best weight loss programs have
- Enough calories to keep you healthy. If a diet provides fewer than 1,200 calories per day,
experts say you should be under a doctor's supervision.
- A nutritionally sound diet. Completely
eliminating food groups is one of the biggest red flags that a diet may not be providing
you with all the nutrients you need.
- Real food. Delivered meals and
proprietary meal-replacement diets are convenient and can be effective
weight-loss tools, but ultimately you need to learn to cook healthful meals for
- Gradual, sustainable weight loss. Fad diets that promise sudden weight loss may be appealing,
but the pounds usually come right back on, and fad diets can be harmful to your
health. Losing weight slowly but steadily makes it more likely you will succeed
over the long term.
- Support when you need it. Not everybody wants
group meetings or an online diet buddy, but having some form of professional
guidance and peer support available when you need it -- whether online, by
telephone or in person -- is a valuable resource.
- Flexible eating plans. The best diets are
flexible enough to accommodate almost any dietary need or preference, including
vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, low-sodium, kosher and halal.
- Long-term maintenance goals. Learning maintenance
skills -- basically, a new lifestyle -- helps you keep the weight off once the
- A clear pricing structure. Most diet programs
are honest and upfront about their costs, but quite a few draw complaints for
hidden fees and less-than-transparent billing practices.
- No diet pills. If the plan you're
considering requires you to buy pills, its focus is on you losing money -- not
weight. Over-the-counter weight-loss supplements, which don't require approval
from the FDA, can even interact with other drugs you may be taking and pose a
health hazard. Diet pills may be used in conjunction with a
physician-prescribed weight-loss program, but only under your doctor's
supervision. (See the companion ConsumerSearch report on
Know before you go
What type of support are you comfortable
with? Studies show that dieters who have a
support system are more successful than those who try to go it alone. Some
folks prefer group support, while others would rather have individual
attention. Many do fine with an online buddy or community. If you choose something
that fits your lifestyle and preferences, you're more likely to stick with it.
Which diet best fits your lifestyle? Do you need a plan that's adaptable for vacations, quick
commuter meals or socializing? Should it accommodate meals you can serve to
your family, or are you willing to prepare one meal for yourself and another
for everybody else in the house? Taking an honest look at your lifestyle will
help you choose the diet that works best for you.
Do you like to cook? Virtually all diets have meal plans and recipes to
accompany them, but some are more complex than others. If you're practically a
gourmet cook, just about any diet will suit you; if you hate to cook or just
aren't good at it, look for simple meal prep or even a prepackaged plan.
What are your long-term goals? The best diets help you incorporate all elements of a
healthy lifestyle, such as fitness, life-long eating strategies, stress
management, recognizing psychological or situational triggers for overeating,
or developing an appropriate body image.
What does your doctor say? Your health-care team
can help you determine your ideal goal weight, and, if your plan involves
calorie counting, they can help you set a safe caloric goal for yourself. They
can also help you identify and manage any underlying health conditions,