There are hundreds of weight-loss products and programs to choose from, so it can be hard to know where to start.
Commercial weight-loss products and programs not offered through a healthcare provider are called non-clinical. Non-clinical methods vary greatly and can include everything from diet books and supplements to commercial weight-loss programs that might include meal replacements. Some of these options may require you to buy and use the program’s foods or supplements. There may also be fees for professional services or devices.
Non-clinical Weight-loss Options:
- WW (WeightWatchers®)
- Health coaches
- Meal replacement items (protein bars, shakes, etc.)
- Diet books
- Body monitoring devices, such as a Fitbit or Apple Watch
- Support groups
- Apps such as Lark™and MyFitnessPal
- Over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as Alli™
- Meal replacement systems such as Nutrisystem
Equal to the number of non-clinical weight-loss options are the types of claims they make. It is important to remember that not all methods and claims are reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA is responsible for making sure products are safe and effective. They review all medical devices as well as medications, whether they are over-the-counter or prescribed. They do not review supplements advertised for weight loss or diet books.
Commercial Weight-Loss Centers and Programs
Choosing a commercial weight-loss center or program is one of the most popular options for someone wanting to manage their weight. These options usually provide resources such as pre-packaged meals, support, and more. They also traditionally use a 1,000 to 1,500 calorie-per-day diet plan, which can provide quick weight-loss results. However, as weight loss slows down, it is easy for some people to get frustrated and discouraged or regain weight after they leave the program.
Before starting any commercial program, ask the following questions to a program representative:
- How much weight do clients regain long-term, on average?
- What does your program look like for weight maintenance and follow-up support?
- What rate of weight loss does your program aim for?
- Does the program emphasize balanced food choices and exercise?
- Will I be required to buy specially formulated foods or supplements?
- What are the costs of membership, weekly fees, brand food, supplements, and counseling?
- What are the credentials of those running the program?
- What are the health risks?
Commercial programs usually fit into one of two categories: those that use a meal replacement plan and those that do not. A closer look at the two options is below.
Meal Replacement Plans:
- Participants purchase and eat pre-portioned meals
- Fast initial weight loss, but harder to maintain long-term once you leave the program
- Convenient, but can also be expensive
- May not teach the basics of healthy eating and nutrition
Non-Meal Replacement Plans:
- Participants eat meals made at home from ingredients bought at the grocery store
- Slower initial weight loss, but easier to maintain long-term
- Costs and effort similar to traditional meal planning
- Teaches the basics of healthy eating and nutrition
Commercial Weight-loss Programs That Use Meal Replacements
Nutrisystem plans provide frozen and shelf-stable, pre-packaged, portion-controlled meals and snacks delivered to your home. All Nutrisystem plans include comprehensive support and counseling options from trained weight-loss coaches and certified diabetes educators, accessible seven days a week via chat, email, or telephone.
Nutrisystem features portion-controlled meals and structured, reduced-calorie meal plans that are high in protein and fiber to help you stay full throughout the day. All meal plans align with national guidelines for total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and added sugars.
All plans can be customized to specific dietary needs and preferences, including the Nutrisystem D® program for people living with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. Once you have reached your weight-loss goal, Nutrisystem offers transition programs to help you continue to follow the portion-controlled principles of the Nutrisystem program while adding back more of your own foods.
How does it work? Nutrisystem plans, tailored for men and women, encourage you to consume three meals and two or three snacks per day. The plans offer about 150 items from its menu of ready-to-go and fresh frozen options. Foods are home-delivered, typically in shipments every four weeks. Foods are grouped into three categories: SmartCarbs (nutrient-rich, high-fiber carbohydrates), PowerFuels (lean proteins and healthy fats), and Vegetables (non-starchy ones, which can be eaten freely). Each week, you will also get to include Flex™ meals (one breakfast, one lunch, one dinner, and one to two snacks) that you either prepare on your own or have when dining out. Flex™meals allow you to add flexibility to your program while still following the Nutrisystem meal plan guidelines.
In addition to the Nutrisystem meal plan, you are encouraged to complete three 10-minute bouts of exercise each day, known as My Daily 3. Counseling, for those who want it, is available and included with all Nutrisystem programs. Nutrisystem offers a free tracking app (NuMi) as a companion to the Nutrisystem program.
Weight loss: With the recommended fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, this program is considered a well-balanced approach to weight loss. In a clinical study, participants on the Nutrisystem plan lost an average of 11.6 pounds in their first four weeks. The average results of two clinical studies on the Nutrisystem D® program showed that participants living with diabetes lost an average of 14 pounds at three months and reduced their A1C by 1.02%.
Concerns: Participants using pre-packaged meals may need additional help to learn good nutrition, which makes maintaining weight loss difficult once they return to buying or preparing food on their own. Counselors are also readily available throughout the program to educate about nutrition and good eating habits, so participants may find it difficult to do this on their own after stopping the program.
Membership is free. Pre-packaged meal costs vary depending on your order preferences.
How does it work? The WW program, WW Freestyle™, builds on the SmartPoints® plan and gives you more flexibility. WW Freestyle gives you the freedom to eat, without tracking or measuring, from a robust list of delicious and satisfying foods while you still successfully lose weight. While everything is on the menu with WW, the WW Freestyle program features an expanded list of more than 200 zero points foods, including eggs, corn, all fish and seafood, skinless chicken breast, skinless turkey breast, non-fat plain yogurt, beans, peas, lentils and tofu.
The SmartPoints system promotes a healthier eating pattern and aligns with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The SmartPoints system translates complex nutrition information into one simple number, giving each food and beverage a SmartPoints value based on calories, saturated fat, sugar, and protein. You are given a personalized Daily SmartPoints target based on your height, weight, age, and gender in addition to a Weekly SmartPoints target. For greater flexibility, up to four unused SmartPoints can automatically roll over each day, allowing you to use them as you wish on a later day.
You can follow the WW program in person at weekly group meetings and/or online. For more information, please visit WeightWatchers.com.
Weight-loss: WW inspires and guides its members towards a healthier way of life. By following the program, members can expect to lose one to two pounds per week. WW is one of the few programs with weight-loss results that have been clinically proven repeatedly through research studies.
Concerns: While Leaders have lived the experience (all Leaders have lost weight on WW and have kept it off) and are trained in behavioral methods to support weight loss, they are not licensed dietitians. Therefore, those with special dietary requirements should consult with a physician about choosing WW. Another concern is that WW describes foods with a low risk of overeating as having a zero-point value, but it’s important to note that these foods can contain 60-230 calories. Therefore, it is crucial to consume them in moderation.