How to Lose Weight on Commercial Diet Programs

Weight Watchers

On Weight Watchers, dieters record points.

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

Weight Watchers: The Premise

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:

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.

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