The weight loss business generates massive revenue, yet the industry seems to have little effect on waistlines. Recently, researchers took an in-depth look at the efficacy of popular weight loss programs.
The purpose of the study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (2015; 162 , 501–12), was to examine 32 nationally marketed weight loss programs and decipher which of them primary care physicians should promote to patients. The study featured popular programs like Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, Medifast and OPTIFAST. The researchers analyzed 45 studies that lasted at least 12 months.
Only 11 of the 32 programs had previously been studied in depth, and of the 11, only two met the highest standard of testing. Investigators found that the most successful programs were moderately effective. Jenny Craig produced the best results: At the 12-month mark, adherents had lost 4.9% more weight than individuals in a nonintervention control group.
Why don’t popular weight loss programs work?
Jade Teta, ND, coauthor of the book Lose Weight Here: The Metabolic Secret to Target Stubborn Fat and Fix Your Problem Areas (2015 Rodale), offers solutions for how you can help your clients lose weight:
- Often, fitness pros will tell people either to do what has worked for them, or to do what they read in a popular book, says Teta. These suggestions ignore individual metabolic realities and psychological sensitivities. One-size-fits-all does not work, and it never has.
- Dietary and exercise plans must honor personal preferences. If clients do not like what they are doing, they won’t continue to do it. Rather than adopting the stance of “you should never eat this; only eat that,” give clients as much of what they love as possible while still getting the result.
- Most people think that in order to achieve a balanced metabolism you must first reduce calories and lose weight. This approach ensures an unbalanced metabolism, Teta says. Instead, the goal should be to achieve a balanced metabolism first. This way, clients are more likely to achieve sustained calorie deficits—because hunger and cravings are minimized—and then lose weight. Once you teach clients this new model, they become their own advocates and seek ways to balance their metabolism.
- Research is pretty clear that we can focus on only one to three changes at a time. The trick is to determine keystone habits that, when changed, make other habits easier to change. For example, getting more sleep leads to less hunger, fewer cravings, and more energy and motivation for exercise.