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Is a weight-loss program the best way to lose weight?

Losing weight is one thing, but keeping it off is a bigger challenge. Here's how to choose a diet plan that will work for you.
Woman and young boy preparing dessert
How much cooking are you willing to do? It's an important question to consider when choosing a diet plan.Getty Images

About 95% of Americans think about managing their weight at any given time, according to a recent report from a California-based market research firm, and over a quarter of adults rate it as a top personal priority. If you’re considering a weight-loss program to support your goals, here are some factors to consider and pointers to increase your chances of success.

The best diet programs for weight loss:

  • WW (Weight Watchers): According to U.S. News & World Report 2020 Best Diets, WW (Weight Watchers) is the best "commercial" diet plan for weight loss. Specialists in nutrition, diabetes and heart disease think the plan is the easiest way to lose weight, and they rate WW’s eating principles as healthy and sound. Experts also say it’s among the most effective weight-loss plans for short-term and long-term results.
  • Noom: An app-based, weight-loss program, Noom, earns praise for helping users modify their behaviors. However, experts worry that the amount of tracking the program requires could get exhausting.
  • Jenny Craig: This could work if you want help in the form of pre-packaged meals delivered to your home. These meals are supplemented with fruits, veggies and dairy foods (or their equivalents), so the diet gets high marks for healthfulness. However, once you ween off their packaged meals, experts think weight regain is a serious possibility.
  • Flexitarian diet: Notably, the best diet for weight loss, according to U.S. News, isn’t a commercial program, it’s the flexitarian diet, based on the book by registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner. The flexitarian diet’s emphasis on fruits, veggies, whole grains and plant-based proteins makes this a nutritional standout. And these foods happen to be among the best for weight loss since they're higher in fiber and lower in calories per bite, so you can eat filling portions while lowering your overall calorie intake.

Should you follow a weight-loss program?

There’s no single best way to lose weight, but what all weight-loss plans have in common is that they produce a calorie deficit, meaning you’ll either eat fewer calories than you previously ate, or boost the number of calories you burn through exercise, or a combination of the two.

Rather than focusing on the macronutrient breakdown of a plan (say, high protein or low fat), it’s better to consider a plan that matches your needs since adherence is the main driver of weight-loss success. For instance, if you dine out or travel frequently, a weight-loss program, like Jenny Craig, that emphasizes pre-packaged meals and largely limits these activities isn’t going to be the best fit. Here are 10 additional questions to ask yourself to narrow down the best diet plan for your needs:

  1. How much cooking are you willing to do, and does the required cooking suit your skill level?
  2. Does the diet eliminate any food groups, and if so, is that an eating pattern you can sustain? Think beyond the first few months and imagine living and eating this way for the next few years.
  3. Are you looking for a weight-loss meal plan that guides you through breakfast, lunch and dinner or one that offers general advice?
  4. What’s the cost involved? Consider the cost of the weight-loss program itself, as well as any requirements for specific foods. For instance, a weight-loss plan that emphasizes plant foods will be less expensive than one centered around meats.
  5. What’s the time commitment outside of cooking or planning meals? Do you have to attend weekly meetings or track your food? Is the amount of time required realistic for you?
  6. What type of support is built into the plan, and does the support match your personal needs? For instance, if all the support is text-based and you don’t want to be tied to your phone, this may not be the right fit for you.
  7. Does the plan teach you how to change your behaviors? Unless a weight-loss plan addresses behavioral change, it’ll be hard to sustain any results.
  8. Does the diet plan address your health problems? Say you have type 2 diabetes: Will you learn proper eating strategies to manage your condition?
  9. Can the plan accommodate your dietary restrictions? If you’re a vegetarian or following a gluten-free diet, for instance, can you find enough variety among what’s offered, or will that be an additional challenge?
  10. How does the weight-loss plan address exercise, and are the activity recommendations doable for you?

In addition to these questions, it’s also worth considering what (if anything) worked for you in the past and when and why it stopped working. Maybe you had successfully lost weight on a program but changed jobs or went through a breakup that interfered with your ability to lose weight at that time. Were there elements that you liked about the program? If so, you may want to re-enroll or find another weight-loss plan that will help you re-engage with those strategies.

Maintenance is the key to long-term success

Unsurprisingly, losing weight is easier than keeping those excess pounds off. Despite the challenge, there are things you can do to improve your odds of success. Here are the factors that help.

  • Follow the weight-loss plan. Keeping the weight off is tied to how well you adhere to the program, which includes the diet plan as well as attendance at group meetings (if offered), food tracking and so on.
  • Track what you eat and what you weigh. Numerous studies link these self-monitoring methods to maintaining weight loss.
  • Set SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. An example of such a goal is to try a new vegetable side dish twice a week.
  • Develop a weight-loss mindset. This involves replacing negative, self-limiting beliefs with more helpful thoughts. Research suggests that self-compassion enhances motivation and resiliency, and it can help you adhere to a healthier diet.
  • Reduce the time you spend in sedentary activities, like watching TV.
  • Spend about an hour per day doing something physical. Walking fits the bill. Not sure how to get started? Check out TODAY's 31-day walking plan.