Each year, millions of people enroll in weight-loss programs. These include well-known commercial programs such Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig (both of which have online versions) and organized self-help programs such as Overeaters Anonymous. Fewer people may be familiar with medically supervised programs, which include hospital-based programs or individual care from a physician. In addition, many free online diet and exercise programs are now available.
The commercial programs charge a fee for meetings. They offer advice on diet and exercise regimens as well as online tools for tracking your weight and food consumption. In some cases, they sell prepared foods and diet aids. The self-help programs tend to focus mainly on providing emotional support and encouragement in sticking with a weight-loss plan.
Clinical programs, which are provided through a doctor's office or hospital clinic, offer comprehensive diet, exercise, and behavior-modification programs, supplemented as needed with prescription treatments such as very low-calorie diets, weight-loss medications, and, increasingly, surgery.
None of the programs can guarantee that you will lose a particular amount of weight. With the exception of the clinical programs, these approaches are adjuncts to, not substitutes for, professional guidance for those who need it. Indeed, the self-help and commercial plans encourage participants to consult with health care professionals about weight-loss strategies. Following are descriptions of the different programs and what you can expect from them.
Like self-help programs, the commercial programs hold regular meetings to provide encouragement and support. But a significant difference between the two types of programs is money. The commercial programs charge fees to participate in meetings and also sell diet plans, as well as prepared foods and diet aids to go along with those plans. Costs for these programs vary, depending on how long you commit to the program, whether you attend meetings in person or online, and whether you purchase the foods or diet aids. Check with the specific organization for more information.
The most popular of the commercial programs, Weight Watchers, has more than 25 million participants worldwide. As a member, you receive a daily allotment of points (based on your weight, age, gender, and other factors) to spend on food, along with point values for a wide range of foods.
In late 2010, Weight Watchers introduced PointsPlus, a revamped system that puts more emphasis on the nutritional value of each food to assign point values. On the old plan, a 100-calorie bag of cookies was two points, the same as a 100-calorie apple. Under the new plan, fruits and non-starchy vegetables are now zero points. And foods high in protein and fiber have lower point values than foods high in fat and refined carbohydrates. The idea is to encourage people to eat more healthful, nutrient-dense foods and fewer "empty" calories from treats.