How to Lose Weight on Commercial Diet Programs

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

There are many different ways to lose weight. In this article, we'll look at popular commercial diet programs so you can decide what's right for you.

Jenny Craig: The Premise

The Jenny Craig program was founded more than 15 years ago by a woman 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. Today Jenny Craig has nearly 800 centers, making it one of the largest weight-management programs in the world. Jenny Craig offers weekly one-on-one counseling that provides both information and motivation.

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Developed by registered dietitians and psychologists, the program focuses on lifestyle changes, such as incorporating exercise into your daily life and diverting your attention away 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, her at-home program. Jenny Direct offers a personalized weight-loss program, delivery of materials to your home, and weekly support consultations over the phone. With Jenny Direct you can order a minimum of two-weeks supply of Jenny Craig foods.

Fact or Fiction: What the Experts SayIf you follow the prescribed diet, you'll eat a balanced, nutritious, reduced-calorie diet. However, like most commercial weight-loss programs, there is no research to show that Jenny Craig's program is effective over the long haul. "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 Liz 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 difficult to get all the nutrients you need from 1,200 calories a day. That's why Jenny Craig also advises vitamin supplements, which they conveniently sell to you as part of the meal program.

Gains and Losses/What's the Damage?

If you follow the program and exercise as recommended, you can expect to lose one to two pounds a week. Though the diet is a safe one, it doesn't come cheap. Prices vary depending on your individual choices, but the company says the average cost is about $65 a week, including entrées and snacks. There are generally three membership options. Depending on which membership level you choose and which meals and snacks you choose, it can cost you about $400 during the first month of the program. Jenny Craig also sells audiocassettes for walkers and a fitness video series.

Now let's consider the Nutri/System Diet. It's in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Nutri/System Diet

Nutri/System is another commercial diet program that dieters have found to help them lose weight.

Nutri/System: The Premise

Nutri/System began more than 30 years ago as just another diet program offering prepackaged meals and dietary counseling. But several years ago, it morphed into an almost exclusively online weight-loss program, complete with online counseling and menu planning. Nutri/System's latest Nourish program features meal plans based on low glycemic-index (GI) foods and optimal amounts of protein, fat, and fiber to "help keep your blood sugar levels stable and your metabolism burning strong, so you can burn more fat." Targeted programs are offered for women, men, women over 60, men over 60, people with type 2 diabetes, and vegetarians.

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Membership in the online weight-loss community is free of charge. Newcomers are assigned to a personal weight-loss counselor, who will track their progress and give advice as long as they follow the program. New members also receive a menu plan, a catalog of products, a food diary, a weight chart, an online weekly newsletter, and a few other goodies to get them started. Other services include online bulletin boards, chat room support groups, and a free diet analysis. You can purchase prepackaged entrées and snacks, but unlike Jenny Craig, they are not mandatory for you to be enrolled in the program. However, Nutri/System's menus incorporate its Nourish foods throughout, making it difficult to follow the plan without buying the products.

Gains and Losses/What's the Damage?Anyone who follows the Nutri/System 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. Despite the focus on the glycemic index rating of foods, the diet provides a sensible approach to eating with emphasis on lowering overall fat intake and increasing fiber. One small study of the Nutri/System program by the Obesity Research Center at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York found that postmenopausal women who followed a 1,200-calorie plan for 16 weeks lost an average of 21 pounds. To follow the Nutri/System Nourish program with their suggested foods costs about $60 a week, so you need to examine your budget before signing on to the program.

The next method is joining Weight Watchers. Click to the next section to find out more.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Weight Watchers

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On Weight Watchers, dieters record points.

Weight Watchers is one of the most popular commercial diet programs.

Weight Watchers: The Premise

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Probably the most recognized of the organized weight-loss programs, Weight Watchers has been around since 1963. Its goals still are to offer weight-loss guidance and support, emphasize a balanced diet, and encourage exercise. The latest rendition, called the Turnaround Plan, offers two approaches -- a flex plan that is based on their well-known point system and a core plan that focuses on wholesome foods without the need for tracking points.

In the flex plan, foods are assigned a certain number of points according to their calorie count, the number of fat grams they contain, and their fiber content. Dieters are allotted a certain number of points they can consume daily, which is determined by their body weight and the number of pounds they want to lose. This system allows dieters to eat any food they want and still lose weight as long as they don't exceed their daily point allotment. To encourage exercise, dieters can trade physical activity for points. (The idea being, the more active you are, the more you can eat.)

Support is essential to the Weight Watchers approach, and so dieters are expected to attend local weekly meetings, which are led by a trained member (not a nutritionist). The meetings include a private, confidential weigh-in, and they give dieters a chance to exchange suggestions, ideas, and strategies. Those who don't have a local Weight Watchers group or don't have time to attend one can receive online support at the Weight Watchers Web site: http://www.weightwatchers.com/.

The Rationale

Weight Watchers claims it has helped millions of people worldwide lose weight with its easy-to-follow, no-frills diet plan and integrated support system. Part of its great appeal is that no foods are forbidden. Working within your allotted number of points per day -- which can range from 18 to 35, depending on your starting weight and your weight-loss goals -- you are free to eat any foods you like whenever you want each day. The choices you make determine the amount of food you can eat. For example, one cup of grapes counts as one point, one scoop of ice cream as four points, and one slice of pizza as nine points. The more points you use on a single item, the fewer foods you'll be able to eat during the day. Although the choices are left to the dieter, Weight Watchers offers considerable guidance for choosing a healthy and nutritious diet. The program's success can also be attributed to its insistence on record keeping: Dieters must record all foods eaten and their point value every day to make sure they're staying within their assigned points.

What's for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner?

Nothing is forbidden on the Weight Watchers diet, though high-fat, high-calorie foods do "cost" a lot of points, and tradeoffs must be made during the rest of the day to accommodate such indulgences. Weight Watchers materials help dieters avoid the temptation to use all the day's points on pizza and ice cream by explaining how to distribute the points during the day and among the food groups. Menu plans typically include lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. Once you've lost the weight and have begun maintenance, your points are adjusted upward as necessary and you continue to attend the same group meetings for support.

Fact or Fiction: What the Experts Say

Research out of the University of Colorado and Saint Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York City has found that about half of Weight Watchers' lifetime members (those who have stayed within two pounds of their goal weight for six weeks and weigh at least five pounds less than when they started the program) had still kept the weight off two years after completing the maintenance part of the program. Whether or not this relatively short-term success translates into long-term weight control, however, has not been studied. Still, most weight-loss experts regard Weight Watchers as the standard against which all other weight-loss programs are measured.

Gains and Losses/What's the Damage?

Weight Watchers is not the most expensive diet plan, but it's not the least expensive either. Membership is $20 a year. Meetings generally cost about $10 to $15 a week, but there are frequent special discount packages and prepayment plans that can decrease the cost considerably. The online version costs $16.95 per month plus an initial $29.95 sign-up fee. You'll get a personalized Web site, an online journal, message boards, access to more than 1,000 recipes with point values, and meal plans. There's a search function within the recipes that allows you to plug in the number of points you have left and the type of food you're hungry for. Some of the site, including a "panic button" to click for advice, is free to anyone who wants to log on.

Slim-Fast is another popular commercial diet program. Learn more about this liquid diet plan in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Slim-Fast Diet

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2006 Publications International, Ltd.Slim-Fast is a meal replacement diet.

This section explores the liquid diet plan that is among the most popular commerical diet programs.

Slim-Fast: The Premise

All liquid diet plans basically offer quick weight loss by substituting a sweet-tasting, nutritionally fortified shake or bar for a meal. In the past, liquid diets developed a bad reputation because dieters were restricting their intake to only 500 to 800 calories a day and getting sick -- even dying -- as a result of their weight-loss efforts. But the liquid-diet industry has cleaned up its act, and now companies like Slim-Fast, which has been around for more than 25 years, offer safer programs. Like many other diet programs, the Slim-Fast Optima Diet program offers an online dieting community complete with an online weight-charting tool, a personal food and exercise diary, chat sessions with registered dietitians, a weekly newsletter, and the ability to "converse" with an online Slim-Fast Buddy. There is no one-on-one counseling, however. Slim-Fast boasts more than 400,000 members. It now offers low-carb products, too.

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What's for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner?The Slim-Fast diet plan is centered around Slim-Fast's meal replacements, which make up two meals a day during the weight-loss phase of the plan. One meal consists of a Slim-Fast "Meal-on-the-Go" in a can or bar, and the other is a Slim-Fast Meal Combination, which combines a Slim-Fast Meal-on-the-Go with 200 Calories of your favorite healthy foods. Buying the company's products, which include ready-to-eat shakes, snack and meal bars, and powders, then, is mandatory. You can find the products for sale online as well as in most supermarkets and drugstores. The 11-ounce shakes are the main attraction and cost about $1.40 each. The meal-replacement bars cost about $1.00 each. Though dairy products are not a part of the basic diet plan, the meal replacements are fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and riboflavin, three of the chief nutrients in milk, as well as fiber. The products are low in fat (only about 1 to 3 grams per shake), but they are also high in sugar. The one "sensible meal" a day allowed during the weight-loss phase should be about 500 calories, with 1/2 of your plate filled with veggies, 1/4 with lean protein (such as chicken without the skin, turkey, fish, or lean beef), 1/4 with starch, a salad on the side, and fruit for dessert. In addition to Slim-Fast snacks, 3 to 5 additional fruit or vegetable servings are recommended, depending on your starting weight.

Fact or Fiction: What the Experts Say

Though the Slim-Fast diet and other similar diet plans should result in weight loss, dietitians question whether any meal replacement diet can train people to eat right. But eating right is what changing your eating habits should be all about, says Keith Ayoob, Ed.D, R.D., director of nutrition at the Rose F. Kennedy Center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. Losing weight is simply a benefit of eating right, he maintains. Slim-Fast touts the results of research studies using meal-replacements. In one study, people who followed the Slim-Fast plan routinely to lose and manage their weight were, on average, 33 pounds lighter after 10 years as compared to a matched group from the same community not using Slim-Fast. Experts argue that incorporating meal replacements is generally a short-term solution to weight loss and not a realistic way to eat over the long term.

Gains and Losses/What's the Damage?

If you follow the plan as suggested, a 1,200-to-1,500-calorie diet should result in a gradual weight loss for most people. However, 1,200 to 1,500 calories may be too low to begin with for those who are extremely overweight, and no formula is given for increasing the calorie level beyond that point. Some medically supervised programs offer much lower calorie levels, but because they are medically supervised, the dieter is being closely monitored for any potential complications. Slim-Fast's informational brochures and Web site do encourage physical activity, but they don't emphasize it enough. Slim-Fast's diet may be a useful starting point for some people who need a gimmick to get them going, but it offers very little education or advice about entering the real world.

Finally, let's look at the Curves diet program. It's covered in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Curves

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Curves has an important fitness component.

Curves is another commercial weight-loss program. It is especially designed for women.

Curves Diet: The Premise

The Curves diet is a component of the Curves Weight-Loss and Fitness Program, a franchise of health clubs for women that provides a 30-minute workout including resistance training, aerobics, and stretching. The Curves program includes a meal plan, a workout, and a supplement regimen. Gary Heavin, founder of Curves International, is a health and nutrition counselor specializing in women's fitness. Heavin maintains that following the Curves diet and fitness program will help you slim down and tone your body while resetting your metabolism at a faster calorie-burning rate.

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The Rationale

Fact or Fiction: What the Experts Say

Phases 1 and 2 of the diet are basically low-calorie, low-carbohydrate eating plans that, when combined with the exercise component, are likely to promote weight loss. The "Phase 3 miracle," a technique Heavin claims will raise your metabolic rate so you can eat a normal amount of food without gaining weight, is complicated and tiresome, and it's likely to turn off dieters. It also has no scientific basis. And the Phase 3 calorie prescription of 2,500 to 3,000 calories a day is quite high. If weight loss occurs on this diet, it's because you are burning more calories than you are taking in, which becomes easier when you have more muscle. Heavin also claims that nutrient deficiencies can sabotage your weight-loss efforts by promoting food cravings. This is false and a fairly transparent tactic to sell the Curves nutritional supplements.

Gains and Losses/What's the Damage?

The cornerstone of the Curves program is the workout. The program is commended for its strong emphasis on fitness and muscle building. Building more muscle and exercising aerobically will make you stronger and healthier, boosting your weight-loss efforts by burning more calories. Helpful illustrations and instructions for a Curves at-home workout are included in the book. The complicated process of alternating between the different phases based on weight fluctuations is not a realistic, long-term solution for achieving and maintaining a "permanent" healthy weight. The meal plans are also inadequate for meeting daily vitamin and mineral requirements. Keep the workout; consider another diet plan.

Between Jenny Craig, Nutri/System, Weight Watchers, Slim-Fast and Curves, there are a number of different commercial diet programs designed for different needs. Choose the weight-loss program that works best for your diet goals and your lifestyle.

©Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.