We have officially entered the "new year, new you" season, in which grandiose resolutions abound. Chief among them: lose weight, the faster the better. With the recession raging and food prices soaring, you might think dieting would be easier these days. But in a recent survey of nearly 500 registered dietitians and nutritionists, 56% of respondents said they were concerned that the economic downturn would have a negative impact on their patients' ability to maintain or achieve a healthy weight. The reason? Junk food is cheaper than healthy fare. Plus, financial woes can be so distracting, people don't pursue nutritional goals. Some diet programs--like Weight Watchers, which costs about $12 a week--have already seen enrollments decline in recent months.
But it costs less than those programs to buy a diet book and go it alone. That's why the publishing industry is hopeful that the annual torrent of such books will include another megabrand like South Beach (whose titles have 23 million copies in print worldwide). "I would hazard a guess that diet books may be recession-proof," says Crown executive editor Heather Jackson, who has worked on both South Beach and Atkins books. "We don't have control over a number of things, but we'd love to get control of our waistlines."
To that end, I tried four of this year's major diet tomes for a week each, with an eye on food bills as well as weight loss. And although all the regimens emphasize whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats and exercise, each had its own rules, so I had to struggle to remember whether this was the week I could put milk in my coffee, or artificial sweetener, or have any coffee at all. The most realistic, Joy's LIFE Diet, provides solutions for such things as navigating parties and visiting fast-food restaurants. The book has a catchy acronym (Look Incredible, Feel Extraordinary), a well-known author (morning-show staple Joy Bauer) and many cost-cutting tips (load up on staples during sales, for example, and buy seasonal fruits). The cheapest but hardest-to-follow regimen proved to be The Engine 2 Diet, a rigorous vegan program from a Texas firefighter and triathlete that eschews dairy, meat, processed foods and even oils. Flat Belly Diet!, from the folks at Prevention magazine, was a good candidate for quickly--and affordably--blasting off a few pounds. But the one for profound lifelong changes was The Complete Beck Diet for Life, by cognitive therapist Judith Beck, who offers wise counsel about ending the "sabotaging thoughts" that plague many dieters. The book is perfect for the highly motivated, battle-scarred diet veteran who is sick of jumping from program to program. "You will learn how to stay in control when you are stressed," she promises. That includes when you look at your skinny 401(k).