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Rating Calorie-Control Diets For Seniors

Calorie-control diets are among the most popular  diets for seniors. See more pictures of healthy aging.

When browsing through calorie-control diets, seniors may be faced with so many choices that it may be difficult to determine which diets are safe and which ones could potentially be harmful to your health.

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Diets like Nutrisystem, the Okinawa Program, Jenny Craig, and Dr. Shapiro's Picture Perfect Weight Loss Diet are just a few of the most popular (and effective) calorie-control diets for seniors on the market today.

In this article, we will discuss these and other diets that have the potential to help seniors safely and effectively reach their weight-loss goals.

The following diets will be discussed:

  • Dieting with the Duchess
  • Jenny Craig
  • 90/10 Weight-Loss Plan
  • Nutrisystem
  • The Okinawa Program
  • Overeaters Anonymous
  • The Richard Simmons Diet
  • Dr. Shapiro's Picture Perfect Weight Loss Diet

Continue to the first page of this article to get the scoop on the Dieting with the Duchess plan.

To learn more about senior health, see:

The Duchess Plan for Seniors

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, has been a spokesperson for Weight Watchers for years. Now she has a diet book that integrates much of the Weight Watchers diet program with her own philosophy about weight loss and maintenance.

Quick Take

  • A balanced, reduced-calorie plan emphasizing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Emphasizes regular physical activity for weight loss
  • Maintains that self-esteem and a good body image are critical to long-term success
  • Expected weight loss is about two pounds per week

This Diet Is Best For

Those who want to make some healthy changes in their diet and lose weight and who are willing to devote some extra time to planning, shopping, and preparing food, as well as exercising regularly

Who Should Not Try This Diet

People who have unusually low or unusually high calorie needs and those who are not willing and able to devote a considerable amount of time to food preparation

The Premise

The diet is based on the premise that all calories count. No one type of calorie counts more or less than another. However, the diet counts points not calories, in keeping with the Weight Watchers program. In Weight Watchers, foods are given point values and you are allowed a maximum number of points each day.

The Duchess emphasizes self-esteem and body image, and she lays out a no-nonsense eating and lifestyle plan that incorporates exercise. In fact, the Duchess' plan emphasizes physical activity more than most other plans.

The Rationale

Like Weight Watchers -- which is what this diet plan actually is -- the diet tries to be realistic and accommodating while encouraging slow dietary changes. The diet is designed to help you cut back on foods high in fat and sugar, but nothing is actually forbidden. A quick quiz helps you assess your current diet and how much you need to improve it.

Dieting traps are considered a real problem for people trying to lose weight, so the Duchess gives several potentially disastrous scenarios along with a plan of action for each. Regular exercise is encouraged not just because it helps with weight loss but because it will give you a healthier, longer, and better quality life by boosting your immune system, lifting your mood, and reducing your cancer risk.

Exercise also plays a role in heating up your sex life, preventing osteoporosis, improving sleep, reducing your risk of heart disease, improving your memory, and enhancing your body image. There's even a guide to help you discover your personal exercise style and a separate chapter on how to fit exercise into your busy life.

Eating on the Duchess Plan

Four weeks of menus are provided, and Weight Watchers planned points are provided for each food, each meal, and each day. Depending on how much you weigh in the beginning, you are allotted anywhere from 18 to 35 points a day. Each food has a point value. For example, one cup of grapes is one point, and one slice of pizza is nine points.

The higher the point value of a single food, the fewer the points left over for the rest of the day. The book includes about 80 recipes for foods in the four-week plan. The meals are varied and allow for small indulgences. However, as presented in the book, the diet requires a lot of food preparation.

A typical day's menus include breakfast brushcetta and orange juice in the morning; leek and potato soup, a mini crudite platter with dipping sauce, herb-crusted grilled chicken breast, and fat-free milk for lunch; and citrus-seared tuna, mango salsa, green beans, and couscous for dinner. A snack might be a carton of low fat, artificially sweetened yogurt with fresh strawberries.

What the Experts Say

Just about every nutritionist believes in the Weight Watchers diet program. However, the Duchess' program falls short by not providing a way to individualize the program either for points or calories. Point value lists are given only for the prepared dishes, not for individual foods in the menus or for any other foods, making it difficult to plan your own meals or dine out.

This separates the Duchess' diet from the original Weight Watchers plan, which came with detailed lists showing the point values for hundreds of foods. However, the Duchess' diet plan does get an "A" for its emphasis on physical activity.

The diet is designed for a gradual weight loss of up to two pounds per week. Unlike the Weight Watchers program, it appears to be a one-size-fits-all diet. There are no guidelines for adjusting calorie intake or for making menu substitutions in the menus provided. The menus simply provide a certain number of calories, regardless of your build, your activity level, or your metabolism.

The diet is obviously lower in fat and calories than a typical diet, with lots of healthy low fat, high-fiber foods (good for the over-50 crowd trying to fend off heart disease, diabetes, and constipation), so it should result in weight loss for most people. But it doesn't make allowances for people whose calorie requirements might be unusually high or unusually low.

Calorie quota: The diet uses the point system, as does the Weight Watchers program, and no calorie counts are provided, though the diet is low in calories.

Yes: Positive attitude, lean meats, lots of fruits and vegetables, fat-free dairy products, lots of water, high-fiber foods, regular activity

No: Inactivity, sugar, fatty meats, whole-fat dairy products

Other similar diets: Nutri/System, Richard Simmons, Volumetrics, Weight Watchers

Continue to the next page to read about the Jenny Craig Program.

To learn more about senior health, see:

Jenny Craig for Seniors

The Jenny Craig program was founded more than 20 years ago by a woman named Jenny Craig who was struggling with her own weight. At the time, the program was unique because it offered frozen or shelf-stable prepared meals to help with portion management and calorie-intake control.

Quick Take

  • Offers a variety of prepared, packaged meals and snacks that are required during the initial phase of dieting
  • Safe and nutritionally balanced
  • Requires weekly, one-on-one counseling sessions
  • Encourages gradual weight loss
  • Can be expensive

This Diet Is Best For

People who prefer total support and guidance over a more independent approach to dieting

Who Should Not Try This Diet

People with a limited budget or those who don't like being told what to eat. Also, Jenny Craig requires a time commitment for the weekly counseling sessions. If eating out is a big part of your work or your life, then this plan probably isn't the best choice.

The Premise

Jenny Craig offers weekly one-on-one counseling that provides both information and motivation. Developed by registered dietitians and psychologists, the program focuses on lifestyle changes, such as incorporating exercise into your daily life, and diverting your attention from food.

If you don't have a Jenny Craig Weight Loss Centre near you or if you prefer to go it alone, you can try Jenny Direct, the at-home program. Jenny Direct offers a personalized weight-loss program, delivery of materials to your home, and weekly support consultations over the phone.

The Rationale

With individual counseling and prepackaged meals, the program leaves little to chance -- or to the dieter's discretion. Jenny Craig helps you set a realistic weight-loss goal and then helps you craft a plan to successfully achieve that goal.

The program says it teaches you how to manage food, feelings, and fitness. Jenny Craig believes that the combination of complete support, step-by-step instruction about what to eat, and controlled portions during the initial dieting stage together help dieters win at weight loss.

Eating on the Jenny Craig Diet

The diet consists of three meals and three snacks per day. About 20 percent of the daily calories are from protein, 20 percent from fat, and 60 percent from carbohydrates. During the initial phase, and as long as it takes to knock off the first half of the total number of pounds you want to lose, Jenny Craig requires that you purchase and eat Jenny Craig prepared entrees and snacks every day at every meal.

There is a wide variety of dishes to choose from, including such options as sweet and sour chicken, beef sirloin dinner, pancakes and vegetarian sausage, and double chocolate cake. Written materials and your diet counselor will help you add fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, and whole grains to the Jenny Craig dishes.

The number of calories you should consume every day is calculated according to your height and weight, but you are not allowed to go below a minimum of 1,000 calories. Diet plans are available for vegetarians, people with diabetes, and those who observe kosher dietary laws.

Once the first half of your extra weight is lost, you can begin the transition to supermarket food, using a food diary to keep a record of everything you eat. Counselors guide dieters with their new food choices, and the dieter and counselor together decide how rapidly or how slowly the transition to supermarket foods should be made.

What the Experts Say

If you follow the prescribed diet, you'll eat a balanced, nutritious, reduced-calorie diet. However, adhering to the diet over the long term may present a challenge. "It may be a good way to get started, but for the dieter, very little thought is going into what they're doing in the beginning.

The dieter has no control over what they're eating," says Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D., nutrition counselor in Reading, Massachusetts. And, while the counselors are trained to be Jenny Craig counselors, they are not nutritionists. Keep in mind that it's almost impossible to get all the nutrients you need from 1,000 calories a day. It's healthier if you set 1,600 calories as your personal minimum calorie intake.

If you follow the program (no cheating) and exercise as recommended, you can expect to lose one to two pounds a week. Though the diet is a safe and healthy one for any age as long as you don't eat less than 1,600 calories a day, it doesn't come cheap.

Prices vary depending on your individual choices, but the company says the average cost is about $65 a week to get started, including entrees and snacks. There are generally three membership options. Depending on which membership level and which meals and snacks you choose, it can cost you about $400 during the first month of the program.

Calorie quota: Calorie levels are calculated by computer for each individual at the start of the program. They can range from 1,000 to 2,300 calories a day.

No: Anything except what's on preplanned menus, eating out

Yes: Jenny Craig prepared entrees and snacks; prescribed amounts of fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and whole grains

Other similar diets: Nutri/System, Weight Watchers

Continue to the next page for information about the 90/10 Weight-Loss Plan for Seniors.

To learn more about senior health, see:

The 90/10 Weight-Loss Plan for Seniors

Registered dietitian Joy Bauer, the author of the 90/10 plan, says that years of developing nutrition plans for clients have convinced her that there is no diet that will magically melt fat away. The key to weight loss, she says, is to sensibly cut calories, and that's why she developed the 90/10 plan. The "90" in her title stands for "90 percent sensible choice" and the "10" for "10 percent fun food choices," which allows for some flexibility and indulgence.

Quick Take

  • Low-calorie, mostly balanced diet
  • Relatively low in fruits and vegetables
  • Allows a once-a-day controlled splurge on junk food
  • Limits refined carbohydrates, aside from the "Fun Food" daily splurge

This Diet Is Best For

People who find it impossible to give up a little junk food treat every day but otherwise are willing to stick with a balanced, low-calorie plan

Who Should Not Try This Diet

Those who find it tough to stop once they've started eating cookies, chips, or cake. Total abstinence from forbidden foods might work best for them.

The Premise

Bauer believes that no matter what the diet, you won't stick with it for long if you're not already used to eating that way. She asserts that carbohydrates will not make you fat -- disputing the claims of low-carbohydrate diets -- and that including them in your diet will, in fact, make weight loss easier while keeping your energy level up.

While her diet discourages eating refined carbohydrates such as sugar and candy, the 10 percent rule allows for what she calls "soul-soothing" foods that aren't exactly healthful. The diet is a realistic food strategy, not exact math. The program places more of an emphasis on exercise than most diet plans.

The Rationale

Bauer says the reason her plan works is because it's realistic. Any diet that forbids favorite foods is an invitation to "cheat," which is followed by guilt and surrender to old eating habits. By allowing 10 percent leeway in choosing some typically forbidden foods, it gives dieters freedom of choice. Exercise is also an integral part of the plan.

There are factors such as heredity, age, frame, and metabolism, over which Bauer says you have no control. Her diet focuses on the factors that you can control, such as food intake, exercise, and your metabolism. While you can't control the inherited part of your basic metabolism, she says, you can increase your metabolic rate through exercise.

Her suggestions for physical activity range from walking to weight training. The point, she says, is to exercise regularly. She provides lots of tips for warming up and even provides forms for keeping track of your activities.

Eating on the 90/10 Weight-Loss Plan

The 90/10 plan offers more menus than most other diets. It provides two weeks' worth of menus for each of the three calorie levels (1,200, 1,400, and 1,600). The lowest-calorie diet plan is for women who exercise little and who have only two to ten pounds to lose and want to lose it fast. The 1,400 calorie plan is for most women with moderately active lifestyles and who have between 2 and 50 pounds to lose.

The 1,600 calorie plan works well for most men, whether they exercise or not, and women who are 5'6" or taller. A lengthy list of fun foods that can account for one serving (250 calories) a day is also provided.

As long as you don't exceed the serving size specified, just about all of your favorite foods are allowed. The menus are pretty bland compared to a lot of other diet plans, and the amount of food is fairly small.

On the 1,400 calorie plan, a typical day might include scrambled tofu and a toasted whole-wheat English muffin for breakfast; pita pizza for lunch; a baked apple for a snack; fish, sweet potato, and green beans for dinner; and a fun food at some point during the day.

What the Experts Say

The diet is a relatively balanced plan, but because it is so low in calories, the diet falls far short of the recommended intakes for calcium and vitamin D. And it doesn't provide enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains each day to meet current recommendations.Experts say that the calories "spent" on the daily allowance of "fun food" would be better spent on more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Add a little more produce each day, along with a calcium and vitamin D supplement, and the nutrition would be much improved. The 90/10 plan gets a gold star for its emphasis on physical activity and the flexibility it allows in designing your own activity plan.

Bauer promises a weight loss of up to ten pounds during the first two weeks, depending on how much you have to lose and how low you go on calories. However, health experts consider that much weight loss in that little time to be unsafe. After the initial rapid weight loss, you can expect to settle in to a loss of about one to two pounds per week.

If you follow the diet for an extended period of time without taking a calcium and vitamin D supplement, you could be putting yourself at risk for osteoporosis. And the lack of high-fiber carbs at the lowest calorie level could cause constipation, an often troublesome problem for folks over 50.

Calorie quota: There are three different calorie levels to start out with: 1,200, 1,400, and 1,600 calories, based on the amount of weight you want to lose and how fast you want to lose it. Calorie counting is incorporated into the diet plan -- assuming you stick with the menus.

Yes: Following preset calorie limits, keeping a written record of what you eat, regular exercise, using a predetermined number of calories each day for a junk food splurge

No: Eating more than the allowed "fun food" daily serving, going over the calorie count

Other similar diets: Weight Wathcers

In the next section, read about the pros and cons of the Nutrisystem program for seniors.

To learn more about senior health, see:

Nutrisystem for Seniors

NutriSystem began more than 30 years ago as just another diet program offering prepackaged meals and dietary counseling. But in the late 1990's NutriSystem morphed into an almost exclusively online weight-loss program (www.nutrisystem.com), complete with online counseling and menu planning. All of NutriSystem's programs are based on the glycemic index, a ranking of foods by how quickly they raise blood sugar levels.

Originally developed to help people with diabetes better control blood sugar, the glycemic index has also been used to guide weight-loss efforts. Diets based on the glycemic index promote eating "good" carbohydrates -- whole grains and vegetables-rather than "bad" (refined) carbohydrates because the body digests them more slowly.

As a result, they do not substantially affect blood sugar levels and may prevent the body from storing fat easily. They also help you feel full longer.

All NutriSystem participants are assigned a personal weight-loss counselor, who helps track their progress, provides support, and answers questions about the program. New members also receive a free diet analysis, a menu plan, a catalog of products, a food diary, and an online weekly newsletter.

Members also receive an exercise book, and counselors help tailor an exercise plan to suit your lifestyle and goals. Other services include online classes, chat rooms, and bulletin boards. NutriSystem's menus are based on prepackaged entrees and snacks, called Nourish foods, and it's next to impossible to follow the diet without purchasing the packaged meals.

NutriSystem has separate programs designed for men and women over the age of 60. These programs are tailored to the specific nutritional needs and weight-loss challenges of the older adult. In addition to the standard membership benefits, participants in the Over 60 Program receive a supply of NutriHance Over 60 Multivitamins, and women in the Over 60 Program can choose from NutriPeptide bars and shakes for lunch.

The Rationale

Like Jenny Craig, the rationale is that preplanned menus incorporating prepackaged, pre-portioned foods make it easier to stick with a weight-loss program. NutriSystem's shift to an online dieting service offers more flexibility to people with irregular schedules and little free time to attend meetings and prepare low-calorie meals and snacks.

Dieters are never more than a few clicks away from information and support. Members can also talk to fellow NutriSystem dieters for support.

Eating on Nutrisystem for Seniors

The NutriSystem Over 60 Programs consist of about 27 percent protein, 22 percent fat, and 50 percent carbohydrate and provide 200 more daily calories than the other NutriSystem programs -- 1,400 calories for women and 1,700 calories for men.

Although calorie needs typically drop with age, NutriSystem deems the additional calories necessary to ensure that older people get the calcium and protein they need. Each Over 60 Program diet plan allows for three meals, two snacks, and one dessert each day. There are more than 120 prepackaged, shelf-stable, microwavable entrees and snacks to choose from.

You can make your own menus from the prepackaged foods or you can order the Favorite Foods package that provides a variety of pre-selected breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and desserts/snacks for a 28-day period Either way, you add a specific number of servings of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products to the packaged meals.

The products are shelf-stable, a definite plus as long as you have access to a microwave oven. However, they won't taste as good as frozen or fresh foods. NutriSystem offers NutriHance Over 60 Multivitamins to help fill the nutrient gaps, but they're a proprietary blend of nutrients and herbs. Program participants are also encouraged to drink 64 ounces of water every day.

What the Experts Say

Most experts who express reservations about NutriSystem have the same concerns that they have about Jenny Craig -- that all the preplanned menus with packaged foods may provide too much of a crutch for the dieter to ever go it alone. Few who start the diet expect to buy NutriSystem's Nourish foods forever.

But the program does offer some real advantages. Janet Helm, M.S., R.D., a Chicago-based dietitian, says chat rooms and online counseling have been helpful in other areas, so these tools may prove to be useful in weight loss as well. And, as with any prepackaged diet plan, NutriSystem offers the no-brainer approach as a kickstart to a long-term goal of weight loss.

Anyone who follows the NutriSystem diet plan will get a well-balanced, reduced-calorie diet that, combined with regular physical activity, should result in weight loss of one to two pounds per week. The diet was developed in accordance with weight-loss recommendations from the American Dietetic Association and the National Institutes of Health.

The NutriSystem program is not cheap. A weekly supply of Nourish food costs about $70, so determine whether this diet is within your budget before signing on to the program. The diet may not include enough fiber, especially for men, so it could lead to constipation. And the 1,400 and 1,700-calorie diet plans, while balanced, are probably not enough to meet your over-50 nutrient or calorie needs.

In the next section, find out all you wanted to know about the "simple" Okinawa Program.

To learn more about senior health, see:

The Okinawa Program for Seniors

This is not a weight-loss program; it's a health-promoting program that, if followed, should result in weight loss. Cutting calories, however, is a major tenet of the program. It's based on the findings of a quarter century of research of the population of Okinawa, home of the longest-lived people in the world.

Quick Take

  • A total diet and lifestyle program based on Eastern philosophies and dietary habits
  • A mostly plant-based diet that's rich in complex carbohdyrates and high in fiber
  • Considers stress reduction and building a support system essential to good health and longevity

This Diet Is Best For

People who want to completely overhaul their diet and lifestyle, including finding a renewed sense of spirituality and community. The program calls for a total commitment of body and soul to improve health and increase longevity.

Who Should Not Try This Diet

Those who are only interested in making minor adjustments in eating habits or are not willing to try new foods

The Premise

According to the authors, the findings of the Okinawa Centenarian Study show that heart disease rates are minimal and the incidence of breast and prostate cancer is so rare that screening mammography is not needed and most aging men have never heard of prostate cancer. Okinawans also have the least amount of coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer in the world.

Researchers believe that Okinawans' extraordinarily long and healthy lives are the result of the "healthiest diet in the world" as well as their psychospiritual focus and an integrative system of health care that uses the best of Western and Eastern medical practices.

While genes are responsible for up to one-third of the diseases of premature aging, they say that diet and lifestyle -- factors we can control -- are responsible for the other two-thirds.

The Rationale

A greater percentage of Okinawans live to the age of 100 and beyond than any other people in the world, and the authors believe that if we follow their example, we can do the same. That means we should adopt not just their diet but their lifestyle, too. Okinawans eat a low fat, low calorie, high fiber diet, and they place a priority on exercise, family relationships, and spiritual connectedness.

Studies show that when Okinawans adopt a more Western diet and lifestyle, their rates of overweight and illness increase and their life expectancy decreases. As a result, the authors devote a significant part of the book to spirituality. The authors believe that stress, anxiety, and a feeling of helplessness contribute to poor health and cut our lives short.

Eating on the Okinawa Program

The authors have devised a food pyramid based on the diet of the Okinawan people. Rather than classifying foods simply as fruits, vegetables, and grains, as other food pyramids do, the Okinawa pyramid breaks the groupings down further into foods rich in flavonoids, calcium, or omega-3 fatty acids. Its base consists of grains -- mainly whole grains -- and vegetables, and it includes a lot of foods that are rich in flavonoids (phytonutrients).

Overall, the diet provides 50 percent or more of calories from complex carbohydrates and encourages consumption of plant foods over animal foods. Though the diet is high in carbohydrates, it recommends avoiding carbohydrate foods with a high glycemic index (those that raise blood sugar the most) because they contribute to heart disease and obesity.

A generous four weeks' worth of menus are provided, and allowances are made for those not quite ready to make the leap to a Far East way of eating. The book also provides about 80 low fat, low-calorie recipes.

What the Experts Say

Most of the advice in the Okinawan Program is consistent with what the majority of experts advise we do to live longer, healthier lives. But it's doubtful that the majority of people who want to lose weight are ready to make such dramatic changes in their diets, lifestyles, and even their basic approach to life. To make effective changes, say experts, a diet program must first and foremost be realistic.

Like most diets based on eliminating sugar and excess fat and eating minimally processed high-fiber plant foods, the Okinawa Program will result in weight loss if it's consistently followed. The diet is well balanced, but the authors wisely suggest a multivitamin for nutritional insurance.

The diet is lower in calcium than most experts recommend, but that's because the authors subscribe to the theory that a diet low in animal protein and sodium coupled with a physically active lifestyle requires less calcium than the recommended dietary allowance (RDA).

Still, a calcium supplement would be a healthful addition, especially if you're at risk for osteoporosis or don't intend to follow the program to the letter. One chapter is devoted to being lean and fit, with the focus on martial arts for their spiritual component and stress-reduction benefits.

Calorie quota: There are no calorie counts, just dietary guidelines based on the authors' Okinawa Food Pyramid, along with recommended menus, food lists, portion sizes, and recipes. The authors recommend eating only until you are 80 percent full.

Yes: Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, low glycemic-index foods, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, foods rich in flavonoid phytonutrients, tofu and other soy foods

No: Overly processed, refined foods; a lot of meat and eggs; trans fatty acids found in processed foods

Other similar diets: Eat More, Live Longer; Eat More, Weigh Less

On the following page, learn how Overeaters Anonymous may help seniors reach their weight-loss goals.

To learn more about senior health, see:

Overeaters Anonymous for Seniors

Overeaters Anonymous describes itself as a "fellowship of individuals who, through shared experience, strength, and hope, are recovering from compulsive overeating." It is an international, nonprofit organization that operates through a network of volunteers.

Its main function is to offer a support system for people trying to overcome compulsive overeating and to spread the message of hope and recovery to those who are suffering in silence.

Quick Take

  • Designed for people with a history of uncontrollable food intake and obesity
  • No specific diet plan, though the organization recommends that each member develop one with the assistance of a nutritionist.
  • Requires members to follow a 12-step program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous

This Diet Is Best For

There is no diet, but a survey of the program's membership found that OA members are typically middle-aged women who have been struggling with compulsive overeating since their teens.

The program is designed for people who have serious problems controlling their food intake and need the support of people in the same situation. You can determine if you are a compulsive eater who might be helped by the 12-step program by taking OA's questionnaire.

Who Should Not Try This Diet

Overeaters Anonymous is not for someone just trying to lose a few pounds or even for someone who needs to lose quite a bit of weight that was gained through a gradual increase in calorie intake or a drop in activity or both.

This is for people who admit to having serious problems with food and likely have the emotional baggage that comes with that. OA is not for those who may be uncomfortable or disagree with the spiritual and religious aspects of the program.

The Premise

The organization has no diet plan or diet book, and as a result, there is no calorie counting or recipe exchanging, no sharing of dieting tips, and no membership dues or fees. There currently are about 6,500 groups meeting in more than 65 countries around the world.

Overeaters Anonymous (OA) is completely self-supported through contributions and the sale of publications, one of which is an international monthly magazine called Lifeline, which includes true stories by OA members.

The Rationale

Compulsive overeating is viewed by OA as an addiction, like drinking or gambling, and is treated as such. In fact, the OA program is modeled after the 12-step program for Alcoholics Anonymous, which addresses physical, emotional, and spiritual recovery. The only requirement for becoming a member of OA is a desire to stop eating compulsively.

As with Alcoholics Anonymous, each member has a sponsor, someone who is already a recovering member of OA. There is a strong spiritual component to the group, and members must be willing to "surrender" themselves to God (not a particular god, but their personal concept of a higher power), as the ultimate authority over their destiny.

What's for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner?

There is no diet plan or calorie counting. In fact, no diet recommendations are made at all, except for the encouragement to stop compulsive overeating and to develop a personal eating plan based on your own likes, dislikes, and lifestyle.

In fact, the organization says that "individual plans of eating are as varied as our members." Though every chapter is different, the organization recommends that all members consult a qualified professional for help in creating an individual diet plan.

What the Experts Say

Some experts have reservations about the loosely knit organization and the rule-free atmosphere OA offers. And some argue that while it may make a person feel less guilty about their compulsive eating, it does nothing to address and "fix" the underlying problems. Others, however, say that if it offers much needed support that, alone, may make membership in OA worthwhile.

Because there is no diet plan, there's no way to assess if attending OA meetings will result in weight loss. However, for people who have serious issues with food and a history of compulsive overeating, the group meetings may offer additional support during recovery.

Calorie quota: Because there is no diet plan, there are no daily calorie counts or menu plans.

Yes: Attending meetings, stopping compulsive overeating while following the 12-step program, staying in contact with your sponsor

No: Continuing to compulsively overeat and failing to attend meetings

Other similar diets: Since OA is not really a diet plan, there are no other similar programs. However, it is modeled after the 12-step programs of Alcoholics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous.

The Richard Simmons Diet has been around for decades, and with much success. Continue to the next page to find out if this is an effective calorie-control diet for seniors.

To learn more about senior health, see:

The Richard Simmons Diet for Seniors

Richard Simmons is hard to miss, so chances are you've heard about or seen him even if you weren't thinking about losing weight. He's been the star of several television shows, infomercials, and videos, and he has written an autobiography. For some, his explosive enthusiasm is hard to take.

Simmons' diet is a healthful one for the 50+ crowd, but there is little that's unique about Richard Simmons' diet plan other than Simmons himself. His diet plan is updated regularly and repackaged; the latest version is called Richard Simmons' SlimAway Everyday.

The program is available on his Web site (Richardsimmons.com). To learn about and follow the SlimAway Everyday diet plan, you must join the Clubhouse; the initial fee is regularly $29.95 for 12 weeks (on sale for $19.95) and $9.95 per month thereafter.

Joining the Clubhouse gets you 30 days of meal plans and recipes as part of a personalized SlimAway MealPlan; hundreds of low-calorie recipes; shopping lists; access to live online chats with Richard Simmons and message boards to communicate with other Clubhouse members; food exchange lists and an online Foodmover, which tracks your food intake and lets you know what you have left to eat every day; and a 10 percent discount on products offered in Simmons' online store, including his exercise videos.

The Rationale

With Richard Simmons as your personal cheerleader, you may find the motivation you need to get with the program and to stick with it. His overriding philosophy is one of inclusiveness. No matter how overweight you are or how miserable you feel because of your weight, Simmons reassuringly offers hope. Simmons places a tremendous emphasis on physical activity, and this is the one trait of his weight-loss program that stands out and puts it a notch above the rest.

In fact, Richard Simmons was, and probably still is, best known for his exercise videos. If you're over 50 and out of shape, check with your doctor before you start his exercise program. Some of the exercise routines really get your heart going. Exercise videos are not part of the Clubhouse fee but may be purchased online from Simmons' site.

Eating on the Richard Simmons Diet

The SlimAway Everyday program is the basis of Simmons' weight loss strategy. It lays out a well-balanced and varied diet that admirably includes a minimum of seven servings of fruits and vegetables and two servings of low fat dairy foods a day. He also wisely recommends drinking eight glasses of water each day and not going below 1,200 calories.

It's a no-nonsense program that sets clear guidelines but leaves individual food choices up to the dieter. There are no prepackaged foods, and he encourages you to choose from fresh foods like fish and lean sources of protein, strawberries, greens, oranges, and whole-grain breads.

The foods are grouped according to categories, and the diet is set up much like the exchange system used by people with diabetes. You're allowed a certain number of food exchanges from each group, depending on your daily calorie quota.

What the Experts Say

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D., a nutrition consultant in private practice in New York City, says she believes the Richard Simmons program makes sense and is not extreme. Plus, she gives him extra points because he acknowledges and accommodates the needs of even the most overweight people. Few experts take real issue with any of Richard Simmons' programs.

Those over 50 years old who follow Simmons' diet could run a little low on calcium and vitamin D, even though it includes more dairy than many other weight-loss programs. Be sure to include a calcium and vitamin D supplement to help fend off osteoporosis and compensate for your body's reduced ability to produce active vitamin D and your increasing needs.

Additionally, take a multivitamin every day to fill in any small nutrient gaps. Simmons' plan is good for any age. If you follow his recommended calorie intakes, you may lose about one to two pounds per week.

In the next and final section of this article, find out if Dr. Shapiro's Picture Perfect Weight Loss for Seniors is right for you.

To learn more about senior health, see:

Dr. Shapiro's Picture Perfect Weight Loss for Seniors

Dr. Howard M. Shapiro, a weight-loss doctor to the rich and famous in New York City, has developed a weight-loss strategy that helps dieters develop "food awareness."

Quick Take

  • Raises your awareness of food so you can make better choices
  • Uses photographs to help you visualize your options
  • Says there are no "bad" foods
  • Has no calorie counting

This Diet Is Best For

People with a lot of self-control and determination. Even if you decide not to follow his plan, the visuals can help you make lower-calorie substitutions.

Who Should Not Try This Diet

If you're looking for specific day-to-day guidance on what to eat and what not to eat, then this diet may not be for you. However, if you can take this book as a starting-off point and you're willing to do a little calorie and serving size research of your own, you may find it helpful. If not, you could end up getting far more calories than you should.

The Premise

By visually demonstrating the choices you can make in your diet (one fat-free, sugar-free muffin has the same number of calories as 1 whole pineapple, 1/2 cantaloupe, 2 pears, 1/2 papaya, 5 ounces grapes, 1/2 kiwifruit, and 2 whole-wheat rolls together, for instance), Shapiro says you'll be able to make better food choices -- choices that will allow you to eat any food you want and yet lose weight.

In more than 100 pages of photographs, he shows you how to get more food for fewer calories. In his 20 years of counseling people about losing weight, Shapiro says he has learned that there is no single weight-loss program that can work for everyone.

The Rationale

The rationale behind Shapiro's diet is one found in several other diet plans -- it's the calorie concentration of foods that is the key to controlling weight. You can eat more of foods that have a lower calorie concentration than you can of those with a higher calorie concentration. Through clear explanations and graphic illustrations, Shapiro shows you which kinds of foods are more concentrated. And he dispels a lot of myths about low-calorie choices.

Think you're being virtuous by having a dry bagel? Well, it turns out that only one-third of that dry bagel provides the same number of calories as a vegetarian ham sandwich on light bread with lettuce, tomato, mustard, and a pickle. The sandwich will fill you up more, and it also is more nutritious. Shapiro frowns upon deprivation because it leads to cravings, which lead to overeating.

Instead he recommends that you understand the choices you make and adjust your diet accordingly. He considers portion cutting an "ill-advised exercise in a false kind of willpower." You don't need to have smaller portions but rather larger portions of lower-calorie food. He doesn't discourage eating carbohydrates -- either sugar or starch, asserting that a calorie is a calorie, no matter what it is made of or when you eat it. Shapiro encourages dieters to keep a food diary to increase their food awareness.

Eating on Dr. Shapiro's Picture Perfect Weight Loss

The diet allows anything your heart desires, as long as you keep your calorie count under control. While it gives no guidelines for daily calorie intakes, it encourages dieters to stick with low-calorie foods that are high in volume. He doesn't offer any menu plans, recipes, or food exchanges. According to Shapiro, there are no bad foods and there are no correct portions. It's all up to your ability to visualize the calorie counts and portion sizes of foods and make the right choices.

What the Experts Say

If you can trust the calorie comparisons in the photographs, then his idea makes some sense. Eating more for less (fewer calories) is a concept all nutritionists try to teach. But, according to Kathleen Zelman, R.D., nutrition consultant in Atlanta, Georgia, dieters should double-check the portions, since some of the photographs appear to underestimate the serving size of high-calorie foods and overestimate the serving size of low-calorie foods.

In addition, Shapiro's complete focus on caloric density seems to overlook the nutrient density of foods. Choosing foods that offer the most nutrients for the fewest calories is also an important weight-loss strategy.

Although Shapiro's basic idea is a good one, he seems to have sidestepped nutrition. Almost no consideration is given to making sure you get enough calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, folic acid, or any of the other nutrients that are so important for your continued good health now that you're over 50. Neither does he mention the possibility of getting too much of some nutrients, such as sodium.

If you follow his concept carefully, you should lose weight and feel more satisfied, but there's no guarantee that you'll be getting all the nutrients you need. One chapter of the book is devoted to exercise and gives a broad overview of how to get fit. While it's more information than some diets offer, there is very little in terms of day-to-day guidelines on what kind of exercise to do and how much of it to do.

Calorie quota: There is no set calorie count. There are a few "before" and "after" menus that show dieters saving as much as 2,500 calories a day by following suggested substitutions.

Yes: Eating for pleasure and satisfaction by choosing less calorie-dense foods

No: Everything is allowed, but the idea is to choose primarily those foods that are least calorically dense

Other similar diets: Volumetrics, The Pritikin Principle

To learn more about senior health, see:

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Densie Webb, Ph.D., R.D. is the author of seven books, including Foods for Better Health, The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!, and Super Nutrition After 50. Webb also writes about health and nutrition for numerous magazines, including Family Circle, Fitness, Parade, Men's Fitness, and Redbook. She is a regular columnist for Woman's Day and Prevention magazines, a contributing writer for The New York Times, the associate editor of Environmental Nutrition newsletter, and a writer for the American Botanical Council.

Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D. is a nutrition consultant and writer. She is the author or co-author of five books, including Super Nutrition After 50 and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler. Ward is a contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition newsletter and a contributing writer for WebMD.com. She also writes for publications such as Parenting magazine and The Boston Globe.