The season of truffles, cookies and nut roll is still with us and will be until Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7.
But many people already are plotting how to drop some pounds. When that happens, people often choose a diet endorsed by a celebrity they admire or one that emphasizes a particular food.
"They happen to like meat, so they will do Atkins," said Judith C. Rodriguez, author of "The Diet Selector," published this month by Running Press ($19.94).
Neither approach is a good way to choose a diet, said Dr. Rodriguez, an educator, clinical dietitian and nutritionist.
That's one reason she and her colleagues at the University of North Florida spent six months researching a book that evaluates 75 diets.
Dr. Rodriguez and her nine-member team evaluated diets on five criteria:
• Degree of difficulty (easy to punishing)
• Cost (inexpensive, medium investment)
• How easily a diet can be incorporated into family life
• Time involved (Is this a short-term or long-term diet, a quick fix, or a lifestyle overhaul?)
• The level of scientific support for a diet's effectiveness
"There are lots of diets out there," she said. "The data as to whether or not they are effective varies greatly. Most of them have no scientific support."
Not surprisingly, the Victoria Principal Bikini Diet is a quick fix for the desperate, not a long-term option.
"If people have a sense of deprivation, they are likely to go off a diet or binge," Dr. Rodriguez said.
Here's some good news. Under the authors' five criteria, there are 15 sensible diets. You have heard of some of them but others will sound new. They are
• The Change One Diet
• The French Woman's Diet
• The Fat Is Not Your Fate Diet
• The Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Program
• The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Diet (D.A.S.H.)
• The Intuitive Eating diet
• The Gastro Esophageal Reflux Diet, (G.E.R.D.)
• The Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian Diet
• The Latin American Diet Pyramid
• The Mediterranean Food Pyramid
• The My Pyramid Plan
• The Overeaters Anonymous Diet
• The Pregnancy Diet, the Rainbow Diet
• The Therapeutic Lifestyle Change Diet (T.L.C. Diet).
These diets, the authors found, are adaptable and flexible and offer a variety of food while also emphasizing behavioral changes.
"You do have to eat healthy," Dr. Rodriguez said. "But there are so many different ways to eat healthy. The Mediterranean Food Pyramid, the My Pyramid, even the vegan. You don't have to eat meat. You can have a healthy plan within a vegetarian plan if you plan it correctly."
Before choosing a diet, consider your values, lifestyle and food preferences.
"I don't recommend commercial diets in general. I don't usually recommend any particular diet," she said, adding that people need to choose an eating plan that suits them.
People often make the mistake of turning to family and friends who have succeeded in losing weight and try that diet, whether it suits them or not.
"That person's lifestyle, values and food preferences might be totally different than yours," she said.
"Commercial diets are popular but in fact, a diet that works for you should be individualized. What you like, what you eat and what you don't eat is pretty much unique. You want to be able to incorporate a diet that addresses that," she said.
Diets that provide flexibility and can be adapted to an entire family's budget are a good choice.
"In fact, healthy eating habits are something you transfer over to the rest of the family. If you have to be buying special things for yourself at the table, it does not promote the concept of healthy eating. Opti-Fast was very expensive," Dr. Rodriguez said.
The needle on your bathroom scale can go down if you make minor dietary and behavioral changes. Eat french fries once a week instead of daily. Walk for 30 minutes at least four times a week.
"You can go out and buy expensive equipment but it's not necessary," she said, joking about her treadmill, which she called "a multi-purpose sculpture" because she hangs clothes on it. But she also walks on her treadmill while watching TV.
Beware of diets that are especially restrictive.
"You can't be on a diet that totally excludes fruits and vegetables for very long," she said.
When she helps people tailor a diet to their specific likes and dislikes, the author suggests they eat their favorite candy but in moderation.
Portion control is key. At McDonald's, she said, "A kids meal is now what an adult's meal would have been 20 years ago. The adults' meal has been super-sized."
If she is at a McDonald's, Dr. Rodriguez said, "I'll take my kids meal and be happy. We need to retrain our thinking to feel that a smaller portion is acceptable and satisfying."
There is a mystique to some diets, she said.
"You could, for example, decide you're going to be a vegetarian and eat a lot of cookies and candies that are made from honey. It's still too much sugar."
Post-Gazette staff writer Marylynne Pitz may be reached at 412-263-1648 or firstname.lastname@example.org .