Table of Contents

What should you look for in a weight-loss program?
What should you avoid in a weight-loss program?
10 important questions to ask a weight-loss program
Four popular weight loss programs: Do they really work?
Forward has a weight-loss program, too

The weight loss industry is a multi-billion dollar machine, and among the many science-backed, tried-and-true weight loss programs out there, you’ll find countless weight-loss pills, potions, and programs. These range from questionable to downright dangerous—and highly ineffective for helping you shed extra pounds for good.

These bad players really know how to sell a miracle, and since you want to lose weight—not money—it’s in your best interest to do your due diligence. This is especially true when it comes to weight loss programs, because these are typically more expensive than tinctures and tonics that you can toss in the trash and never purchase again.

Here, we look at how to choose a weight loss program that’s right for you—and whether four of the most popular programs have the science to back them up.


What should you look for in a weight-loss program?

There are numerous weight-loss programs out there, and it is difficult to decide which would be the best one for you. Some target different goals than others, but there are a number of things you should consider before choosing a program.

In general, weight-loss success is tied more to adherence to a program than the actual program regimen. Research shows that people who participated in WW, Atkins, Zone, and Ornish lost similar amounts of weight, but active engagement was associated with more weight loss. 

Behavioral treatment

Weight loss is a mental game as well as a physical one. Your attitudes and beliefs about food have a lot to do with your weight. Stress, depression, anxiety, and other conditions can affect your motivation to stick with a program. A quality weight loss program will include lifestyle counseling to teach you how to cope with outside forces and create healthy, long-term habits around exercise and diet.

Education

Information is everything. The more you know, the better you can take control over your weight and make permanent lifestyle changes that will help you maintain your ideal weight. A reputable weight loss program will provide education about how sleep, stress, medications, moods, and other factors affect your weight and motivation.


Ongoing support and monitoring

Support is a major factor for successful weight loss, and an effective weight loss program will provide plenty of it. In-person or online counseling and lots of community support make a big difference in your success. Self-monitoring, keeping a journal, and tracking your food intake and workouts are important forms of ongoing support that keeps you focused, mindful, and motivated to see the program through to the end.

Realistic goal-setting

A safe and reputable weight-loss program will encourage healthy weight-loss goals. For the best chances at permanent weight loss, you should lose one to two pounds per week. The program should help you set goals that are realistic for your age, current weight, health status, and lifestyle. 


Ongoing maintenance 

Sustainable weight loss requires ongoing monitoring and maintenance once the extra pounds are gone. A successful weight loss program will include a period of ongoing support, check-ins, and lots of information and resources to help you maintain the lifestyle changes you made to keep the weight off.

What should you avoid in a weight-loss program?

Here are some gigantic red flags to look for when you’re considering a weight-loss program.

Drastic practices

If a program encourages you to take actions that harm the body in order to lose weight, close the tab. This includes anything related to:

  • Using laxatives to purge
  • Undergoing a cleanse
  • Eating fewer than 1,200 calories per day

Outcomes that sound too good to be true

Like your mom always said, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Avoid programs that show before and after photos that seem doctored, and run in the opposite direction if you see any of these phrases:

  • Lose weight fast!
  • Lose weight without exercise!
  • Lose 20 pounds in 20 days!
  • Lose belly fat fast!

Lots of small print, asterisks*, and disclaimers

Small print, asterisks, more asterisks, and footnotes are often used to hide disclaimer information that they don’t want you to read. It’s only there to protect the business from being held liable for any false claims they make that lead to injury or illness.

Product pushers

If a weight loss program requires you to purchase pills, shakes, weight-loss candy, aromatherapeutic essential oils, or anything else that’s not a prepared, healthy meal, don’t bite. These are usually the ones that are going to disappoint you in the end.

10 important questions to ask a weight-loss program

Before you take the plunge, ask the following questions—the only acceptable answer is “yes.”

  1. Is the program run or overseen by a licensed medical professional or group of licensed medical professionals?
  2. Do you have a tool for recording my meals and activities?
  3. Do you use science-based weight-loss methods, and can you show me the research it’s based on?
  4. Do you create a personalized eating and exercise plan that fits with my lifestyle, culture, dietary restrictions, and current fitness level?
  5. Do you have a plan for helping me stay motivated?
  6. Does the program include nutrition and exercise specialists?
  7. Does the program have a trained counselor or coach who will meet with me one-on-one to help me succeed?
  8. Is there a physician or other certified health professional available if I have questions or need help?
  9. Does the program offer healthy meals or meal plans that include a variety of different foods and cuisines?
  10. If I’m required to purchase ready-made meals, is there a plan to transition me to cooking at home?

WW (Weight Watchers)

Weight Watchers is a well-known weight-loss program founded in the 1960s. It focuses on weight loss and maintenance through counting calories. WW incorporates goal-setting, self-monitoring, nutrition education, and personal coaching into their program. They also use online tools to help members record and track their progress. 

How does Weight Watchers work?

WW uses a point system to count calories. All foods have a point value, and the idea is to eat foods that add up to no more than your allotted daily points. Online journaling and personal coaching help you stay motivated to keep at it.

What does the science say?

A recent study found that WW members who participated for at least 12 months lost a modest amount of weight compared to the general population. Higher engagement with the educational and self-monitoring components of the program translated to more lost weight, compared with less-engaged participants.

Noom

Noom is a healthy-eating app introduced in 2008. It refers to itself as a “lifestyle” rather than a weight-loss program. The app uses a range of questions and assessments about your eating habits to create a personalized, interactive plan with daily lessons, self-monitoring tools, motivational content, community support, and interactions with health coaches. 

How does it work?

Noom’s program centers around consuming fewer calories than you burn—in a healthy and highly sustainable way. The overarching goal is to help you change your attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors about food and slowly develop long-term lifestyle habits that promote weight loss and maintenance.

What does the science say?

A 2021 study of Noom outcomes found that up to 32 percent of participants lost at least 5% of their body weight—and at least 10 percent lost 10% or more of their body weight—by week 16. The rate of weight loss was fastest among participants with the highest level of engagement with the program. 

Jenny Craig

Jenny Craig is a weight-loss program that encourages weight loss and management through education, structure, and support. The company provides pre-packaged meals as part of each program—and different plans have different meal-purchasing requirements. Their Rapid Results plan involves intermittent fasting as part of the program.

How does it work?

Depending on the program, Jenny Craig incorporates science-based strategies like coaching, exercise, and intermittent fasting. Once you’ve lost weight, you transition into a maintenance phase with home-cooked meals and begin moving toward independence with less support. 

What does the science say?

Jenny Craig is designed to help you lose one to two pounds per week—the rate that makes long-term weight loss most successful. One study found that after 2 years, Jenny Craig clients weighed an average of 7% less than when they began the program.


NutriSystem

What is it?

NutriSystem is a weight-loss plan that provides pre-packaged meals specifically designed to fit its program. Like Weight Watchers and Noom, NutriSystem incorporates educational and motivational programming as well as self-monitoring tools.

How does it work?

Nutrisystem operates on a calorie-deficit model that’s based on eating six small, low-calorie meals per day (which you have to purchase from the program) to stave off hunger while reducing your caloric intake. 

What does the science say?

While a few studies show short-term weight loss with NutriSystem, no long-term evaluations have been done on this program. The users who fully participate in the program lose more weight than those who consume the meals but engage less frequently in the programming. 

Forward has a weight-loss program, too

At Forward, we know that maintaining a healthy weight is integral to overall good health and wellness, and it should be part of your primary care plan. As your primary care provider, Forward puts a heavy emphasis on wellness and prevention—and that includes maintaining a healthy weight. 

Our 12-week, doctor-led Weight Management Program is open to all members and starts with a comprehensive body health analysis to help guide your personalized nutrition, exercise, and mental health plan for weight loss. Genetic testing, when recommended by your Forward physician, helps identify obesity and heart disease risks, fat metabolism, and medication sensitivities. You can track your progress, reach your Care Team, and access a variety of educational and motivational resources. 

No long waits. No surprise bills. No copays — ever.

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