WebMD Medical News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Jan. 3, 2013 — Is weight loss one of your New Year’s resolutions?

If so, you might get some valuable guidance from a new survey of more than 9,000 Consumer Reports readers who have been there, done that.

The readers ranked do-it-yourself plans and commercial plans.

MyFitnessPal, a free web site and smartphone app, got top satisfaction marks in the survey.

Weight Watchers got the highest satisfaction marks of the four commercial diet plans rated by dieters.

“What you are seeing here is the judgment of people who have been on the diets,” says Nancy Metcalf, senior program editor for Consumer Reports.

The ratings are not based on the safety of the diet nor on nutrition experts’ assessments.

The satisfaction scores took into account the cost of the plan, ease of use, and weight loss, Metcalf says.

There were enough responses to tally results for 13 diet plans and tools.

The full results are published in the February issue of Consumer Reports.

How the Plans Stack Up

Of a possible 100 points, here is how the four commercial diet plans rated by readers fared:

  • Weight Watchers, 74. The plan assigns a “PointsPlus” value to each food based on the nutrient content. It encourages physical activity. Users get support at meetings or online.
  • Medifast, 70. This is a low-calorie meal replacement plan.
  • Jenny Craig, 66. The approach includes branded meal replacements and personal consultations with a staff member.
  • Nutrisystem, 56. This approach includes branded meal replacements and online tools for weight control.

Nine do-it-yourself plans were rated. Here is how they fared on the same 100-point satisfaction scale.

  • MyFitnessPal, 83. This free web site and smartphone app includes a food and exercise diary.
  • Paleo Diet, 80. This ”eat-like-a-caveman” approach includes eating lean meats, fruit and fish, and non-starchy vegetables. Users avoid cereal grains, legumes, dairy, and processed foods.
  • Mediterranean Diet, 77. Users eat plant-based meals with olive oil and limit dairy, red meat, and refined carbohydrates such as sweets.
  • SparkPeople, 76. This online app tracks food and exercise and offers menu plans.
  • South Beach Diet, 72. Users focus on healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Glycemic Index Diet, 71. The approach focuses on eating foods that do not cause blood sugar to spike quickly.
  • Low-Carb Diet, 71. This diet focuses on general restriction of carbohydrate-containing foods.
  • Atkins Diet, 70. Followers restrict carbohydrate-containing foods initially. Then they gradually re-introduce some.
  • Slim-Fast, 60. Users eat or drink Slim-Fast shakes, bars, and snacks. They also eat some ”regular” food.

Weight Loss, Satisfaction Not Linked

“Weight loss didn’t correlate well with satisfaction,” Metcalf says. Dieters balanced weight loss with other factors, she says, such as how easy the plan was to follow.

Overall, men lost more than women did, she found. Overall, the median loss (half more, half less) was 18 pounds for men and 15 for women. However, that loss was often enough to move from the obese category to overweight or the overweight to healthy weight category.

Those people on Medifast lost more than those on any other diet. Men lost 20 to 43 pounds; women, 14 to 40.

Lessons From Dieters

Dieters were most satisfied with plans they could stick with, Metcalf says.

That suggests that people considering weight loss plans should look at the approach before deciding, she says. For instance, would you fare better on a plan in which you do most of the cooking? Or would you be more likely to follow one that provides the food?

Research suggests those who track their intake do better, Metcalf says. Some programs, including MyFitnessPal and Weight Watchers, emphasize that and make it easy, she says.

Two Experts Weigh In

“This study provides a good view of weight loss in that it acknowledges that no one diet is for everyone, realistic expectations result in greater success, and finding an eating pattern that meets your lifestyle is key to long-term success,” says Connie Diekman, RD, MEd, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis.

“The study identifies what we have long known: Losing weight is not the goal. The goal is keeping the weight off,” says Diekman, a past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

To do that, she says, it’s crucial to know your likes, dislikes, routines, and challenges to your routine.

Next, assess what you need to lose, what changes you can make, and then find the ”right” program that fits your life, she says.

The survey will help dietitians understand what people are looking for and what diet approaches work for them, says Andrea N. Giancoli, RD, MPH, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

She is not surprised that MyFitnessPal came out well. “Apps [for diets] kind of rule; they are all over the place now,” she says.

She did have one caution: “The Paleo diet concerns me because of the food groups ruled out,” she says. The plan suggests avoiding dairy, for instance. While there are substitutes, such as almond yogurts and other products, she says there is no need to avoid dairy unless you are allergic or intolerant.