Need to drop a few pounds—or more than a few? If so, there’s a lot of good news in our new survey of 9,000 dieters and their experiences with 13 weight-loss programs.
We looked at four well-known commercial plans—Jenny Craig, Medifast, Nutrisystems, and Weight Watchers—and nine do-it-yourself (DIY) plans such as the Atkins Diet, Slim Fast, and the South Beach Diet. The survey, one of the largest ever to compare specific diets, allowed us to rate them based on people’s overall satisfaction with the programs. We also looked at the typical amount of weight our dieters said they lost.
The people we surveyed freely chose the diets they used and decided for themselves how long to stay on them. They had to rely on their own motivation or seek a boost from meetings or counseling, but they did not benefit from the frequent reminders, free food, and other methods often used to keep participants in clinical trials until the very end of a study. As a result, our ratings provide a unique view of how the diets work in the real world.
MyFitnessPal (MFP), a free smart phone app and website, got one of the top satisfaction scores. And while Weight Watchers is still the people’s choice, chosen by four out of 10 Consumer Reports’ readers, its scoring on satisfaction is not as impressive as MFP’s.
Here are other highlights from the survey:
Of the nine DIY plans, MFP received an overall satisfaction score of 83 and top marks for maintenance, calorie awareness, and food variety. The Paleo Diet, which instructs dieters to eat like a caveman, received an 80 score, followed by the Mediterranean Diet (77) and SparkPeople (76) which, like MyFitnessPal, is an app and website.
In the commercial category, Weight Watchers got one of the top reader scores (74), followed by Medifast (70), Jenny Craig (66) and Nutrisystem (56). In terms of initial weight loss, Medifast was the only commercial plan to receive an above average rating. In fact, dieters said they lost more weight on the low-calorie Medifast program than any other diet rated by Consumer Reports: a typical weight loss of 20 to 43 pounds for men and 14 to 40 pounds for women. Weight Watchers received top scores for allowing a variety of foods and for encouraging calorie awareness, exercise, and consumption of fruits and vegetables.
What works for weight loss? Psychologists weigh in
As a companion to our survey of dieters, we worked with the American Psychological Association to survey 1,328 licensed psychologists on how they dealt with patients’ weight and weight-loss challenges in their practice. They repeatedly identified emotional factors as not only an important factor in clients’ weight problems but also the major barrier to overcoming them.
Asked what they found helpful, seven of 10 psychologists who worked with patients on their weight problems identified these three strategies as “excellent” or “good”:
Cognitive therapy, which helps people identify and correct dysfunctional thoughts that lead to unhelpful emotions and behaviors. For example, someone who eats a cookie at a party might blame it on a lack of willpower, conclude she’ll never get the weight off, then proceed to eat more cookies. Cognitive therapy would teach the person to think of the cookie as a one-time-only slip-up, because everybody makes mistakes.
Problem-solving aimed at overcoming barriers to weight loss. A patient who says he’s too tired after work to go to the gym might consider, with the therapist’s help, alternatives such as a run or walk at lunchtime or working out in the morning or on weekends.
Mindfulness training, an approach that trains people to allow negative thoughts and emotions to come and go without dwelling on them, and instead concentrate on living and enjoying the moment.
Many of the psychologists said they collaborated with other professionals to help clients with weight problems. Though primary care physicians were the most common partner cited, the psychologists found that colleagues specializing in weight issues, nutritionists, and registered dietitians were the most helpful in addressing weight issues.