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Are proprietary diet programs worthwhile or just marketing gimmicks?

By April 21, 2008 - 6:13pm
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Since my mid-forties, I've been frustrated by weight creep, the inevitable midlife "spread." Even though I'm fairly active and try to eat healthfully, the scale is not being very friendly.

I've been thinking about going on some sort of "managed" diet program, like Jennie Craig or Nutrisystem; but, concerned that they're more marketing gimmicks than anything else. What's so special about their packaged foods? Is it more just the convenience of having things figured out for you? Has anyone tried such programs and gotten results?

Inquiring mind wants to know. :)

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That’s a great question. With obesity on the rise, it’s no wonder so many people looking for solutions to help them get back to a healthy weight. But it’s not only people looking to shed a few pounds that are questioning the value of proprietary programs, a couple of doctors at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine evaluated major commercial weight loss programs a few years back. They said the goal of the study was to give health care providers more information about weight loss programs to help advise overweight patients.

In their study, Adam Gilden Tsai, MD and Thomas A. Wadden, PhD, examined four types of programs: non medical, medically supervised, Internet-based, and organized self-help (e.g. Overeaters Anonymous). Science Daily said the average weight loss for each program was determined by reviewing scientifically acceptable studies. The review examined only programs that required regular in-person or on-line contact.

Tsai and Wadden’s study included non-medical commercial programs (such as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and LA Weight Loss).

The authors found that Weight Watchers was the most thoroughly tested. Participants in two studies lost approximately 5% of their initial weight (about 10 pounds) in three to six months. Attending Weight Watchers group meetings weekly for three months was estimated to cost $167. The costs for Jenny Craig and LA Weight Loss were substantially higher, and no scientifically acceptable evaluations of weight loss have been published.

Here’s the remaining findings from the university study as summed up by Science Daily.

Medically supervised plans, including Health Management Resources (HMR) and OPTIFAST, produced average losses of 15% - 25% of initial weight (about 30-50 pounds) in three to six months. These plans, which include the use of a liquid diet to replace all or most foods eaten, were estimated to cost $1700 - $2200 for the first three months. (This covered all medical care, group lifestyle counseling, and the liquid diet). “This approach may be appropriate for persons who have significant obesity-related health complications such as Type 2 Diabetes or hypertension,” commented Dr. Wadden, Director of Penn’s Weight and Eating Disorders Program. Enthusiasm, however, for this approach is limited by findings that people regain approximately 50% of lost weight one to two years after treatment. “Weight regain is a problem following all weight loss efforts, but particularly after this regimen,” Wadden noted.

The review revealed minimal scientific evidence to support the use of a new generation of Internet-based weight loss plans. “But we know additional studies are being conducted and, if found effective, the Internet could provide weight management to millions of Americans,” Tsai explained. Similarly there has been little evaluation of self-help programs, including Overeaters Anonymous and Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS), that charge minimal or no fees. “Despite the lack of documented effectiveness, organized self-help approaches are an important option for persons who cannot afford commercial programs,” said Wadden.

The authors stated that all of the programs reviewed had undoubtedly been of help to some individuals. They hope their review will encourage health care providers and their patients to start talking about excess weight, even if commercial or self-help programs are not an option.

While the Penn State study ultimately concluded that more scientific evaluation needs to be done on these programs, that leaves it up to the individual and his or her physician to evaluate whether such a program is the right choice.

The United States Department of Agriculture is a great resource for evaluating different weight loss plans. You can find more information http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/nal_display/index.php?info_center=4&tax_level=2&tax_subject=271&topic_id=1311

Please update us on your progress.

April 22, 2008 - 9:09am

I've seen mixed results from those kind of diet programs.

The best thing I've seen is when people recognize the proper portion size and from their they know what's too much food for them to eat.

That's very valuable.

Which program are you most likely to try?


April 21, 2008 - 9:41pm

I've often wondered the same thing. I tried a proprietary program and didn't like it at all (a different one from those you mentioned). To be fair, I was trying to follow a weight loss plan while in training as a distance runner and constantly on a "carb load" before events. So, I think my training nutrition plan clashed with the weight loss plan and I actually gained weight.

The only thing that bothers me about a proprietary program that requires your eating their packaged foods is that they're still processed (although I've not seen the nutritional values), albeit "balanced" with real foods (fresh fruits and veggies). There is a price to pay for convenience. Unfortunately, it could be in sodium content.

I'm just skeptical, I suppose you could say.

April 21, 2008 - 6:24pm
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