If anyone’s made a New Year’s resolution to start a diet in 2019, here’s something for you to read. Let me know what you think…anyone tried these diets? What worked for you?
Sneak peek from my new book, rough draft, critiques welcome!
Commercial Weight Loss Programs
Hallmarks of the Modern Commercial Weight Loss Diet
Diet marketers have created a strange reality…they want everyone to be on a diet, even though they know their diet will only work for a fraction of the people that try it. They also know that many of the people who start a diet, don’t need to be on a diet at all. Most people know very little about how dieting or the diet industry works. If more people knew how ineffective dieting really was, the diet industry would disappear. There are thousands of diet books and dozens of branded, trademarked diets. These diets aren’t approved by regulatory agencies, and only in very rare cases are diet marketers held to any standards or liability. One notable exception is the Kimkin Diet. This diet promoted a very low carb, low calorie plan. The Kimkin’s website was filled with fraudulent claims and made-up testimonials. A class-action lawsuit for fraud and unjust enrichment was filed. The courts ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and the owner was ordered to pay over $2 million in restitution. Had this class-action lawsuit not been filed, Kimkins would still be operating today.
Commercial diets are heavily marketed affairs. Diet ads feature thin, happy-looking people who have presumably lost weight using the plan. Celebrity spokesmen are used by the bigger diet companies: Oprah Winfrey, Kirstie Alley, Marie Osmond, Valerie Bertinelli, Queen Latifah, and others have graced the airwaves extolling the virtues of one diet or another, oftentimes with a spectacular failure or two. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and Nutrisystem are the top-three spenders for TV weight loss commercials; together they spend over $50-million dollars a year.
Modern Diets are heavily branded. Many have their own lines of diet products such as ready-to-eat meals, bars, shakes, snacks, clothing and merchandise. According to MarketResearch.com, the weight loss industry is valued at over $60-billion. Weight Watchers is the leader, raking in profits of over $300-million a year. The names of these diets are household words. Who hasn’t heard of Weight Watchers (now WW™), Jenny Craig, or Atkins? It’s a numbers game for the diet industry…the more people they can lure to their websites, the more money they make. The modern diet is filled with ever-changing buzz-words. “Low-fat” was replaced by “low carb” which has been replaced by “Keto!”.
Most commercial weight loss programs have a large library of books to augment their diet in the form of cookbooks, updated methods, challenges, or “reset” programs. There are also thousands of standalone diet books that are not associated with a commercial weight loss plan. Be careful when reading diet books, many are based on faulty research or fringe methods of weight loss. Buyer beware when embarking on a diet written by an unknown author. Many diet books are written to describe the latest fad in dieting.
Fads diets are those that are widely shared and enjoy intense, though often short-lived, enthusiasm. Fad diets aren’t necessarily unhealthy…Paleo, low-carb, and other widely accepted diets started as fads. A consistent hallmark of modern dieting is the use of viral marketing to promote the latest trends. The latest diet fad is the keto diet. “Keto” is short for ketosis or ketogenic, a diet that’s been used to treat epilepsy since the 1920’s (Paoli, 2013). Modern keto diets are just a rebranding of the low-carb diet fad popularized in the 1980’s. Fad diets often promise effortless weight loss based on pseudoscience.
Commercial Diets Get Results
I know what you’re thinking: “You’ve been saying 95% fail! Why bother?” Yes, most diets do fail, but only at long-term weight maintenance. In the short-term, weight loss diets can do exactly as they are designed.
While trying to determine the best commercial diets for weight loss, clinicians conduct experiments to see which diets work best. Guess what they find time after time? Most weight loss diets work (Bray, 2012). The only thing that sets one diet apart from the others is how well people can adhere to the diet. Diet marketers have been debating the merits of low-carb versus low-fat or other aspects peculiar to one diet over another since the first diet book was written. This is all for show. The diet that will work best is the diet that you can stick to for 4-12 months.
The hardest part about dieting is wading through countless diet websites and picking a good one. Most diet plans boast a near 100% success rate in losing significant amounts of weight over a 4-12-month period. But only if you count the people who do the diet as intended. For every successful dieter, there are 80-90 people who started a diet but couldn’t complete it.
Commercial diet programs are good for people that need structure in their lives. Also, people who’ve tried dieting on their own often turn to a commercial program after failing to lose weight.
There were approximately 16 trademarked/branded diet programs in operation at the time of writing. Some non-trademarked diets appear to be legitimate programs, but upon close examination they are just diet books or websites disguised as commercial programs.
Note: I have not received any compensation from any of these diet companies!
|Brand Name||Where Found; Costs||Style|
|Ideal Protein||Website; $450/week||Low-carb|
|South Beach||Website; $300-400/mo||Low-carb|
Low-calorie, balanced and low-fat meals
|Beachbody||Website; $99+/mo||Portion control + supplements|
|Mayo Clinic Diet||Website; $25/mo||Portion control|
|Slimming World||Website; $10/mo||Portion control|
|Weight Watchers||Website; $20-$50/mo||Calorie counting|
|BistroMD||Website; $100+/week||Low-cal, balanced|
|Jenny Craig||Website; $19.95/mo, $99 Enrollment||Low-cal, low-fat|
|Fast Mimicking Diet||Website; $225/week||Low-cal, balanced|
|HMR Program||Website; ~$100/week||Low-cal, low-fat|
|Medifast||Website; $400+ monthly||Low-cal , balanced/low-fat|
|Nutrisystem||Website; $300-$400/mo||Low-cal, balanced|
|Slim Fast||Website; Various costs||Meal replacement shakes|
My Top Three
If you are looking for a commercial weight loss program, you should narrow your search to these three:
|Plan||Style||Cost||Free Trial||Free Stuff||Easy Access||Active
|Personal Plans||Staff Available|
|Slimming World, US||Various
There were several programs that might be worthy but didn’t make my cut. I didn’t include any diets that require up-front payment (no free trials) to see what the plan entails (Mayo Clinic Diet), or diets that were hard to navigate (Nutritarian). Diets that hard-sell supplements were not considered (Beachbody), nor diets that appeared to be hyped-up marketing ads (Beachbody). Some just seemed too good to be true and used pseudoscience to make claims (Dukan).
It’s very possible I missed a good one…the diet industry is a morass of poorly designed websites, clickbait, and Error 404’s. But I can personally vouch for each of my recommendations.
While weight loss might be possible, I recommend against the following plans due to their extensive use of ultra-processed food and meal replacement shakes/bars.:
Diet plans that feature prepared/delivered meals should raise a red flag for health-conscious people. If you are dead-set on trying one of these, feel free, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Look at reviews and nutritional data of the plans first. To me, these look worse than just eating at McDonald’s. The Western diet is what gets most of us into trouble in the first place, eating the same diet with reduced serving sizes is not going to end well for long term weight stability even if you manage to lose a few pounds quickly. There are much better ways to lose weight than these ultra-processed, ultra-hyped plans.
If you’d like to use one of my recommended programs (or any diet program for that matter), first visit their website and peruse the free information available to see if the plan looks like a match for your personality and lifestyle. Once you’ve decided on a program, sign-up and get a free trial plan or pay for one month. Whatever you decide, just get serious about doing the program as designed. Join the forums, download the apps, start tracking everything you can. If you like structure, you’ll love the three programs I recommended.
Forum Survival Guide
During my weight loss journey, I used diet forums extensively. All the weight loss forums that I once used (ie., Low Carb Friends, Mark’s Daily Apple, and The Cave) have all disappeared over the past 4 or 5 years. Facebook groups are now the standard setting to discuss diets and dieting, but most commercial weight loss programs still offer on-site forums.
Online forums are a great way to get the most out of a diet. You’ll interact with others following a similar path as you. Be forewarned, forum “regulars” will eat you alive if you break protocol. For best results when using forums:
- Use your real name when registering. First name/last initial is fine. Silly aliases will not be taken seriously. If you can assign a picture, use a smiling face picture, don’t be creepy. Cats or flowers are also acceptable. Celebrity faces or muscular body pics are weird.
- Before you make your first post, spend several sessions looking through the posts to get a feel for acceptable behavior.
- Read the forum rules.
- Learn to use the search function. Look for answers to your question before asking, chances are someone’s already asked it many times. Forum regulars get testy when the same question is asked over and over by new members.
- Your first post should be an introduction, there will always be a forum section dedicated to new member introductions.
- Be polite and don’t engage with impolite people.
- DON’T TYPE IN ALL CAPS…this is considered yelling.
- If you make a long post, use paragraphs and proper punctuation, otherwise no one will read.
- Learn the acronyms, ask if you don’t know what is being said; some common acronyms:
- DH is “dear husband,” DW is “dear wife,” SO is “significant other.”
- AFAIK means “as far as I know.”
- TL;DR means “too long; didn’t read.”
- IMHO means “in my humble opinion.”
- Don’t make unhelpful replies unless directly involved in a conversation. It’s not helpful to add a reply such as, “I’d like to know, too.” Or, “Try Google.” Lots of people get email notifications of new comments, and this type of comment is VERY ANNOYING.
- If you start a thread, check for replies. It’s rude to leave people hanging.
- Have fun with it.
Dieting is a seller’s market. With nearly ¾ of the world overweight or obese, it’s child’s play to attract new customers. Smart marketers are always looking for new buzzwords that will generate more clicks and hits, and in turn, more money. The latest fad diet is “keto,” a rebranding of the low-carb diets of the 1980’s. The diet industry relies on attracting new customers and keeping old customers by using all the tricks of mass marketing. Don’t join a program on impulse or because you like the spokesman…research and talk to others before paying. Commercial programs like Atkin’s, WW, or Slimming World are well-structured yet provide flexibility. If you use a commercial diet program, get your money’s worth…take advantage of all the perks, free apps, forums, and personalized support provided. If the program is not working, don’t stick with it for long—find a different diet. If you don’t like any of these, no problem…keep reading and I’ll show you how to devise your own plan that’s even better.
16 thoughts on “Happy New Year, Any Dieters?”
I’ve read somewhere (I know that’s not convincing, but…) where commercial dieting companies film testimonial people (“I lost X pounds & never felt better! people) while they are slim & trim (read: ‘after’ video) and pay them to gain weight (read: ‘before’ photo).
Wouldn’t surprise me a bit. Before and after pics are mostly staged, I’m sure. I remember reading an article with a bunch of before and after pics that were taken just a few minutes apart, after shaving the person, changing lighting, and standing in a different posture they looked 50 pounds lighter.
I would like to know if anyone ever determined whether Bob’s Red Mill Potato Starch was resistant starch? I never saw the results of that scientific lab study on it. As for diets, from my experience there are five important factors: Calorie deficit (you must eat less than you burn), Lower Carb (especially grain carbs, I cut them out as much as possible), High Prebiotic Fiber (inulin, resistant starch, soluble corn fiber, FOS, GOS, etc.), Lots of dark green leafy vegetables (they should fill your plate most of the way, or sometimes just have a big salad in place of a meal), and intermittent fasting (this helped me more than anything in terms of losing weight).
Hi Jeff – I think you’ve nailed the diet part! As to RS and Bob’s Red Mill potato starch…yes, exactly as we thought, very high in RS. Email me and I’ll send you the results.
Bought my first bag last week and both my husband and I are taking it daily (at 1/2tsp now, working on slowly increasing). My husband has IBS and is taking it with a probiotic-I can already see a reduction in his distended stomach, wild lol.
Hey Tim, I am enjoying all these posts. Are you exploring only the most well known? There are some diets out there that are more moderate and aim to keep the metabolism higher while losing fat (and preferably gaining muscle/strength) I like EM2WL (Eat More to Weight Less) and IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros). Both of these focus on eating enough to keep the metabolism humming. Both of them are trying to change the diet culture. Here is an interesting article from IIFYM https://www.iifym.com/abundance-macronutrients-iifym/ …
EM2WL focuses on finding your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) which may be substantially higher than anticipated and doing a 10%-15% cut from there. You may find that your TDEE is 2500 which then means that you will be able to lose fat while eating around 2150-2250 calories. The downside is that it takes time to establish your TDEE and it is mentally challenging to change your mindset to allow yourself to do this as you may initially gain a little fat – although some lose fat as they increase their daily calories.
I find this whole area of study so interesting.
Hi Fiona, glad you like this. It’s kind of hard to put this out there without the context of the whole book, but I like the feedback I get, so I’ll continue to put some of the chapters I’m struggling with through the end of the month. I have a goal of 1 Feb to finalize the entire book in rough draft for the editor, after that I won’t be able to post anymore previews, publishers will search the web and if they find I’ve given away too much free content, it will greatly effect royalties and publishing options.
For straight weight loss, I’m going to recommend Weight Watchers, Slimming World, and Atkins for guided programs. SparkPeople and MyFitnessPal for DIY weight loss apps. And a couple of books for people who don’t want any kind of structure.
I think the books you mention are better for weight maintenance than weight loss. My target audience is first-time dieters or people who’ve failed at dieting. I want them to either get on a commercial program or design their own using an app/website for support. The worst outcomes in dieting are by people who try a diet on their own without a comprehensive plan for tracking weight, calories, or support.
But I definitely encourage people to read all they can and try different things during the journey. I just don’t want to get too far into the weeds beyond calories and food choices. Once people get into it, they will be tempted by so many different diets and tracking methods their head will explode, lol.
Happy New Year!
I was going to suggest MyFitnessPal (and their forum is active, with a good base of long time maintainers). Glad to see that you’ll be including this site in your book 🙂
That is great to hear about the resistant starch results on Bob’s Red Mill Potato Starch. I’ve been using it faithfully everyday, just assuming that it was, but it is great to know that it is high in resistant starch. I’ve found that it helps with cravings. When I take it a few hours before a party, I feel far fewer desires to overeat at the party, than when I don’t take it before a party.
Tim–I am curious as to why you didn’t include the Mediterranean Diet in your list of good diet options. I have heard from several MDs (especially cardiologists) that that is an excellent diet that people can stick to and that is healthy. In fact, I was thinking of trying it. I just came upon this review from Medicine Net and thought it might interest you:
Hi, Curtisy – Glad you asked that! When I first started this project, I fully intended to direct dieters to the many plans that are out there. What I found was that the best diets, ie. Mediterranean, DASH, Paleo, or Intermittent Fast-type diets are not trademarked/commercial programs…they are just “themes” in dieting. In Part 3 of the book, Weight Maintenance, I explore all these “ways of eating” that can lead to weight stability. And later in Part 2, Weight Loss, I describe some self-directed diets that can utilize Mediterranean or other types of diets.
Another hard thing I’m dealing with is trying to find good examples of such diets. There are literally hundreds of diet books discussing Mediterranean and every other diet under the sun. It’s no wonder we are in such a mess with obesity.
Happy New Year!
Happy New Year to you as well, Tim! I agree with you about the morass of conflicting information about diets and ways of eating…glad you will be delving into more of this, and hopefully bringing more clarity to the issue. BTW, there is an interesting book called ‘Diet Cults: the Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads’ that aligns with what you are writing and might give you some additional ideas.
Thanks, I’ll read it after I’m done writing. I have to put myself on a reading ban when I start writing, except for research papers.
I understand about the reading ban! Just to be clear, I have not read all of the Diet Cults book–just skimmed some of it. You also have your fill of reading with the research papers alone…yikes! The volume of scientific articles on this subject is mind-boggling.
I’ve read it and it’s one of the best ‘dieting’ books out there. It’s also a fast read-definitely worth the time to read 🙂
FMD (Fast Mimicking Diet) works great, but the commercial version is expensive ($250 for frieze dried soup). Was on web looking for doing it myself and came across the Potato hack. Kindle book a great read. I’m all in , will start Monday. A little ketchup is ok i think?