Almost any of the commercial weight-loss programs can work, but only if they motivate you sufficiently to decrease the amount of calories you eat or increase the amount of calories you burn each day (or both). What elements of a weight-loss program should a consumer look for in judging its potential for safe and successful weight loss? A responsible and safe weight-loss program should be able to document for you the five following features:
- The diet should be safe. It should include all of the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) for vitamins, minerals, and protein. The weight-loss diet should be low in calories (energy) only, not in essential foodstuffs.
- The weight-loss program should be directed toward a slow, steady weight loss unless your doctor feels your health condition would benefit from more rapid weight loss. Expect to lose only about a pound a week after the first week or two. With many calorie-restricted diets there is an initial rapid weight loss during the first 1 to 2 weeks, but this loss is largely fluid. The initial rapid loss of fluid also is regained rapidly when you return to a normal calorie diet. Thus, a reasonable weight loss goal must be expected.
- If you plan to lose more than 15 to 20 pounds, have any health problems, or take medication on a regular basis, you should be evaluated by your doctor before beginning your weight-loss program. A doctor can assess your general health and any medical conditions that might be affected by dieting and weight loss. Also, a physician should be able to advise you on the need for weight loss, the appropriateness of the weight-loss program, and a sensible goal of weight loss for you. If you plan to use a very low-calorie diet (a special liquid formula diet that replaces all food intake for 1 to 4 months), you should be examined and monitored by a doctor on a frequent basis.
- Your program should include plans for weight maintenance after the weight loss phase is over. It is of little benefit to lose a large amount of weight only to regain it. Weight maintenance is the most difficult part of controlling weight and is not consistently implemented in weight-loss programs. The program you select should include help in permanently changing your dietary habits and level of physical activity, and to alter a lifestyle that may have contributed to weight gain in the past. Your program should provide behavior modification help, including education in healthy eating habits and long-term plans to deal with weight problems. One of the most important factors in maintaining weight loss appears to be increasing daily physical activity Try to be more active throughout the day and incorporate some simple calorie-burners into your everyday routine. Even the most basic activities (such as taking an after-dinner walk, using the stairs at the mall or office instead of taking an escalator or elevator, park your car farther away so you have a longer walk) can get you prepared for more regular exercise like walking or jogging. You may choose to incorporate an individually tailored exercise program into your schedule.
- A commercial weight-loss program should provide a detailed statement of fees and costs of additional items such as dietary supplements.
Obesity is a chronic condition. Too often it is viewed as a temporary problem that can be treated for a few months with a strenuous diet. However, as most overweight people know, weight control must be considered a life-long effort. To be safe and effective, any weight-loss program must address the long-term approach or else the program is largely a waste of time, money and energy.
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD