Diet Programs

by Charles Platkin, PhD

Weight Watchers
11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10011

Members: 1.5 million members attend one of more than 48,000 Weight Watchers meetings in 30 countries worldwide.

Locations: 48,000 meetings weekly.

Dieting Style: Group support, weekly meetings, behavior-based.

Best Fit: Those who don’t mind talking in a group about their diets.

Dieting Method: A science-based weight-loss program that includes two food plans, an exercise plan, cognitive behavior skills and group support in weekly meetings. They’re known for their “points” system, which is based on a combination of calories, fat and fiber content.

Exercise: They offer a points system that allows members to exchange food for activity.

Staff: Meetings are led by trained leaders, all lifetime members of Weight Watchers.

Cost: Registration fee of approximately $15–$20 and a weekly meeting fee of $9.99–$13.99.

Supplements: Available, but not required for participation.

Weigh-ins: Yes.

Program Development: Registered dietitians make up the Program Development team. The Scientific Advisory Board is made up of medical experts, including M.D.s and Ph.D.s in a wide range of areas pertaining to food, health and nutrition. The Scientific Advisory Board provides counsel regarding program content.

Commitment or Contract: None. Fees are paid meeting-by-meeting. Sometimes there are special offers.

Comments: Very effective. They are the leader.

200 Welsh Road, Horsham, PA 19044

Members: 2.7 million members.

Locations: Online or telephone only — 24/7.

Dieting Style: Portion-controlled, prepared meals.

Best Fit: Busy people who need convenience.

Dieting Method: 120 different foods including breakfast, lunch, dinner, desserts and snacks. Not frozen. The foods offer “optimal amounts of protein, fat and low glycemic index carbohydrates.” Membership is free, and you can have a personal counselor help you on the phone or online.

Exercise: Yes. Body Nourish is the exercise component of the NutriSystem program. Membership is free, and members receive free counseling either online or by phone.

Staff: They have a team of 100 weight-loss counselors with degrees or course work in nutrition, psychology, social work, education and exercise. All counselors receive intensive training prior to accepting calls and additional ongoing training on a regular basis. The nutrition supervisor, who has a bachelor’s in dietetics, is in charge of counselor training. Counselors answer phone calls and e-mails and engage in live online chats. Advanced medical or nutritional concerns are sent to the Health Care Consultant Department, which is overseen by a registered dietitian. The staff includes a nurse, a nutritionist, an exercise physiologist and a medical consultant who is an M.D.

Cost: The 28-day NutriSystem Nourish package costs $10 a day, or $289 a month. The meal plan provides four weeks of meals and snacks. You add your own fruits, vegetables and dairy foods. When you order the 28-day program on the auto-delivery option, you also receive free shipping.

Supplements: Yes. Chewable calcium supplements and multivitamins.

Weigh-ins: No, but all clients are required to fill out a profile form that asks their current weight and goal weight. The NutriSystem Web site keeps track of members’ weight loss and goals.

Program Development: The NutriSystem program was developed by Dr. Jay Satz and his staff of nutritionists and dietitians. It is based on international research on the glycemic index (based on the work of Jenny Brand-Miller), weight control and overall health. Staff members include Satz, executive vice president for research and development; Dr. Gary Foster, professor of medicine, Temple University School of Medicine; and Wayne Satz, M.D., assistant chairman of clinical medicine, Temple University School of Medicine.

Commitment or Contract: A 30-day return policy on any unused portion of the food received.

Comments: This is not the same NutriSystem you might remember from many years ago. They have really grown and improved.

Jenny Craig
5770 Fleet St., Carlsbad, CA 92008

Members: 100,000 clients weekly.

Locations: 641 centers and an online/telephone program.

Dieting Style: Personal consulting and portion-controlled meals.

Best Fit: Busy person who needs support.

Dieting Method: Portion-controlled food and a personalized “food/body/mind approach.” Food is an additional and required purchase. There are approximately 70 Jenny’s Cuisine entrees and snacks.

Exercise: Consultants are certificated through The Cooper Institute to customize clients’ fitness plans based on their individual activity stage.

Staff: There are four nutrition technicians who assist centers with clients’ individual dietary needs and concerns. Each non-credentialed employee attends a comprehensive weeklong training course and becomes certified by The Cooper Institute. All employees also attend continuing education classes in areas such as nutrition, exercise, motivation and stress management to help them keep abreast of Jenny Craig Program and industry developments.

Cost: Six weeks for $36, six months for $199 and one year is $399. Plus the cost of food, which averages $11–$15 per day.

Supplements: Yes. Supplements are available and encouraged to maintain the nutritional balance of the daily menus. They cost an additional $3 per week but are not required.

Weigh-ins: Yes, plus body measurements are taken.

Program Development: The program was designed by a team of registered dietitians and approved by a Medical Advisory Board, whose recommendations reflect the latest research on physical activity and lifestyle change for weight management and disease prevention. Current board members include Barbara J. Rolls, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University; Steven N. Blair, P.E.D., The Cooper Institute; and Frank Greenway, M.D., Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

Commitment or Contract: No long-term commitments other than prepayment. There is a window of approximately three days (varies by state) to cancel with a full refund for the program fee and food.

Comments: Emerging as a leader in the area of packaged food and weight loss.

TOPS Club (Take Off Pounds Sensibly)
P.O. Box 070360, Milwaukee, WI 53207-0360

Members: 200,000.

Locations: About 10,000 chapters.

Dieting Style: Group support.

Best Fit: People who work well in groups and are budget-minded.

Dieting Method: Weekly meetings at chapters throughout the U.S. and Canada include private weigh-ins, positive reinforcement, motivation and professionally prepared programs, featuring information on nutrition, exercise and healthy lifestyles.

Exercise: Yes.

Staff: TOPS is administered by a nine-member board of directors. A staff of 423 area captains, 128 coordinators and 12 regional directors assists skilled volunteer chapter leaders. Questions are answered at TOPS centers, by phone and e-mail by staff with input from credentialed professionals as necessary.

Cost: $24 annually ($30 in Canada) plus nominal chapter dues of 50 cents to $5.

Supplements: No.

Weigh-ins: Yes (weekly).

Program Development: Founded in 1948 by Milwaukee homemaker Esther Manz.

Commitment or Contract: No.

Comments: Friendly, encouraging and a not-for-profit.

L A Weight Loss
747 Dresher Road, Suite 150; Horsham, PA 19044

Members: 150,000.

Locations: 900 worldwide.

Dieting Style: One-on-one counseling with customized meal plans.

Best Fit: Those who have the time to investigate their local center. Centers vary because they are franchise operations.

Dieting Method: Personal coaches focus on three-tiered approach — weight loss, a six-week stabilization phase and finally maintenance. Personalized meal plans. No food is sold.

Exercise: Yes. Part of customized program.

Staff: There are five counselors available at each center. Counselors undergo training before counseling customers. Most are former or existing customers.

Cost: From $7–9 per week (based on a minimum 52-week program).

Supplements: Yes, L A Weight Loss sells supplements and bars for the program, but these are not required at all locations. The cost varies but is approximately $4 per day.

Weigh-ins: Yes.

Program Development: L A Weight Loss is backed by weight-loss pioneer Harold Katz, who previously founded NutriSystem in 1971. The company employs 10 registered dietitians and a national medical director, Dr. Boyd Lyles, M.D.

Commitment or Contract: Yes. The company has many franchisees, and the commitment varies from one area to another. You pay in advance, so make sure you understand the commitment and the counselor availability before you join.

Comment: The company message seems inconsistent, and if cost or budgeting is a factor, make sure to get pricing in advance. If you can’t obtain this information over the phone, don’t waste your time.

Zone Diet At Home
590 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10022

Members: 2,500.

Locations: Online or by phone.

Dieting Style: Convenience, prepared foods.

Best Fit: The busy, particular eater who doesn’t cook.

Dieting Method: Delivers prepared foods to your home. Following the Zone principle, the meals are made up of 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fat and 30 percent protein.

There are several options of meals shipped once weekly: Lifestyle Program (fresh, not frozen, meals); Optimum Results Program (freshly prepared meals shipped frozen); FroZone (gourmet frozen meals); and Kosher FroZone (gourmet line of OU certified glatt kosher frozen meals).

Exercise: None offered.

Staff: Carol Forman Helerstein, Ph.D., a clinical nutritionist, is available on-call to the customer care staff to answer clients’ questions. The company also provides training sessions to members of the customer care staff.

Customer service representatives are available by telephone from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST; Web-based 24/7 help is available on the company’s Web site.

Cost: $24.99 per day to $41.99 per day (depending on program choice) plus shipping (approximately $40–50 per week).

Supplements: Available, but not required.

Weigh-ins: No.

Program Development: Accredited and experienced chefs, together with a nutritionist and food stylist, develop the meal programs.

Commitment or Contract: You can cancel at any time, but the company will not take back food once it is shipped to the customer.

Comments: Flexible, balanced food options.

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