As we discussed last week, there are a slew of weight loss programs that promise quick results. The question is- are they long lasting? Weight loss programs can be a way to jump start a diet and learn healthy habits to encourage long term results. When deciding which may be best for you, there are two key variables to ask: what was the initial weight lost by their patrons and what are the long-term results one to two years after the program starts? Unfortunately, many weight loss programs don’t have the necessary long-term follow-up studies yet to definitively prove their efficacy.
WW (Weight Watchers)
You’d think an old standby like Weight Watchers would be behind the times, but the research shows it is actually pretty competitive. With weight loss rates of 2.6% better than a typical nutrition and activity program, the points-based system the plan uses doesn’t make any foods off-limits. It is designed to assist in weight loss, but also to focus on benefits through both nutrition and fitness. They teach members that all foods can fit into their diet. With a focus on balance, participants are encouraged to make better food choices, move more and shift their diet mindset through daily points. It is a beneficial educational tool that’s easy to follow.
This is a calorie-controlled program with prepacked meals. Dieters can choose between two programs: in-center or at home. There are three levels for either. The first level involves adjusting to the program by eating small portions. The second level adds physical activity, while the third works on weight loss maintenance with varying plans. The program is easy to follow with the pre-portioned meals, but it can be difficult to adjust when eating out or cooking at home. Jenny Craig is a popular weight-loss plan with a track record of success. It is a convenient and easy-to-follow program of heat-and-eat meals that offer variety and balanced nutrition. However, the cost can be prohibitive for some, while also making it difficult to eat with family or loved ones. It also encourages dependency on the plan, because you’re not learning skills to eat on your own.
Prepackaged meals are prepared and delivered to participants. Each meal includes an outline of what to eat and when to eat it, while instructing dieters to avoid high glycemic index (GI) foods and alcohol. The GI of a food is an estimate of how much it raises your blood glucose levels after consumption. The plan recommends three meals with two snacks and a dessert snack from the prepackaged options. The prepackaged meals help with portion-control for weight loss. However, Nutrisystem’s Turbo 10 plan provides inadequate calories to support healthy brain and body functions. The cost of the program can also be a hindrance and encourage dependence since the program doesn’t encourage learning healthy eating skills.
Dieters will follow a 1,200-calorie plan that allows individuals to prepare one, 500-calorie meal a day, consume two meal replacements via a SlimFast bar or shake, and three snacks. The diet claims participants will lose one to two pounds a week. Unfortunately, because dieters have unique calorie needs for weight loss, an equal amount of food is not appropriate for two different people. The SlimFast Diet can be an effective weight loss method that works by replacing two of your meals per day with a meal replacement. It’s high in protein and low in calories, and studies have shown it to be effective at promoting short-term weight loss. It may not be the best option for long-term weight loss. While the SlimFast Diet can definitely aid your weight loss efforts, it’s important to combine it with a healthy lifestyle and a nutritious diet to maximize its effectiveness.
A Paleo diet is a dietary plan based on foods similar to what might have been eaten during the Paleolithic era, which dates from approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. It typically includes lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds – foods that in the past could be obtained by hunting and gathering. A paleo diet limits foods that became common when farming emerged about 10,000 years ago. These foods include dairy products, legumes and grains. A paleo diet is rich in vegetables, fruits and nuts – all elements of a healthy diet. The primary difference between the paleo diet and other healthy diets is the absence of whole grains and legumes, which are considered good sources of fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. Also absent from the diet are dairy products, which are good sources of protein and calcium. These foods not only are considered healthy, but also are generally more affordable and accessible than such foods as wild game, grass-fed animals and nuts. You can achieve the same health benefits by getting enough exercise and eating a balanced, healthy diet with a lot of fruits and vegetables.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean Diet is really the poster child for mainstream healthy eating right now, and even though it’s not exactly Paleo, the research on it is pretty interesting. The diet of actual people living around the Mediterranean sea obviously varies, but the Mediterranean diet focuses on whole grains (whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa and bulgur – not encouraged in a paleo diet), legumes, low-fat dairy, nuts, fish, fruits, vegetables, seeds, spices and olive oil. It discourages red meat, refined flour, refined sugar, animal fat, and processed foods. It’s pretty well-proven that the diet improves most people’s overall health, and from a Paleo perspective, that’s not surprising. The Mediterranean diet is by far the least controversial diet in the health field and has been around the longest. Researchers became intrigued by this diet because adults living in regions bordering the Mediterranean Sea have the lowest rates of chronic diseases and longest life expectancy in the world. The lifestyle also includes daily exercise, sharing meals with others, and a deep appreciation for quality of life.
This diet is Paleo, on steroids. It recommends eliminating sugar, grains, legumes, dairy, soy, and alcohol completely from your diet for a month. This will almost certainly be effective, since it will force you to eat pretty much only meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and eggs. The real question is whether you can maintain such an aggressive diet indefinitely. Adherence to this program is low, which is why it ends up at the bottom of the rankings. The program also states that it is not a diet, but it is designed to change a person’s life. It allows individuals to consume moderate portions of meat, seafood and eggs, as well as vegetables, fruit, natural fats, herbs, spices and seasonings. This is a restrictive method of eating that states food causes many medical conditions, when in reality most foods are essential to providing adequate and varied nutrients.
South Beach Diet
This low-carbohydrate, high-protein and healthy-fat diet is advertised to help dieters lose eight to thirteen pounds in two weeks- one to two pounds every week after. It uses the glycemic index to determine good and bad carbohydrates, encourages use of mono-unsaturated fats, and focuses on the benefits of fiber consumed through whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Phase one of the diet encourages inadequate carbohydrate intake, which is necessary for health and provides a person’s brain with energy for optimal thinking. The diet also does not teach balance. It has been around for almost 15 years, but evidence for its efficacy is still missing. There have been a few studies but they were all poor-quality, so it’s difficult to assess the strength of the program.
As a classic low-carb diet, the Atkins diet states it can “flip the body’s metabolic switch” from burning carbohydrates to burning fat. Carbohydrate intake increases as the phases progress. Many dieters have found they are able to lose weight quickly. However, dieters often have trouble moving throughout the different phases. The diet also does not allow a person to enjoy a variety of foods with small recommended portion sizes, making it difficult to achieve adequate nutrition. The Atkins Diet was one of the original low-carb diets to gain popularity. According to independent scientific research, studies vary on its efficacy: depending on which one you look at, the benefits range from a meager 0.1 to a respectable 2.9% improvement in weight loss, compared to standard nutritional counseling. One drawback, according to a meta-analysis of weight loss programs, is an increased rate of constipation and cholesterol levels among Atkins Diet adherents.
This is a low-glycemic load diet that has you limit carbs to 35–45% of daily calories and protein and fat to 30% each. It recommends eating only carbs with a low glycemic index (GI). The Zone Diet was initially developed to reduce diet-induced inflammation, cause weight loss, and reduce your risk of chronic diseases. One study suggests that the Zone Diet may improve blood sugar control, reduce waist circumference, and lower chronic inflammation in overweight or obese individuals with type 2 diabetes. One of the drawbacks of this diet is that it limits the consumption of some healthy carb sources, such as bananas and potatoes.
The Dukan Diet
This is a high-protein, low-carb weight loss diet split into four phases- two weight loss phases and two maintenance phases. How long you stay in each phase depends on how much weight you need to lose. Each phase has its own dietary pattern. There is very little quality research available on the Dukan diet. It limits both fat and carbs -a strategy not based on science. On the contrary, consuming fat as part of a high-protein diet seems to increase metabolic rate compared to both low-carb and low-fat diets. What’s more, fast weight loss achieved by severe calorie restriction tends to cause significant muscle loss. The loss of muscle mass and severe calorie restriction may also cause your body to conserve energy, making it very easy to regain the weight after losing it.
The HCG Diet
This is an extreme diet meant to cause very fast weight loss of up to 1–2 pounds (0.45–1 kg) per day. Its proponents claim that it boosts metabolism and fat loss without inducing hunger. HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) is a hormone present at high levels during early pregnancy. It tells a woman’s body it’s pregnant and maintains the production of hormones that are important for fetal development. It has also been used to treat fertility issues. The HCG diet does cause weight loss, but multiple studies conclude that the weight loss is due to the ultra-low-calorie diet alone – not the HCG hormone. Most HCG products on the market are scams and don’t contain any HCG. Only injections are able to raise blood levels of this hormone. Moreover, the diet has many side effects, including headaches, fatigue, and depression. The FDA disapproves of this diet, labeling it dangerous, illegal, and fraudulent.
These are just a sampling of the programs available today. Weight loss programs may be a great way to start but in the end, long-term weight loss is more of a function of lifestyle choices than specific food choices. Be sure to consult your healthcare provider first, but any diet that is safe and will get you to your goal is worth investigating.