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In this report

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

Practically everyone decides at some point in time that they want or need to lose weight. For some, it may be a few pounds they've put on over the holidays, for others it's a serious issue and their weight may be leading to obesity-related health problems. Others may just want to improve their diet and eat more natural, whole foods.

Best weight loss program

Weight Watchers
Weight Watchers

The good news is that if you're struggling with your weight, reducing your calorie intake and increasing your 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.

The most important consideration of any diet is finding one that you can stick to for the long haul. While some diets promise big numbers at the outset, the truth is that reining in your eating will almost always result in quick, initial weight loss regardless of what program you decide to try. The trick is to find a program that -- after that first couple of weeks -- you can stick to as your weight loss slows to more realistic levels. Experts say that people who make diets a lifestyle rather than a "diet," while setting a goal of losing a pound or so a week, are more apt to keep the weight off over the long term.

And don't forget exercise. The best diets incorporate or encourage exercise and allow you to ingest more calories as your reward. Some programs have even more specific exercise guidelines, suggesting the best foods to eat both before and after you exercise for maximum energy and recovery.

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

Types of weight loss programs

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, smartphone 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. They also provide the most support, both in person and online.

Lifestyle programs. While all diets are intended (or hope) to be a permanent change to your lifestyle, some diets, such as Paleo and low carb, are more specific in positioning themselves as a way of eating forever. While you will probably lose weight with any of these plans simply because you're watching what you eat, many of them, like the DASH diet, are also great tools for controlling diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, or for dealing with food sensitivity issues to things like gluten or dairy. People often adopt some of these programs because they feel as if they need a strict nutritional reset. Others are merely looking to improve their eating habits or their health numbers overall.

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. Even the least expensive prepackaged plans cost more than just buying your own food, and it can be difficult to find out the true cost until you actually commit. Still, if you can afford it, you get a nutritionally balanced, calorie-controlled eating plan with lots of support and no additional tools needed except a microwave oven, and we cover those in a separate report.

Diet books are a dime a dozen. And that's a very good thing. A good diet book can be an affordable approach to starting and following a healthy eating plan. Many even have free online support forums or extensive websites that can be accessed for free or a small fee. The best diet books not only give you an overview of how their program works, but also offer menu plans, recipes and exercise guidance. Best off all, you can try before you buy by checking out the book at your local library.

Free, online diet and fitness sites. There are too many of these to list, although we do recommend some top choices and any of them are a great tool for the dieter. Not only do they offer your own, do-it-yourself diet plans, they also provide forums and communities to support virtually any diet or way of eating that is available -- even if it's as simple as just counting your calories every day. If you choose a diet plan that does not include a built-in social or support component, we strongly urge you to sign up for one of these free sites. Experts say that support is crucial for success, so one of these options will give you that important social element. Also, many of these sites are either affiliated with or sync to the most popular fitness trackers, which we also cover in a separate report.

How we found the best diets

There is always a lot of controversy when it comes to evaluating diets. Many people are firmly in one camp or another over the "right" way to eat. Studies are often contradictory in their findings, and many critics charge that government recommendations are influenced by the food industry. We present the controversies and cross-opinions, but we do not take sides. The best diet is the one you feel best on and can stick with.

Instead, 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 the most nutritionally sound and sustainable weight loss programs. That includes diets, meal-delivery plans, diet books and free, online resources that will help you lose weight and keep it off over the long-term.

Elsewhere in this Report:

Best Diet Plans: If weight loss is your primary goal, these plans are the top choices of experts and dieters. We found the top commercial and free diet plans to fit anyone's diet preferences.

Best Diabetes Diet: If you suffer from diabetes or prediabetes, you really need to watch what you eat. These eating plans have been proven to be effective in helping to manage -- or even cure -- type 2 diabetes.

Best Prepackaged Diet Plan: If you're short on time or cooking skills, a prepackaged diet plan can save the day. Delivered right to your door, they offer heat and eat convenience, with healthy, controlled portions.

Best Diet Book: Diet books can be a terrific guide in your journey to a new way of eating. They're very affordable and are the basis for many of the most popular diets.

Buying Guide: Not sure which weight loss plan is right for you? We offer a thorough overview of what you need to know to find a great program for the long term.

Our Sources: These are the expert and user sources we consulted to find the best weight loss programs. They are listed in order from most helpful to least.

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