How to Choose a Commercial Weight-Loss Program

Weight loss is a multi-billion dollar industry, which, if it actually worked, should have put itself out of business by now.

Of course, anyone, who has ever lost weight (including probably patients who have been through our program), realises that losing weight is one thing – unfortunately, keeping it off is a whole different story.

So all that really counts in any program should be how patients do in the long term and how much weight (if any) participants can actually keep off.

Even more important perhaps would be the question whether clients actually get any healthier (if they do, then what ultimately happens to weight may not really matter that much).

I would argue that even more importantly, weight management programs should, if possible address the root cause of the problem (eating too much is a symptom, not a diagnosis!).

As my readers are well aware, there is certainly a wide range of commercial weight loss programs, services and products to chose from – while some have solid science and considerable evidence behind them, others promise quick and easy results that defy scientific rationale and good medical practice.

So how is the consumer to decide?

Some guidance is provided on Alberta’s MyHealth website, which has the following recommendations to offer (adapted):

Questions to ask before joining a weight loss program:

  • Does the program provide counselling to help me change my eating activities and personal habits?
  • Is the staff made up of qualified counsellors and health professionals, such as nutritionists, registered dietitians, doctors, nurses, psychologists, and exercise physiologists?
  • Is training available on how to deal with times when I may feel stressed and slip back into old habits?
  • Is attention paid to keeping the weight off? How long is this phase?
  • Are food choices flexible and suitable?
  • Are weight goals set with the help of a health professional?
  • What percentage of people complete the program?
  • What is the average weight loss among people who finish the program?
  • What percentage of people have problems or side effects? What are the problems and side effects?
  • Are there fees or costs for additional items, such as dietary supplements?

In addition programs should provide information on:

  • The program and the staff qualifications, including a description of the program content and goals and information about the weight management training, experience, certification, and education of the staff.
  • The risks associated with being overweight or obese and the potential benefits of modest weight loss.
  • The risks associated with the product or program, such as with the program itself or any drugs, devices, dietary supplements, or exercise plans used in the treatment.
  • The information should specify when to talk to a health professional and how much weight is healthy to lose and should explain that a very low-calorie diet may be harmful.
  • Costs, including total program costs, attendance fees, re-entry fees, medical tests, and any nonrefundable costs.
  • The success of the program, such as what percentage of clients meet their weight-loss goals, how much weight they lose, and how long they maintained their new weight.

The key of course is not to just accept boiler plate answers but to question those answers and do your own research on the claims and credentials of the program.

Remember – if it sound’s too good to be true – it is probably a lie!

I would certainly love to hear from my readers on how they were misinformed or duped by commercial weight loss programs – please do not name specific programs but rather describe in general terms some of the experiences you may have had with program X, Y, or Z in the past and the reasons why you think you fell for it.

I’d also be interested in any additional tips and rules that my readers may wish to propose on finding an appropriate program.

Edmonton, Alberta