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Losing It: Family Circle Diet Challenge

Family Circle staffers road-tested some of the most-buzzed-about diets to see which were best for busy moms. Two weeks, six books and 32 pounds later, here are the results.

By Sheryl Kraft

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Weight loss
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It's no wonder bookstore shelves are overflowing with diet guides promising to help you drop a dress size—or four. Nearly three-quarters of American women have attempted to shed pounds, with successful losers relying more on dieting than exercise. So we had Family Circle staffers commit to six different slim-down plans and report back. For two weeks, they overcame cravings, banished bad food habits and even broke some dinner dates in the name of research. Some were thrilled to see their families embracing new foods like kale and quinoa right along with them. Others were just happy when the 14 days were over. Find out what they learned to select the best slenderizer for you.

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Paleo for Beginners: Essentials to Get Started

Best for: Moms who are so over counting calories
Tester's weight loss: 3 pounds

Embrace your inner cavewoman by consuming foods the Paleo diet says you're genetically designed to digest. Author John Chatham has you eat large quantities of lean meats and fish, fresh fruits and non-starchy veggies. You'll skip alcohol, dairy, legumes, processed foods, sugars and grains. With this diet, calories don't count—but percentages do. Your daily allotment is 55 to 65 percent protein, 30 to 40 percent carbs and 5 percent non-animal fats (like nuts and olive oil). Some Paleo diets claim you may lose up to 75 pounds in six months.

Typical Meal: Grilled lamb marinated with garlic and herbs, kale salad with walnuts and dried cranberries, roasted Brussels sprouts

Shopping list surprises: Lean grass- fed beef, coconut oil, almond butter

Ratings (see key below)
Ease of use: 4
Taste factor: 3
Time factor: 3
Hunger factor: 5

Biggest hurdle: Eating out

Simplest part: Giving up processed foods and sugar

Art director Lisa K. admits to being skeptical in the beginning. "I had trouble believing that things we've been eating for millennia—like cheese and beans—could be bad for us," she said. "Also, it would be tough to raise kids on this diet because of its emphasis on pricey, high- quality meats." But halfway through, Lisa was excited to continue, seeing that it boosted her mood and introduced her to new foods she loved, like almond milk. Lisa admits to falling off the wagon when she forgot to take the feta cheese out of the salad she served her family. All things considered, hardly a big stumble.

Ratings Key

Ease of Use
    5=Very simple
    1=Just about impossible
Taste Factor
    5=Every meal was great
    1=It was barely edible
Time Factor
    5=Putting meals together was a snap
    1=It was too much work
Hunger Factor
    5=Very satisfied
    1=Stomach always growling

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The Fast Metabolism Diet

Best for: Moms who can make time to plan, cook and freeze multiple meals in advance
Tester's weight loss: 4.8 pounds

Based on the idea that food is the medicine to heal your burned-out metabolism, this three-phase plan requires you to eat five times a day, without counting calories or fat grams. But keeping your metabolism churning requires a strategy. So author Haylie Pomroy has you chow down in three different ways each week, alternating between carbs and fruit, proteins and veggies, and all of these plus healthy fats and oils. In return, you can lose up to 20 pounds in just four weeks. Banned from your plate: wheat, dairy, corn, soy, refined sugar, caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners and dried fruit or fruit juices.

Typical Meal: Nitrate-free chicken sausage with brown rice pasta

Shopping list surprises: Nitrate-free turkey bacon, jicama, dry mustard

Ratings
Ease of use: 2.5
Taste factor: 5
Time factor: 2.5
Hunger factor: varied

With her two high school boys at home for the long-awaited summer and an opportunity for a more relaxed schedule, digital director Lisa M. was intimidated and challenged by the strict, nonnegotiable rules of the diet. She found it easier to stick to on workdays, but "it was near impossible when I was not in the office." Yet she skillfully managed to work some sweet potatoes and a quinoa salad into the menu for her son's birthday barbecue and found solace—and satisfaction—in a bowl of mixed berries rather than the ice cream cake all the other revelers enjoyed.

Biggest hurdle: Sticking to the rotating phases and schedules of meals

Simplest part: Not feeling deprived or hungry

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Eat to Live

Best for: Moms who've thought about going vegetarian
Tester's weight loss: 4.5 pounds

This fiber-rich, high-nutrient diet in which 90 percent of the calories come from fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains could be a match made in the kitchen for anyone considering giving up meat. Nutrient-dense plant foods satisfy you with fewer calories, says author Joel Fuhrman, M.D., an expert in nutrition and obesity research. Processed and animal foods should make up no more than 10 percent of your total caloric intake on the plan. Chronic diseases (like type 2 diabetes) may be reversed, claims Fuhrman, who notes some people lose 15 pounds, on average, in the first month.

Typical Meal: Tofu and veggie stir-fry with vegetable stock, soy sauce, coconut milk and green Thai curry over brown rice; salad and organic strawberries

Shopping list surprises: Chia seeds, flavored vinegar, mango-coconut ice cream

Ratings
Ease of use: 4
Taste factor: 5
Time factor: 3
Hunger factor: 4

Creative director Karmen loved this diet and never felt denied, finding it relatively easy since she had already decided to go vegetarian. After just a few days she woke feeling "refreshed and energized rather than in my usual state of fatigue." And weekends away with friends didn't derail her: When faced with a dinner of sausage and pasta, "I made kale and zucchini with tofu and garlic—it was delish!"

Biggest hurdle: Cutting down on caffeine

Simplest part: Satisfying sweet cravings with plenty of fruit

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Super Shred: The Big Results Diet

Best for: Moms who want to lose weight fast for a special occasion
Tester's weight loss: 7 pounds

Dr. Ian Smith, cohost of the television show The Doctors, promises quick and dramatic results averaging weight loss of 20 pounds in four weeks. Each day you follow a detailed plan, with heavier meals eaten earlier in the day to enable your body to burn off calories. The timing and calorie count of meals change weekly, and each week includes one day of severe calorie restriction. Although the diet leans toward plant foods, there is plenty of meat and fish.

Typical Meal: Five ounces baked salmon with sauteed zucchini

Shopping list surprises: Fat-free salad dressing, diet soda, cashews

Ratings
Ease of use: 3.5
Taste factor: 4
Time factor: 2
Hunger factor: 3

A self-described "pretty healthy person," photo director Tina was hopeful she'd break her bad habit of overindulging. "When I go out for dinner or drinks, I eat like I'm in my twenties," she admits. Overall, the program was manageable, yet she found some requirements (like drinking hibiscus tea in the first two weeks) to be a bit "odd." Still, the diet helped Tina nix practices like eating sweets after dinner or indulging in a glass of wine after work.

Biggest hurdle: Prepping food for up to six meals/snacks a day

Simplest part: Getting rid of cravings for sweets

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The 3-1-2-1 Diet

Best for: Moms who want to tweak their family's meals to fit with the diet
Tester's weight loss: 4.5 pounds

Cheating is usually a big no-no, but celebrity trainer Dolvett Quince of The Biggest Loser gives you permission. You can only reach your goals if you don't feel deprived, he says. The 21-day plan includes three days of "clean eating," one day of cheating and two more days of "clean eating" topped off with one final reward meal at week's end. For portion control, your plate should be divided in three: half protein, one-fourth fiber and one-fourth carbohydrates. The diet stresses low-fat and high-protein foods with no added sugars for weight loss of up to 10 pounds in three weeks.

Typical Meal: Kale and romaine salad with baked, skinless chicken breast, avocado, cucumber, celery and flaxseed oil and vinegar dressing

Shopping list surprises: Avocados, red wine vinegar, flaxseed oil

Ratings
Ease of use: 4
Taste factor: 4
Time factor: 4
Hunger factor: 4

Executive editor Darcy feared that any diet she tried would prove too rigid. She's a mother of two (including a 15-year-old son who is an eating machine) and has a husband "with the metabolism of a teenager." But by tweaking the meals—when the family had pasta, she had brown rice—Darcy was able to enjoy dinners with them with minimum extra kitchen time. And as someone with a self-proclaimed sweet tooth, she even discovered that "no cookie is worth it."

Biggest hurdle: Following everything to the letter

Simplest part: Being able to socialize around your "smart cheat" days.

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The Hungry Girl Diet

Best for: Moms who have time to prep a lot of food in advance
Tester's weight loss: 9 pounds

With big portions, flexibility and easy recipes, Lisa Lillien promises her zero-deprivation diet can yield an average loss of 10 pounds after four weeks. You get to indulge in guilt-free options that satisfy cravings, like Lillien's famous Lord of the Onion Strings and Easy Baked Carrot Fries. The diet is based on calorie intake (about 1,300 per day) and portion size, with three meals and three snacks a day, emphasizing lean protein, fat-free and reduced-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats.

Typical Meal: Crunchy beef tacos and broccoli slaw

Shopping list surprises: Fat-free plain Greek yogurt, light string cheese, low-fat fudge bars

Ratings
Ease of use: 3.5
Taste factor: 4
Time factor: 4
Hunger factor: 4

Jill, our assistant web editor and a self-proclaimed foodie, was surprised to find a diet that worked so well "without much added exercise." Instead of feeling hungry, she was pleasantly satisfied with a plan that was "manageable and simple for a new dieter." The book even saved her money: Before attending a performance with her mother, she made two of the suggested dinners so they could eat together. "It was much nicer than restaurant fare and definitely cheaper," says Jill.

Biggest hurdle: Having to carry all your meals with you if you're on the go

Simplest part: Easy-to-follow recipes

Read tell-all blogs and see foodie photos of our staffers' experiences on each of these diets (plus a bonus one!) at familycircle.com/diet.

Originally published in the October 2014 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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