Rating Diet Programs

Some programs, I must confess, are suitable for some people whereas other programs are not. At the end of this article I provide my own preferred choice!

Last week while at 24 Hour Fitness in downtown Spokane I was on the phone confirming my personal training appointments for the following day.

I overheard a new trainer talking with the general manager regarding diet options people come across and the popularity of Weight Watchers came up. Because of this conversation I decided to research the 10 most popular diet programs in an effort to help educate fitness buffs, personal trainers, the general public and possibly my own training clients on Bodybuilding.Com to help weigh their options and gain a better understanding.

Some programs, I must confess, are suitable for some people whereas other programs are not. At the end of this article I provide my own preferred choice!

Weighing The Options

Finding out the facts on a weight-loss program can be difficult. Consumer groups have petitioned the Federal Trade Commission to make programs disclose their costs, health risks, staff qualifications, and past success rates up-front. If you can answer "yes" to most of these questions, you'll have a better chance of success:

  • Are you ready to lose weight and keep it off for better health? If so, your odds for success are greater.
  • Do you understand the program's format? Group meetings or individual counseling? Prepackaged fare or supermarket foods? Get the particulars.
  • Does the diet include all the food groups, every day? If it doesn't, it's not healthful.
  • If the program includes prepackaged food, is it tasty? Sample it first. If that's not allowed, don't join.
  • Does the program fit your lifestyle? If you travel or socialize a lot, take that into consideration.
  • Do you know the total cost of the program? Shedding 25 pounds could cost more than $1,000 at Nutri/System; at TOPS, it runs about $38.
  • Will the plan help you make positive behavioral changes? A good program teaches how to live a healthier lifestyle and provides ongoing support for maintaining weight loss.
  • Does the program encourage a safe, personalized exercise program? Regular physical activity is key to keeping the weight off.


"Average weight loss programs cost: $600 for 6 weeks. Supplements and personal training not included."

Diet Center

Overall approach

Personalized diet and exercise program emphasizing healthy body composition. Exclusively "You" option based on supermarket foods; prepackaged cuisine optional. Minimum daily calorie level: 1,200. Vitamin and fiber supplements provided during reducing phase.

Concept 1000 option provides 1,000 daily calories from three meal replacements (shakes or bars) and one regular meal. Some locations offer phentermine. Body composition analysis at the start and every four to six weeks.

Healthful lifestyle features

Exclusively "Me" behavior management program used in conjunction with one-on-one counseling sessions.

Staffing

Weekly consults with nonprofessional counselors, typically Diet Center graduates. Staff dietitian (R.D.), M.D.s, and board of health professionals design programs at corporate level.

Cost and results

Fees average $30-$50/week, plus additional $17.50 a day for food for Concept 1000 option. Maintenance averages $100/year.

Expected weight loss

No more than two pounds weekly. Length of reducing phase varies; one-year maintenance program recommended.

Analysis

Pros: Emphasizes body composition, not pounds, as a measure of health. Choice of two diet plans; only Concept 1000 requires Diet Center foods.

Cons: Expensive. No supplements. No professional guidance. No group support.

Health Management Resources

Overall approach

Makes use of a very-low-calorie diet (VLCD) consisting of fortified, high-protein liquid meal replacements (520-800 calories/day) under medical supervision. Healthy Solutions plan (1,000-1,600 calories/day) combines meal replacements with regular foods, including optional prepackaged HMR entrees and five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Mandatory weekly 90-minute group meetings (60 minutes during maintenance). Dieters assigned personal coaches for weekly meetings or calls. Receive health risk appraisal. VLCD requires written approval from an M.D. for patients with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes. Phentermine available in some programs.

Healthful lifestyle features

Recommends burning minimum of 2,000 calories/week in physical activity. Addresses lifestyle issues in weekly classes and personal counseling.

Staffing

Program developed by M.D.s, dietitians (R.D.s), nurses (R.N.s), and psychologists. Each location has at least one M.D. and health educator. Dieters on VLCD see M.D. or R.N. weekly.

Cost and results

VLCD averages $150/week, but may be covered by insurance. Healthy Solutions averages $20/week plus cost of products. Maintenance averages $80/month.

Expected weight loss

One to five pounds weekly. Reducing phase typically lasts 12-20 weeks; re-feeding phase lasts eight. Maintenance recommended for up to 18 months.

Analysis

Pros: Few eating decisions. Emphasizes exercise. Supervised by health professionals. Often covered by insurance.

Cons: Expensive. Requires prepackaged food and strong commitment to exercise. May be difficult to transition to regular foods. Side effects of VLCD include intolerance to cold, constipation, dizziness, dry skin and headaches.

Jenny Craig

Overall approach

ABC (About Better Choices) program relies on Jenny Craig's Cuisine, plus additional supermarket foods. 1,000 to 2,600 calories daily. Optional, weekly Options Lifestyle classes and one-on-one counseling. After losing half of goal weight, clients given option to transition to regular foods.

Healthful lifestyle features

Emphasizes increased physical activity, changing ingrained habits and balanced eating.

Staffing

Program developed by dietitians (R.D.s) and psychologists. M.D.s, R.D.s, and Ph.D.s consult on program design. Nonprofessional staff counsels clients.

Cost and results

Costs $99 to $299 to join (later includes unlimited maintenance). Jenny Craig's Cuisine averages additional $70/week.

Expected weight loss

Up to two pounds weekly. Program length varies, depending on weight goal. Maintenance option of one year or unlimited.

Analysis

Pros: Little food preparation required. Plans available for vegetarians, people with diabetes, breast-feeding moms, and those on kosher diets.

Cons: Must rely on prepackaged foods, making dining out and socializing difficult. No supplements. Lacks professional guidance at client level. Limited maintenance options.

Nutri/system

Overall approach

Diet based mostly on Nutri/System's prepackaged foods. Reducing diet averages minimum of 1,200 calories/day for women; 1,500 for men. Maintenance diet based on optional purchase of prepackaged fare. Nutri/System's multivitamin/mineral supplement recommended for all dieters, but not included in price. Mostly one-on-one weekly counseling with weigh-in; some centers offer group classes. Herbal P.F. and phentermine offered at some centers.

Healthful lifestyle features

Clients determine weekly goals with consultants, often focusing on exercise. Brochures on health topics available with three-month and 12-month programs. Exercise video and audio tapes available at extra cost.

Staffing

Dietitians (R.D.s) and health educators develop program. Ph.D.s and M.D.s consult on program design. Nurses (L.P.N., R.N.) or diet technician acts as personal consultant, providing guidance once a week for 15-20 minutes.

Cost and results

One month costs about $99; three months about $269; 12 months about $500. Food costs an additional $49-$69/week. Vitamin/ mineral supplements also extra.

Expected weight loss

No more than two pounds weekly. Program length varies according to weight-loss goals.

Analysis

Pros: Few eating decisions.

Cons: Expensive. Herbal Phen-Fen can be dangerous. No supplements. Weak on lifestyle education component. Little contact with health professionals.

Optifast

Overall approach

Medically supervised program of fortified liquid-meal replacements or prepackaged foods, eventually including regular foods. Dieters assigned one of three plans: 800, 950, or 1,200 calories daily. Mandatory weekly sessions promote positive eating behaviors.

One-on-one counseling available. While the program itself discourages the use of diet drugs, some sites offer phentermine, based on the discretion of the individual physician.

Healthful lifestyle features

Emphasizes changes in behavior and diet planning for "real" foods in group and individual counseling sessions. Exercise physiologist available to help design personal exercise plan.

Staffing

Clients assigned a case manager who coordinates care. Dieters seen regularly by M.D., nurse (R.N.), dietitian (R.D.) and psychologists; consulting exercise physiologist available. Group meeting leaders are psychologists or R.D.s.

Cost and results

Costs $1,500 to $3,000 depending on diet and desired weight loss. Price includes maintenance at some centers. Insurance may cover part of cost.

Expected weight loss

No more than 2 percent of body weight weekly. Reducing phase lasts about 13 weeks; transition phase lasts about six. Maintenance begins at week 20 with no time limit.

Analysis

Pros: Close contact with health professionals. Beneficial for people with serious health problems who need a low-calorie plan to promote quick weight loss. Few eating decisions. Often covered by insurance.

Cons: Expensive. Must rely on Optifast products during much of reducing phase. May be difficult to transition from liquid diet to regular food.

Overeaters Anonymous

Overall approach

Nonprofit support group whose members are admitted compulsive eaters. Patterned after the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program.

Addresses physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of overeating. Members encouraged to seek separate professional help for diet plan and dealing with emotional problems.

Healthful lifestyle features

Makes no recommendations for exercise or behavior change.

Staffing

Nonprofessional group members lead meetings and conduct activities.

Cost and results

Self-supporting with member contributions. Optional monthly journal, Lifeline, costs $12.99/year in U.S. Unlimited length.

Expected weight loss

Makes no weight-loss claims.

Analysis

Pros: Inexpensive method of group support. No need to follow a specific diet plan. No weigh-ins.

Cons: Lacks professional guidance. OA stopped giving out diets in 1987, but some members still advocate unhealthy eating practices, including avoiding carbohydrates.

Registered Dietitian Consultation

Overall approach

Provides a personalized approach to weight control that takes into consideration your individual needs, including medical history, family situation, eating and exercise habits and preferences, travel and dining-out routines, and budget.

Healthful lifestyle features

Exercise strongly encouraged as part of sensible weight control. Dietitians (R.D.s) help clients identify barriers to weight loss and maintenance and provide healthy lifestyle education.

Staffing

R.D.s have degrees in human nutrition or closely related area, plus practical experience, typically a hospital internship. Often have advanced degrees. Must pass accreditation exam and participate in continuing education.

Cost and results

Costs $35 to $150 per hour; weight-control groups usually substantially less. Insurance may pay for visits.

Expected weight loss

Usually no more than two pounds/week.

Analysis

Pros: Eating prescription adapted to your lifestyle and medical history. Appropriate for any age group and entire families. Often covered by insurance.

Cons: Expensive.

TOPS (take off pounds sensibly)

Overall approach

Nonprofit organization whose members meet weekly in groups. Requires members to submit weight goals and diets in written form from health professionals. Provides peer support. Holds periodic contests and recognition programs for weight loss.

Healthful lifestyle features

Makes no specific lifestyle or exercise recommendations.

Staffing

Led by elected volunteer nonhealth professional who directs and organizes activities for one year. Health professionals may be invited to speak at weekly meetings.

Cost and results

First visit free. $20 annual fee, which includes monthly TOPS News. Local weekly dues set by each chapter -- about $5/month. Unlimited length.

Expected weight loss

No claims made for weight loss.

Analysis

Pros: Inexpensive form of group support. No purchases required. Has potential for long-term participation.

Cons: Focuses on weight loss as chief measure of success. Must weigh in weekly. Groups vary widely in approach. Program lacks professional guidance.

Weight Watchers

Overall approach

Emphasizes calorie-controlled, high-fiber eating and healthful lifestyle habits. 1-2-3 Success program assigns members daily food point allotment, which averages 1,250-1,500 calories/day for women. Weekly group meetings with mandatory weigh-in. Need to lose at least five pounds to join.

Healthful lifestyle features

Emphasizes positive lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise. Encourages daily physical activity. Tools For Living helps members deal with personal beliefs about being overweight.

Staffing

M.D. and dietitians (R.D.s) design and direct program. Group leaders are nonhealth professional program graduates.

Cost and results

Costs $17-$20 to join, plus $10-$14 weekly, which entitles members to unlimited meetings for that week. Meetings free if you maintain goal weight within two pounds for six weeks.

Expected weight loss

Up to two pounds weekly.

Analysis

Pros: Flexible, easy-to-use program offering group support. Plans available for vegetarians, teens, and breast-feeding moms.

Cons: Lacks professional guidance at client level. No personalized counseling. Weekly weigh-ins.

Apex Training System or 24/5

Overall approach

Teaches clients to incorporate and utilize the five components of fitness 24 hours a day into their lifestyle to get the most desirable results. Computerized nutritional analysis determining which food preference profile is the best plan to maintain optimal energy, satiety and performance. Includes weekly education in the 5 components of fitness:

  • Proper nutrition
  • Cardiovascular training
  • Proper supplementation
  • Resistance training
  • Professional assistance

Macronutrient ratios range from 45-75% carbohydrates, 15-25% protein, and 10-30% fat - depending on profile class. The number of calories is never below 1,200 for anyone and ratio ranges vary accordingly based on current body statistics, activity level, physical fitness goal and food preferences. Listing of approximate maintenance calories, recommended goal calories and recommended protein minimum. Supplements and meal replacement drinks optional but highly recommended during the program duration and thereafter.

Healthful lifestyle features

Accountability based on the daily usage of the "Pocket Planner" by recording meals and exchanging food items from the ADA Exchange List. Body composition is taken at the start and on the fourth and sixth weeks. Educating clients by completing each chapter for each week of the "Success Book" to ensure active participation and the learning process.

Staffing

Program developed by fitness and nutrition experts at The Apex Fitness Group in conjunction with substantiated scientific research findings. Staffs mostly exercise science (or related health/fitness field) university graduates or career health & fitness minded individuals as certified personal trainers and certified (Apex) fitness professionals counseling and training clients weekly. The Apex Training System is licensed to selected fitness clubs across the country and internationally.

Cost and results (cost will vary across the country and internationally)

Currently starting at around $610 for 12 one hour sessions with a certified fitness professional, individualized exercise and meal plan included, individualized supplementation optional plan (avg. cost $80) plus weekly lifestyle education components. Average cost for 6 weeks meeting twice per week: $700. Individualized meal, supplement, and exercise plans included.

Expected maximum "fat loss"

In 6 weeks a 3%* body fat (7 pounds) loss is expected. Males** under 15% body fat and females under 24% yielding 1-2% maximum body fat or 2 ½ to 4 ½ pounds fat loss in 6 weeks. Expected LBM (lean body mass) gain in 6 weeks: 3-5 pounds for males and 1-2 pounds for females.***

* This figure is in accord with the American Hospital Association's recommendation to lose about 10 percent of your body weight over 6 months.

** Few clients will have rare or atypical results, such as losing as much as 5% body fat and gaining 5 pounds of LBM in only one month! Such atypical results depend on age, established motor patterns, number of muscle fibers recruited in resistance training, desire (how bad do you want it!) and religiously following the five components of fitness as prescribed by the 24/5 program and fitness professional.

*** I put this program to the test myself and in 6 weeks I lost over 2% body fat. My weight difference from 200 to 198 pounds accounted for a 5-pound fat loss and 3-pound muscle gain! This was mostly due to changing my dietary eating habits by following the recommended ratio and goal calories I was allowed. The first 2-3 weeks were difficult but I became more comfortable and my body adapted to accepting this healthier eating behavior.

Analysis

Pros: Non-commercialized. Recognized Level One Weight Management program and registered with the ADA (American Dietetic Association). Regulated and audited by the State to ensure the program meets the requirements to maintain a Level One. Flexible meal plans and used in conjunction with the ADA Exchange List. Body composition is used as a measure of health. Strong on lifestyle education component, thus, making it relatively inexpensive - considering The High Cost of Inactivity.

Educational and supportive comparable with other weight management programs. Weight training at least three times per week highly emphasized. Long-term results. Supervised, educated and directed by a certified fitness professional weekly.

Cons: Difficult to incorporate all five components into a person's lifestyle. Requires conscientious meal planning. Not a short-term quick weight loss or body composition fix.

Randy's Rating

The pros outweigh the cons with the Apex Training System or 24/5. It is the only 'diet' program that emphasizes a change in lifestyle through the guidance of the components of fitness for results to be long-lasting and therefore real. Most programs "dummy up" the effort and commit the 'sin par excellence' of removing all education from the individual and rely on a popular "point system" to make things easier? How hard is it Reading Food Labels to know how much you are actually feeding your body and in the process educate yourself?

It seems like a lot of people want to rely on others to think for them, do the homework they ought to do for themselves and wish NOT to be self-reliant educated persons seeking control over this facet of fitness in their life! The answer the inventors of "revolutionary" diets give turns out to be a "new" way of assuming healthier eating habits when in fact it's a fancy interpretation of the same thing that people already know what to do: MOVE MORE and EAT LESS! POWER IS APPLIED KNOWLEDGE!

Copyright © 1997-2002 Randy M. Herring