South Beach. Dr. Atkins. The Zone. There is no shortage of diets for consumers to consider when trying to shed extra pounds.

Americans and Canadians employ a variety of methods including consuming less fat and sugar, watching their carbohydrates and cutting down their portions. Yet, even with so many ways to diet, recent studies affirm one age-old tactic that always fits: count calories.

Weighing many high-profile diets against each other, Harvard School of Public Health research suggests that they all have the same weight-reducing factor: calories. In a clinical trial, researchers put more than 800 men and women on different diets for two years. Participants also had to exercise 90 minutes per week. Although the diets varied in their allowable portions of carbohydrates, proteins and fat, all reduced caloric intake by 750 calories a day.

Those who stuck with the diet (80 percent) lost an average of 13 pounds in the first six months and kept off nine pounds over the course of two years. Although the help of group and individual counseling is useful, “it’s not so important whether they eat higher carbohydrates or higher protein or lower carbohydrates or lower protein. What really matters is just plain, simple old quantity:  how much people eat,” says Harvard team leader Dr. Frank M. Sacks. In an interview with The New England Journal of Medicine, he adds, “It’s just the calories that count.”

“These findings should not be news to us,” says Noel C. Borck, the LHSFNA’s Management Co-Chairman. “It’s bedrock diet advice to burn more calories than you consume. However, many people looking to lose weight have trouble disciplining themselves to its logical conclusion: establish a regular workout routine and adopt a stricter diet.”

Sacks also noted that it is more difficult for people to maintain a fad diet when it is foreign to their lifestyle. For example, cutting out bread completely is not realistic for many dieters, and such restrictions are often short-lived.

Consuming fewer calories does not require drastic measures. Trim small amounts throughout the day. A few ideas are:

  • Control your portion sizes
  • Use skim or low-fat milk instead of whole milk
  • Incorporate fruits, vegetables and nuts into your snacks
  • If you do drink alcohol, do so in moderation
  • Skip the sugar and go for a no-calorie sweetener

For more tips, visit WebMD.

It is important to note that cutting calories alone will not make the pounds instantly disappear. Participants who finished the two-year trial at less weight were also active. “The fact is, you can continue to eat the same calories, introduce exercise and lose weight. Or, simply cut back on calories. Ideally, to lose weight and maintain loss, you should cut calories and get moving,” advises Borck.

Before considering any type of diet, consult with your primary care physician. He or she will be able to advise you on a diet tailored to your health needs.

The Fund publishes materials to help Laborers and their families get fit and eat right, such as Nutrition and Fitness for Laborers. Browse our catalog and order online.

[Jennifer E. Jones]