame, excuses

Other similar diets: Because this is not really a diet plan but an inspirational book about women and weight loss, there is no other weight-loss diet quite like it.

In the next section find out how The Metabolic Typing Diet for Seniors works.

To learn more about senior health, see:

The Metabolic Typing Diet for Seniors

This diet is based on the belief that there is no diet that will work for everyone. Rather, you must identify your metabolic type in order to choose the diet that will make you healthy and allow you to lose weight.

Quick Take

  • A complex diet system based on identifying your metabolic type
  • Promises to alleviate health problems commonly associated with aging by regulating metabolism, stabilizing blood sugar, and balancing hormones
  • Offers a detailed system of supplementation that depends on your metabolic type and current health status

The Diet Is Best For

No one. The diet is not based on what we know about weight loss and metabolism, and it is complex and confusing to boot.

Who Should Not Try This Diet

Everyone should steer clear of this one. There's nothing here that will bring you better health or easy weight loss. The apparently arbitrary restrictions placed on certain fruits and vegetables are not healthy for seniors.

Now that you're 50+, you need your diet to be as nutrient-dense as possible. Limiting the variety of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables won't help you meet that goal.

The Premise

The authors say that the USDA Food Guide Pyramid is mass-market nutrition, and they claim that our poor health, especially as we age, is a direct result of serious dietary deficiencies or imbalances that exist simply because we don't know what our individual nutrition needs are.

Customized nutrition is the answer, they say, and they have devised a complicated system for identifying each person's metabolic type. Metabolic types are divided into three main categories according to the speed with which your body burns energy: slow oxidizers, fast oxidizers, and mixed oxidizers.

According to the authors' theory, you can eat all of the best and highest quality organic foods, exercise regularly, drink plenty of fluids, get sufficient rest, and take the finest supplements money can buy, but you're still not going to feel well or enjoy optimum health unless you regularly obtain the nutrient balance that's right for you.

By sticking to the correct metabolic diet plan, the authors promise relief from allergies, arthritis, headaches, low blood sugar, indigestion, cardiovascular problems, depression, and recurrent infections.

The Rationale

Their motto is, "One man's food is another man's poison." By identifying each person's metabolic type, the authors say you can address chronic health problems at their causative level, prevent illness, and rebuild long-lasting health.

According to the plan, any given food or nutrient can have virtually opposite biochemical effects on different metabolic types. In keeping with that, lists of allowed and forbidden foods are provided for each metabolic type.

Eating on the Metabolic Typing Diet

What you're allowed to eat depends on your metabolic type. Fast oxidizers are given a diet made up of 40 percent protein, 30 percent fat, and 30 percent carbohydrate. Slow oxidizers are prescribed a diet consisting of 25 percent protein, 15 percent fat, and 60 percent carbohydrate. Mixed oxidizers are given a diet with 30 percent of calories from protein, 20 percent from fat, and 50 percent from carbohydrate.

But there's more to the diet than these three basic plans. You are supposed to "fine tune" the basic metabolic diets according to your circadian rhythm and blood type, as well as the glycemic index of the foods you eat and how you combine foods in your diet. As a result, there actually are an infinite number of diet styles, and the book attempts to instruct dieters on how to accommodate them.

Overall, the diet encourages the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and discourages eating fatty foods and sugar. Five-day sample menus are provided for each of the three main metabolic types.

What the Experts Say

This diet book has thrown in just about everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. While futurists predict a day in the not-too-distant future when we will be able to prescribe diets truly tailored to individual needs, taking into account genetics as well as lifestyle, that day has not yet arrived.

All the talk about metabolic typing is premature, and the excruciatingly detailed plan laid out in this book is based on nothing more than conjecture. Overall, most of what's recommended in terms of actual food intake is not bad, but the diet for "fast oxidizers" is too high in protein and the carbohydrate diet is too low in fat for most people to stick with.

Following any of the diet plans outlined in this book would likely result in weight loss, since many sources of excess fat and calories are reduced and eating fruits and vegetables is encouraged. The disadvantage to these diet plans is their complexity.

With so many do's and don'ts, they are confusing, and it would be easy to find yourself falling short of certain nutrients. The mixed oxidizer diet appears to be the most balanced of the bunch. Dairy is generally discouraged, making it tough for most people to get enough calcium and vitamin D -- two nutrients of particular importance to seniors -- without supplements.

Calorie quota: There are no calorie counts, only proportions of protein, fat, and carbohydrate for each diet type. If the overall guidelines are followed, however, any one of the three basic diet plans would likely result in cutting calories.

Yes: Depends on your metabolic type. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are allowed and fluid and fiber intake encouraged.

No: Forbidden foods vary depending on your metabolic classification.

Other similar diets: Eat Right 4 Your Type

Continue to the next page to read about another popular alternative diet for seniors -- Slim Fast for Seniors.

To learn more about senior health, see:

Slim Fast Diet for Seniors

Though there are lots of liquid diets around -- some of which are medically supervised and some, like Slim-Fast, which are not -- they all basically offer quick weight loss by substituting a sweet-tasting nutritionally fortified shake or bar for a meal.

Quick Take

  • A liquid diet plan that centers around meal replacements and snacks
  • Incorporates three servings of fruits and at least four servings of vegetables into the daily diet plan
  • Offers two calorie levels: 1,200 and 1,500 calories a day

This Diet Is Best For

People who like the taste of Slim-Fast products and find the convenience of a portable meal-replacement shake or bar appealing

Who Should Not Try This Diet

Anyone who doesn't like fruit or milk shakes or needs to eat more volume at meals to feel satisfied. It's not for people who need counseling or other dieters to talk to, since it provides no face-to-face encounters for support.

The Premise

In the past, liquid diets developed a bad reputation because dieters were restricting their intake to only 500 to 800 calories a day and getting sick -- even dying -- as a result of their weight-loss efforts.

But the liquid diet industry has cleaned up its act, and now companies like Slim-Fast, which has been around for more than 25 years, offer a safer program. Like many other diet programs, today Slim-Fast offers an online dieting community complete with an online weight-charting tool, coupons, a personal food and exercise diary, chat sessions with registered dietitians, a weekly newsletter, and the opportunity to hook up with an online Slim-Fast Buddy. There is no one-on-one counseling, however, either on- or offline.

The Rationale

Most liquid diets imply, if not promise, quick weight loss, suggesting you can satisfy your sweet tooth and curb your appetite at the same time with liquid meal replacements. Slim-Fast falls into that category, though as liquid diets go, it's one of the more responsible plans.

Total calories don't go below 1,200 a day, and the plan includes lots of fruits and vegetables in addition to the Slim-Fast foods and snacks. Liquid diets are appealing because of their simplicity and convenience. For some people, that simplicity and convenience spell success.

Eating on the Slim Fast Diet

Slim-Fast's meal replacements make up two meals a day during the weight-loss phase of the plan. Buying the company's products, which include Ready-to-Drink shakes, Snack Bars, Meal-On-The-Go Bars, Slim-Fast Powders, Breakfast and Lunch Bars, and Juice-Based Ready-To-Drink Shakes (they contain only four percent real juice), then, is mandatory.

You can find the products for sale online as well as in most supermarkets and drugstores. The 11-ounce shakes are the main attraction and cost about $1.25 each. The meal replacement bars cost about $1.00 each. Though dairy products are not part of the basic diet plan, the meal replacements are fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and riboflavin, as well as fiber.

The products are low in fat (only about one to three grams per shake), but they also are high in sugar. The one "real meal" a day allowed during the weight-loss phase consists of 4 to 6 ounces of poultry, fish, or lean meat; 1/2 baked potato; 1-1/2 cups steamed vegetables; a large salad; and a piece of fruit. In addition to a Slim-Fast snack, two pieces of fruit are allowed as snacks each day.

As the dieter reaches goal weight, the plan allows regular foods at two meals a day, with a Slim-Fast meal replacement at only one meal a day. However, there is no instruction for weaning yourself away from Slim-Fast products altogether, leaving dieters dependent on the products forever.

What the Experts Say

The Slim-Fast diet should result in weight loss. But dieticians question whether any liquid diet can actually train people to eat right, which is what changing your eating habits should be all about, says Keith Ayoob, Ed.D, R.D., pediatric nutritionist and associate clinical professor in the pediatrics department at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. Losing weight is simply a benefit of eating right, he says.

If you follow the plan as suggested, a 1,200- to 1,500-calorie diet should result in a gradual weight loss for most people. However, for anyone who is extremely overweight, 1,200 to 1,500 calories may be too low to begin with and no formula is given for increasing the calorie level. Slim-Fast's informational brochures do mention physical activity, but they don't emphasize it enough.

Slim-Fast's diet may be a useful starting point for some people who need a gimmick to get them going, but it offers very little education or advice about entering the real world of fast food, restaurants, and family get-togethers, nor does it offer tips for permanently adjusting eating habits. Because the diet is centered around Slim-Fast products, with only one "real meal" a day, your diet could fall short of fiber (even though Slim-Fast products have some fiber added) and lead to constipation.

Though the products are also fortified with a variety of vitamins and minerals, they don't contain all the disease-preventing phytonutrients found naturally in food. Most of the products are also quite high in sugar -- not good if you've already got high blood sugar or insulin resistance.

In addition, the Slim-Fast products are fortified with iron, a nutrient you don't need more of now that you're 50 or older. And if you opt for the 1,200-calorie-a-day plan, it's unlikely to provide all the nutrients your body needs without a multivitamin supplement.

Calorie quota: 1,200-1,500 a day

Yes: Slim-Fast products, fruits, and vegetables

No: Regular foods at two meals a day; sweets, other than Slim-Fast shakes and bars

Other similar diets: Cambridge Diet

The TOPS diet for seniors will be discussed in the next section. Continue to the next page to find out what "TOPS" means.

To learn more about senior health, see:

The TOPS Diet for Seniors

TOPS, which stands for "Take Off Pounds Sensibly," is a no-frills, low-cost diet plan. Actually, it's not a diet at all but rather a loosely knit support system for people trying to lose weight.

Quick Take

  • Offers a loosely knit support system of TOPS chapters
  • Meetings vary from chapter to chapter throughout the country
  • Provides no official diet plan
  • Lets dieters develop the approach that works best for them

This Diet Is Best For

People who prefer to go solo while still having a support group to fall back on

Who Should Not Try This Diet

Dieters who know from experience that they need more clear-cut menus and day-to-day guidance on what they should eat and how they should change their eating behaviors

The Premise

Founded in Milwaukee more than 55 years ago, the nonprofit organization has none of the traditional diet plan offerings: There's no official diet, no prepackaged foods, no supplements, and no counseling.

But for $24 a year plus local chapter dues, members can attend weekly support meetings at one of about 10,000 local TOPS chapters, where they will weigh themselves, discuss problems, and even exchange recipes. Chapter leaders are volunteers from the TOPS membership. In addition to weekly support meetings, the national organization offers incentives for weight loss.

Once you become a member, you'll receive TOPS News, a monthly magazine that offers contests, weight-loss incentive plans, self-help articles, and recipes. TOPS members who reach their goal weight, which is supposed to be set with the help of a health care professional when you join, are eligible for maintenance membership in KOPS (Keep Off Pounds Sensibly).

Though TOPS membership is generally comprised of older adults, kids and teens are welcome, too. TOPS now has online help, too, at www.tops.org. The cost of joining TOPS online is $25.50 a year, and you will also receive TOPS News.

The Rationale

For people who feel more comfortable figuring out their own path to weight loss, TOPS offers a loose system of support but little more. Exactly what kind of support you'll get from your local chapter is impossible to predict, since chapters vary quite a bit from one to another. In fact, the organization prides itself on the individuality of its chapters.

TOPS weekly meetings always begin with a confidential weigh-in, which is followed by a program that sometimes includes presentations by health professionals who volunteer their time to speak. Through group support and some weight-loss competitions, TOPS provides incentives for weight loss. There are national contests as well as local chapter contests. Participants compete only within their own age category and weight class.

Eating on the TOPS Diet

Because there is no official diet plan or even preset calorie intakes, there are no typical meals. TOPS recommends that its members go to a health care professional for personalized diet and physical activity plans.

In addition, the organization does offer an optional diet planning book called The Choice Is Yours, which contains simple guidelines for planning diets of 1,200, 1,500, and 1,800 calories a day, based on the USDA Food Guide Pyramid and the diabetic exchange list, and it offers a sample 28-day menu and exercise guide.

What the Experts Say

Because there is no single TOPS program or diet plan, experts say it's hard to make any kind of judgment as to its safety or effectiveness. However, there's nothing to indicate that the program is unsafe, and for some people, it could be helpful. Just keep in mind that there is no counseling offered and group leaders are untrained volunteers who are also TOPS members.

With no set TOPS diet and everyone pretty much on their own in planning their diets, it's hard to say how much you might lose or how quickly you can expect to lose it. Neither the TOPS organization nor the individual chapters make any claims about an expected rate of weight loss. The organization leaves this up to the discretion of each dieter and his or her physician.

While this freedom may work well for some people, it carries some risks as well. It could lead some ill-informed dieters to unwittingly cut back too far on calories or to follow an unbalanced diet. However, if you stick with the sample plan provided in TOPS's The Choice Is Yours booklet, you should meet most of your nutrient needs while lowering blood cholesterol and controlling blood sugar.

It's still a good idea, however, to take a calcium and vitamin D supplement, since it's tough to include enough calcium-rich dairy foods in a 1,200- or 1,500-calorie diet. Though physical activity is recommended and some local chapters incorporate group walks into their weekly meetings, exercise could be emphasized more.

Calorie quota: There is no calorie quota provided, though the optional booklet TOPS offers gives guidance for 1,200-, 1,500-, and 1,800-calorie-a-day diets, using standard food exchange lists.

Yes: Attendance at meetings

No: None, since no uniform guidance is provided

Other similar diets: Overeaters Anonymous

On the next and final page of this article, read about Volumetrics for Seniors and learn how it works.

To learn more about senior health, see:

Volumetrics for Seniors

This diet is all about losing weight without feeling hungry. It's based on the concept of "energy density," (E.D.) which means how concentrated the calories are in a portion of food. High-energy-density foods provide a large number of calories in a small serving, while low-energy-density foods provide a small number of calories in a large serving.

Quick Take

  • A diet based on the energy density of foods
  • Allows large servings of low-density foods
  • Encourages drinking lots of water and eating foods that have a high water content

This Diet Is Best for:

People who want some freedom of choice in planning their meals and feel they can go it alone. It is also a good choice for dieters who find it difficult to face an almost empty dinner plate.

Who Should Not Try This Diet:

Those who need a step-by-step diet plan and those who need a support system for success.

The Premise

Authors Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., a nutrition researcher at Pennsylvania State University, and journalist Robert Barnett maintain that if you eat mostly low-energy-density foods you can eat more, satisfy your hunger, and still lose weight. For example, you can eat three Chips Ahoy! chocolate chip cookies (53 calories each) or, for the same 160 calories, you can eat 1-1/2 bananas or two apples.

The fruit will satisfy you more because it's high in fiber. Fiber and water both fill you up, while water dilutes calories per portion. The higher the water content and/or the higher the fiber content, the lower the energy density of the food and the more volume the food has, which affects how full you feel. Keep fiber intake high, drink a lot of water, and eat a lot of foods high in water content and low in energy density and you will lose weight, promise the authors.

The Rationale

According to the authors' research, we all tend to eat the same average weight in food every day, no matter how many calories the food contains. The Volumetrics approach is to eat the same volume of food but lower the number of calories by eating foods that are higher in fiber and water. If you do, you'll consume fewer calories and lose weight without that empty feeling in your gut.

Once you learn to think about the energy density of foods, you'll be surprised by how much food you can eat. While Volumetrics may seem like a gimmick, it's really the same message nutritionists have been preaching for years: Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and beans, and eat less high fat, low-nutrient junk foods.

Eating on Volumetrics

There are no menus that you have to follow and no mandates as to how or when certain foods should be eaten. Instead, Volumetrics contains extensive charts of the energy density (E.D.) and caloric content of one serving of dozens of foods, making it easy to make good low-cal, low-density choices.

Though the charts are extensive, you can calculate the E.D. of any food by dividing the number of calories per serving by the weight in grams per serving. Both numbers are usually provided on a product's Nutrition Facts label.

The authors provide a collection of 12 breakfast menus, 10 lunch menus, and 25 dinner menus, plus a list of 200-calorie snacks. You'll also find more than 60 pages of recipes for dishes that have low E.D.s. Soup is promoted as an appetite controller, and research is cited showing that eating soup before meals may help control calorie intake due to its high volume, high water content, and low calorie count.

Overall, the diet provides about 20 to 30 percent of calories from fat, 55 percent from carbohydrate, and 15 percent from protein. The diet also includes 20 to 30 grams of fiber a day and lots of water -- 9 cups a day for women and 12 cups a day for men -- from food and beverages.

What the Experts Say

Rolls is an expert in appetite and appetite control and has been researching the topic for years. She has published dozens of scientific papers on the topic and has translated them into a practical diet.

According to Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D., nutrition counselor in Reading, Massachusetts, "Volumetrics is all about a dieting philosophy that nutritionists have been preaching for years -- choose foods wisely and you can eat more." The authors also make exercise an integral part of the Volumetrics plan, a recommendation about which all experts agree.

The diet is a healthful one that encourages the consumption of more plant foods. If you are true to the Volumetrics formula for eating, you should feel satisfied and still lose weight. Though the plan emphasizes foods with low caloric density, those same foods are high in nutrient density, a real plus for you now that you're over 50.

As is the case with even the most well-balanced diets, calcium and vitamin D may still be a concern, and it's best to get nutrition insurance with a calcium and vitamin D supplement to give your bones full protection. The diet also emphasizes fluid intake. While the intent is to fill you up so you don't get hungry, fluid intake is especially important as you get older to avoid dehydration.

Calorie quota: Calories aren't really counted, but the dieter is expected to keep track of the E.D.'s of different foods and stick, as much as possible, with those at the low end of the E.D. scale. However, the diet does suggest that you can reduce your calorie intake by about 500 to 1,000 calories a day by following the diet's guidelines for eating.

Yes: Lots of water, high-fiber foods, fruits and vegetables, large volumes of low-energy-density foods

No: Foods that provide a lot of calories in small servings, restricting total food intake

Other similar diets: The Picture Perfect Diet, The Pritikin Principle

To learn more about senior health, see:


Densie Webb, Ph.D., R.D. is the author of seven books, including Foods for Better Health, The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!, and Super Nutrition After 50. Webb also writes about health and nutrition for numerous magazines, including Family Circle, Fitness, Parade, Men's Fitness, and Redbook. She is a regular columnist for Woman's Day and Prevention magazines, a contributing writer for The New York Times, the associate editor of Environmental Nutrition newsletter, and a writer for the American Botanical Council.

Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D. is a nutrition consultant and writer. She is the author or co-author of five books, including Super Nutrition After 50 and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler. Ward is a contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition newsletter and a contributing writer for WebMD.com. She also writes for publications such as Parenting magazine and The Boston Globe.