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Weight Loss and Commercial Diet Centers

Harry Mills, Ph.D.

Weight Watchers

The popular Weight Watchers program brings people together for mutual support as they lose weight. The program uses group meetings lead by individuals who have successfully lost weight following the Weight Watchers system. There is a small joining fee for new group members and a weekly fee to attend meetings. Membership fees sustain the organization and promote meeting attendance. Membership also entitles members to use online diet tools. Members who miss four weeks of meetings are dropped from the active rolls and must pay another joining fee to resume. On the other hand, members who maintain their goal weight for six weeks are able to attend meetings for free. In addition to face to face meetings, there is also a fee-based online weight loss program available.

Weight Watcher's current diet plan encourages caloric restriction by assigning people a set number of food 'points' they may consume in a given day based on their body weight. Each point represents a certain portion size of a particular food. Foods that are higher in calories cost more points to eat per portion than do low calorie foods. Members must learn to eat within the points they are allowed. A bonus 35 flexible points are also allowed to be spent throughout each week. A person can eat almost anything on the Weight Watchers system although portion limits must be observed to stay within the point system. The overall plan steers dieters toward low-fat high fiber food choices as these cost the fewest points.

In general, Weight Watchers offers an excellent and time-tested approach to sustainable weight loss. They encourages physical activity and healthy eating habits. Their cookbooks are well edited and educational. Their group support programs are excellent. Also some of their ideas, such as the value of eating small portions of food frequently throughout the day rather than fewer large meals, are very smart. The downsides to Weight Watchers are few. Weekly membership fees can add up over time. Also, not everyone wants to face a weekly weigh-in in front of other people.

Jenny Craig

The Jenny Craig company runs a number of commercial weight-loss centers. They promote a balanced nutrition plan based on current USDA Food Pyramid recommendations. The company sells pre-packaged meals which are convenient, nutritional and properly proportioned. While this program does help dieters to eat nutritional meals and lose weight, it is a double edged sword as well in that it promotes dieter's dependence on pre-packaged food. By failing to emphasize training dieters to prepare properly proportioned, nutritional meals on their own, they increase the likelihood that dieters will have a difficult time maintaining weight loss one they return to eating their own food. To their credit, the company offers counselor support and promotes healthy lifestyle changes including becoming more active during the transition period between active dieting and regular eating.

NutriSystem

NutriSystem is also a commercial diet plan that has moved from being center-based to being an online weight-loss program. Like Jenny Craig, NutriSystem promotes a reduced calorie diet that focuses on balanced nutrition based on the current Food Pyramid. They sell pre-packaged nutritional meals. Though their meals are not required purchases, it is much easier to follow the NutriSystem program by using the meals. Participants eat three properly proportioned meals and two snacks a day. The complete meal plan is expensive costing several hundred dollars a month, although discounts are offered for some food plans. Diet counseling takes place online. The company also offers MindNourish and BodyNourish programs to get mind and body in gear to maximize weight loss.

Dieters who stick to NutriSystem's well-balanced, low calorie diet will lose weight. As with other plans pushing pre-packaged foods, however, dieter's transition from active dieting to preparing one's own food can be a challenge.