Is a Commercial Diet Program Right for You?

Health Writer
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With the New Year in full swing, you are likely one of the millions considering a new diet plan. If you've had little success in the past taking weight off, or taking it off and keeping it off, you may be considering a whole new approach. So is a commercial diet program the right choice for you?

Oprah teamed up with Weight Watchers in 2016 to intercept a potentially unhealthy relationship with food and finally get weight off and keep it off. She had set a goal of losing 50 pounds by the start of this New Year in 2017, but she has shared that losing 40 pounds (10 pounds shy of her goal) has been life changing this time around. She says that she can now enjoy food and co-exist with food without deprivation and without the fear of losing control, something that has consistently eluded her through all of her diet journeys. One has to reckon with the fact that sufficient time has not passed to really test that conviction. Still, maybe there's something about the commercial diet approach that worked for her. Would it also work for you?

Commercial diets typically have several similar components. There's a basic dietary theme, with many of these programs providing versions that address chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, and there’s usually an opportunity to personalize the diet to your own weight loss goal, dietary restrictions, and personal dieting style. Weight Watchers has the point system that you adapt to your daily calorie needs to have an average weight loss of one to two pounds weekly. Jenny Craig and NutriSystem both offer meals that you can buy, matched to weight loss goals and food preferences, as well as dietary restrictions. Prepared meals may be something to consider if you struggle with portion control.

Commercial diets usually match you to a coach and/or a support group. The coach helps to determine an appropriate diet outline or the meal plan that best suits your daily calorie needs and goals and especially your cravings. The coach also can help to troubleshoot challenges that crop up as you immerse yourself in the diet, and can help to modify the diet if you hit a weight plateau. The coach is your cheerleader, and helps to prevent dietary lapses. The support group dynamic provides you access to others who are managing their own similar weight struggles. Studies suggest that these support groups can be invaluable, helping you to stay the course, even when your weight loss slows down or stops, and also after you reach goal weight. Many weight loss success stories credit a support group with helping to avoid weight re-gain.

Commercial diets offer tools, discussions on dietary and weight goals, exercise, and use tools like keeping a food and exercise diary. But then there is the very public weekly weigh-in to face, a central feature of the Weight Watchers program. If you've become a fan of the new NBC series, “This is Us,” then you know that Kate is a main character who struggles with obesity and even her private home weigh ins, let alone group weigh ins, are fraught with  emotion. If that aspect of the commercial diet plan really upsets you and if a private weigh in with your coach is a turn off, then an online commercial diet program may be the right fit.

US News & World Report just released its 2017 “best diets” list and Weight Watchers made it to one of the top positions. It does offer online weight loss counseling and numerous online tools. So you can avoid the in-person weigh in and even your group support is available online. NutriSystem offers counselors that are a "phone call away," so you can avoid weigh-ins and in-person visits. They have a number of online support tools, as does Jenny Craig.

You should take a moment, though, to ponder if the human contact would be beneficial and if the in-person weigh-in, as discomforting as the thought is, would make you more accountableSparkPeople.com has a vibrant online diet and healthy-living community. A big aspect of their support system is people who have successfully lost weight and maintained their goal weight for quite some time. It’s also a well-priced, affordable program. The US News & World Report review of 38 commercial diets offers you a wide range of options, so you can find the commercial diet program that fits you best.

When you evaluate a commercial diet plan, look for one that:

  • Sounds sensible, with no extreme dieting recommendations
  • Recommends one to two pounds of weight loss per week
  • Offers 1,200 calories (or more) daily
  • Promotes sensible portions
  • Encourages physical activity
  • Includes all food groups
  • Does not require additional supplements or special foods
  • Encourages realistic goals
  • Works with your schedule and lifestyle
  • Helps to establish lifelong healthy eating habits and food choices
  • Offers ongoing support and tailors it to your “comfort zone” whether that is an in-person or online approach
  • Offers ready-made-meals that are balanced, if that is something you need

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Amy Hendel, also known as The HealthGal, is a Physician Assistant, nutritionist and fitness expert. As a health media personality, she's been reporting and blogging on lifestyle issues and health news for over 20 years. Author of The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, her website offers daily health reports, links to her blogs, and a library of lifestyle video segments.