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Which is Better, Choosing Your Diet or Flipping a Coin?

Tim Boyer's picture
Choosing a diet

While there are a wide range of diet plans to choose from, what works best - choosing your preference or flipping a coin? Here is what one small study found that surprised weight loss experts.


In a new study, researchers posed the following question: Will people who are allowed to choose their own diet lose more weight than those who are assigned a diet by random?

This question is based on the generally accepted assumption that allowing people to choose which diet to follow will make a difference in weight loss because they know their individual tastes better and would have more of an intuitive feel for what diet plan would likely work best for them.

However, assumptions are based more on subjectivity and less on objectivity; hence, scientific rigor is required to prove or disprove what most of us take for granted as was recently demonstrated by researchers who put this question to the test.

According to the study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers from the Durham VA Medical Center in North Carolina selected 207 obese individuals and randomly assigned them to either a group in which the participants could choose between two diets offered (low-fat or low-carb); or, were assigned to a group that was not allowed to choose between a low-fat or low-carb diet; but rather, have their diet assigned randomly.

Throughout the 48-week long study, the participants in both groups attended group counseling sessions as well as were telephoned individually for additional counseling. After the study ended, comparisons were made between the two groups to determine which lost the most weight and how well the participants adhered to their diets.

What the data revealed was that the group that chose which diet they wanted, lost an average of 12.5 pounds, whereas the group who had their diet randomly selected for them lost an average of almost 15 pounds.

However, after some number crunching was done, the researchers determined that the data showed that although both groups lost weight, there was no statistically significant difference between the results of both groups. In other words, when it comes to choosing between a low-fat and a low-carb diet, flipping a coin works just as well as making a personal choice.

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Furthermore, the participants in both groups were similar in how well they stuck to their diets.

According to quotes attributed to a Reuters news interview:

“It definitely is counterintuitive to what a lot of people think,” said lead author Dr. William S. Yancy Jr. of the Durham VA Medical Center in North Carolina.

Long term, the diet plans he studied were similarly effective, but it seemed like giving patients a choice might help them stick to the plan, he said.

“But that’s not the case,” Yancy told Reuters Health. “Allowing people to choose their diet, there’s not a big difference clinically.”

So, what does this really mean for dieters who are trying to decide on which diet plan to invest both time and money in? Or how to go about making the decision? Not much really. The authors do note that their study has some limitations to it such as that only 2 diets were offered and compared between the groups, whereas more options may have made a difference in the results. The results only seem to challenge the assumption that allowing people to choose which diet to follow will make a difference towards their future weight loss success.

For a different opinion about choosing between a low-carb and a low-fat diet, here’s what U.S. News & World Report had to say about which is the best diet.

Reference: “Effect of Allowing Choice of Diet on Weight Loss: A Randomized Trial Effect of Allowing Choice of Diet on Weight LossAnnals of Internal Medicine; 16 June, 2015; 162 (12):805-814; William S. Yancy Jr., MD et al.