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The best weight loss program is the one that works for you

The latest obesity statistics are overwhelming: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 35 percent of U.S. adults and about 17 percent of children are obese. The good news is that if you're struggling with your weight, a reduced calorie intake and increased activity level have been clinically shown to help you lose weight. The bad news is there are no shortcuts and no short-term fixes. Fad diets, herbal supplements, "fat-burning" pills, and highly restrictive diets don't work for long and may cause more harm than good.

Exercising and watching what you eat require a long-term commitment. It's important to find a diet that works with your particular lifestyle and food preferences, or it will be hard to stick with. The best diets will have exercise guidelines and give you an incentive for incorporating fitness into your routine. For example, our best-reviewed weight loss program, Weight Watchers, allows you to eat more food when you earn exercise "points." There's solid science behind this two-tiered approach -- a survey of successful dieters shows that pairing diet and exercise raises your odds of success dramatically.

Support, either in-person or online, is another key to successful dieting. The top diets offer support from both counselors and fellow dieters. In addition, studies show that those who keep track of their food and activity are ultimately successful at losing weight. This personal accountability can help you shed pounds whether you follow a commercial diet program or not. Many of our best-rated weight loss programs have tracking software available online, as well as mobile apps and even paper-tracking programs for those who prefer hard-copy journaling.

Commercial diet programs offer a lot of tools for the dieter. They come at a cost -- some higher than others depending upon the program -- but they also have a lot of cool features: in-person and online support, phone and tablet apps, journaling and record-keeping programs specific to the diet, pre-calculated calorie counts, guides for eating out and a plethora of proven recipes.

Diet books are a dime a dozen. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. A good diet book can be an affordable approach to starting and following a healthy eating plan. Many even have online support forums or extensive websites that can be accessed for free or a small fee.

Prepackaged food plans are expensive, but very convenient. If you don't have the time, energy or ability to plan for and prepare meals, a prepackaged food program gives you a no-hassle, no-brainer approach to dieting, but it comes at a cost. One expert source estimates that losing 20 pounds over 13 weeks will set you back about $1,900 on Jenny Craig. Other prepackaged programs are even pricier. Still, if you can afford it, you get a nutritionally balanced, calorie-controlled eating plan with lots of support and no additional tools needed but a microwave oven.

We've evaluated expert and user reviews -- starting with clinical studies and working all the way down to dieter opinions posted on survey sites -- to identify nutritionally sound and sustainable diet books, programs and meal-delivery plans that will help you lose weight and keep it off over the long-term.

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