Dieting is like trying to make an extremely complex dish ― something like eggs benedict of macarons ― by following a recipe.
The most effective weight loss program, on the other hand, is like an in-depth course, designed and taught by a world-class culinary arts instructor, on how to make the dish.
Which approach do you think will be more successful?
Studies show people are both more likely to stick with a weight loss program and lose more weight when using a weight loss program compared to dieting alone.
Weight loss programs provide two elements that dieting on your own lacks:
- Structure ― A good weight loss program provides you with a step-by-step, day-by-day personalized plan for reaching your goals.
- Support ― The best weight loss program also will include personalized coaching to guide you through challenges and keep you accountable and motivated.
Now that we’ve seen the benefits of a weight loss program, let’s look at how and when weight loss programs work.
How do weight loss programs work?
To a great extent, all weight loss is ultimately a matter of calories consumed versus calories burned. When you eat more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight, and when you burn more calories than you consume, you’ll lose weight.
So, all of the best healthy weight loss programs work based on the same basic premise: You must create a calorie deficit in order to lose weight.
You can create a calorie deficit in three ways:
- Take in fewer calories while maintaining your current exercise routine and activity level
- Increase your exercise and activity to burn more calories while eating the same diet
- Combine a restricted-calorie diet with increased exercise to maximize weight loss
So, the simplest answer to “How do weight loss programs work?” is: by helping people create a calorie deficit that is sufficient to produce weight loss.
Beyond that, however, weight loss diet programs vary as widely as fingerprints and snowflakes in terms of the specific approach they employ to create a calorie deficit ― the program’s individual philosophy and macronutrient targets.
So, let’s break this into two separate questions: “How does weight loss work?” (the universal strategy behind all weight loss); and “How do weight loss programs work?” (the specific tactics weight loss programs use to achieve the strategy).
We will look at each topic individually.
1) How does weight loss work?
As we’ve already noted, all weight loss works on a recipe of calories in versus calories out.
For many years, there was a relatively simple mathematical formula for weight loss that many dieters know well.
Based on a paper by Dr. Max Wishnofsky in 1958 and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it posited that a person had to burn around 3,500 calories more than they took in to lose one pound of body weight.
For most of the 50 years that followed, it was widely accepted that a person could lose about one pound per week by cutting an extra 500 calories per day from their diet, since 500 calories a day times seven days equals 3,500 calories.
However, researchers at the National Institutes of Health have recently concluded that the 3,500-calorie formula doesn’t work.
Something told them the formula was flawed when they reviewed decades of anecdotal evidence that dieters following the formula were not losing weight at the rate promised.
So, the NIH enlisted the help of mathematician Kevin Hall, who revised the formula to account for “metabolic adaptation,” changes in how the human body burns calories ― slowing metabolism ― as it adapts to dieting and exercise.
“The biggest flaw with the 500-calorie rule is that it assumes weight loss will continue in a linear fashion over time,” Hall told Runner’s World. “That’s not the way the body responds. The body is a very dynamic system, and a change in one part of the system always produces changes in other parts.”
According to Hall’s calculations, a person has to cut or burn closer to 7,000 calories to produce a pound of weight loss.
The National Institutes of Health even used Hall’s findings to create a Body Weight Planner food and activity tool to help dieters see how many calories they should eat per day to reach their weight loss goals based on their current weight and exercise routine.
It is accompanied by a SuperTracker tool that provides a personalized meal plan based on your calorie results from the Body Weight Planner.
“I suppose some people will be bummed out,” Hall said of the higher number of calories required to make weight loss programs work. “But we believe it’s better to have an accurate assessment of what you might lose.”
The more accurate number also may help dieters have the realistic expectations and patience needed to stick with a nutrition program for weight loss for the long-term so it has a chance to work, no matter how long it takes to reach their goals.
Now that we’ve seen how weight loss works, let’s take a take a look at how specific weight loss diet programs work.
2) How do weight loss programs work?
As mentioned above, even though all weight loss is based on the same strategy (creating a calorie deficit), different weight loss food programs use a wide range of philosophies and features to create the deficit, as well as macronutrient targets ― the nutritional mix they believe will best produce effective weight loss.
Here’s a review of how some popular at home weight loss programs work:
- Foods and beverages are assigned point values based on their nutritional merits
- Members count points and stick to a daily target based on their gender, weight, height and age
- Members choose from an online-only program, or upgrade, for an additional cost, with meetings and/or personal coaching
- Some foods are restricted, including sugars and simple carbohydrates such as white bread, potatoes and rice
- Members buy food from the program, including low-carb meal kits, frozen meals, shakes, bars, treats and fresh meal ingredients
- Some foods are restricted; allowed foods include lean protein, high-fiber foods and low-glycemic carbs
- Members eat six times a day ― a small meal or snack every two to three hours
- Members buy food from the program, including breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks
The LOVIDIA Way
- No foods are off limits; instead, the program emphasizes smart choices and healthy food swaps
- Up to several days a week, on “Eat-Less Days,” customers eat only about one-third of their typical daily caloric intake
- To avoid metabolic reset (where metabolism slows down in response to lower calorie consumption), customers enjoy at least one normal eating day between Eat-Less Days
- Lovidia Hunger-Control Supplements, bars and hearts reduce hunger and cravings to improve program adherence
- All customers receive personalized coaching as an included feature
As you can see from just these few examples, there are both similarities in the way the highest rated weight loss programs work as well as significant differences.
Other weight loss diet programs such as Jenny Craig, Slim-Fast, Medifast, BistroMD and the South Beach Diet follow the basic formula of calorie reduction, but each program also offers unique features such as packaged foods, nutrition education, and coaching.
The same is true of doctor weight loss programs. There are literally thousands of weight loss clinics across the country, including physicians weight loss programs, that follow the basic weight loss recipe of balanced nutrition, calorie restriction and regular exercise to create a calorie deficit but vary in the specific tactics they use.
What is the best weight loss program?
Everybody’s body is unique, so the weight loss program that works for your best friend or your sister may not work for you.
As Alexandra Sifferlin writes in Time, “Individual responses to different diets ― from low fat and vegan to low carb and paleo ― vary enormously,” adding that “… scientists are showing that the key to weight loss appears to be highly personalized.”
So, rather than asking what’s the best weight loss program, the better question is, “Which weight loss program will work for me?” And that’s exactly the question we’ll help you answer in the next section.
Having said that, though, there are certain elements that any successful weight loss program should have.
The most effective weight loss program:
- Sets realistic expectations ― striving for a supermodel body is a surefire way to suffer a letdown
- Is simple and easy to stick with ― if a program seems too complex, it is
- Uses nutritional science, not “willpower” ― any program that forces you to constantly fight hunger is doomed to fail
- Focuses on your overall health and lifestyle habits, not just what you eat
- Stresses the role of sleep, stress management and daily exercise in weight loss and management
- Offers coaching, motivation and support to help you past obstacles and plateaus
- Has proven results
Since this is a broad topic, we cover each of these points and more in much greater detail in a dedicated post titled, “What is the best weight loss program?” Give it a read!
Which weight loss program will work for me?
In many ways, answering the question, “Which weight loss program will work for me?” depends as much on you than the program itself.
According to Frank Sacks, a weight loss researcher and professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “Some people on a diet program lose 60 pounds and keep it off for two years, and other people follow the same program religiously, and they gain 5 pounds.”
That’s why the “best weight loss program for me” is one that treats you as an individual and accounts for personal factors such as your health, your activity level, and your likes and dislikes.
Ask yourself these questions when considering a weight loss program:
How much weight do I want to lose?
The more clear you are about your goals, the more targeted your program can be in helping you get there. And the more targeted the program is, the more likely you are to reach your goals.
How long will it take?
When it comes to weight loss, slow and steady wins the race every time. Studies have shown people who lose too much weight, too quickly, almost always gain the weight back. Choose a program that fits your timeframe for reaching your goals.
That’s why the LOVIDIA Way stresses gradual, sustainable weight loss ― 1 to 2 pounds per week (though your weight loss may be faster at the start of a program) or 5 to 10 percent of your starting weight within 3 months.
Am I physically able to do a weight loss program?
Ask your doctor to review any medical conditions you have or medications you are taking that might impact your results or be affected by the requirements of the weight loss program. The best weight loss program is always the safest weight loss program.
What level of support will be best for me?
No matter which weight loss program you choose, you are going to run into obstacles. There will be work and family stress that drains motivation, plateaus that cause frustration, and holiday get-togethers filled with temptations.
Choosing a program like The LOVIDIA Way that includes personal coaching will assure that you have the support and motivation you need to make it through rough patches.
Is it a program you can live with?
Be honest with yourself about your food preferences and your willingness to adjust your eating habits. A weight loss program shouldn’t seem like punishment.
Beware of programs that force you to starve yourself, give up your favorite foods, eat packaged foods for months on end, or eat foods you don’t like.
The same goes for exercise. If a program pushes you to exercise too hard, you’ll spend every minute of it dreaming about quitting … until you do quit.
How much time do I have for a weight loss program?
Some weight loss programs are time consuming. They may require you to spend time counting points, measuring portions, or learning a whole new way of cooking.
When asking “Which weight loss program will work for me?” think about how much time you can commit in your day, every day, for the work involved with a particular weight loss program.
In general, the simpler a program is, the less burden it is on your time, the more likely you are to stick with it. The most effective weight loss program is one that’s easiest to fit into your life.
Are online weight loss programs effective?
The Internet is chock full of tools and information that empowers people to lose weight, including access to great online weight loss programs like The LOVIDIA Way.
Online weight loss programs offer features like grocery lists, recipes, week-by-week meal plans, articles on fitness and nutrition, live support, and even one-on-one counseling and coaching. Best of all, you can do a weight loss program at home!
We cover the benefits of online weight loss programs in greater detail in this dedicated post about online weight loss programs.
Are there weight loss programs without surgery?
Of course there are weight loss programs without surgery!
For most people, weight loss surgery, also called bariatric surgery, is a last resort after they’ve tried a nutrition program for weight loss without surgery.
There are several different types of weight loss or bariatric surgery. Here’s a look at some of the most common types of weight loss surgery:
Gastric bypass weight loss surgery: In gastric bypass surgery, the patient’s stomach is divided into a small upper pouch and a larger lower pouch, and the smaller pouch is connected directly to the small intestine.
This significantly reduces the amount of food the patient’s stomach can hold, since food is directed to the smaller pouch and “bypasses” the rest of the stomach.
The idea of how gastric bypass weight loss surgery works is that, due to the smaller stomach capacity, the patient will eat less after surgery.
Adjustable gastric band weight loss surgery: In gastric band surgery, the surgeon places a ring with an inner inflatable band around the top of the patient’s stomach to create a small pouch.
Similar to gastric bypass surgery, this is designed to make the patient feel full after eating a small amount of food.
Gastric sleeve weight loss surgery: Gastric sleeve surgery goes a step further than gastric bypass or gastric band surgery by actually removing a large portion of the patient’s stomach so that all that remains is a narrow “sleeve.”
The concept of how gastric sleeve weight loss surgery works is similar the idea behind other types of weight loss surgery ― the patient can only eat small amounts of food at any given time.
It is believed that Gastric sleeve surgery also reduces production of ghrelin, a stomach hormone that drives hunger.
Electric implant weight loss surgery: In electrical implant weight loss surgery, a small device is implanted in the patient’s abdomen.
The device delivers electrical pulses to the vagus nerve, which tells the brain when the stomach is full. The patient can control the device to try to reduce hunger and control eating.
All weight loss surgery requires a patient to limit how much she eats after surgery ― and all weight loss surgery comes with health risks and side effects. Common side effects of weight loss surgery include nausea, vomiting, bloating, diarrhea, increased gas and dizziness. Another possible side effect is the formation of gallstones due to losing weight too quickly.
Due to the health risks, weight loss surgery is usually reserved for those who are extremely obese (body mass index of 30 or more) and/or have serious health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease caused by being overweight.
Does insurance cover weight loss programs?
Health insurance plans vary widely in coverage, so there is no easy “yes” or “no” answer when asking, “Does insurance cover weight loss programs?” It should also be noted that federal regulation of health insurance is subject to change at any time.
The Affordable Care Act, passed during the Obama administration and still in effect as of publication of this post, requires insurance companies to cover obesity screening and counseling at no cost to policyholders.
Free obesity screening is part of the Affordable Care Act’s emphasis on preventive care ― covered services designed to identify risks factors that contribute to chronic disease.
The idea is that screening to detect whether a patient is overweight gives health care providers an opportunity to develop a treatment plan that can help the patient lose weight and, thereby, reduce the risk of obesity-related health problems such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension and arthritis.
It is important to point out here that not all health insurance policies are Affordable Care Act compliant. Some insurance providers have chosen to opt out of the ACA “marketplace.”
However, any health insurance policy sold on a state health insurance marketplace will cover obesity screening and counseling. If screening shows a policyholder’s body mass index (BMI) to be over 30, the policyholder then qualifies for free (covered) weight loss counseling services.
Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act is not terribly specific about what these counseling services should encompass.
And the picture of does insurance cover weight loss programs becomes even murkier when it comes to actual treatment of obesity ― including the cost of participating in a weight loss program ― depending to a great extent on where a policyholder lives and the plan they have.
According to the Obesity Society, only four states ― California, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Michigan ― plus the District of Columbia chose benchmark plans that require insurance to cover weight loss programs as an essential health benefit.
Twenty-two states, including the four mentioned above, chose benchmark plans that require insurance cover bariatric surgery, while 28 states chose plans that cover neither weight loss programs nor bariatric surgery.
What’s more, even people whose insurance covers weight loss programs are never formally diagnosed and, therefore, do not access the services outlined in their insurance plans.
“This could go hand-in-hand with coverage: If doctors aren’t being paid to treat obesity, they may not see any benefit in making a formal diagnosis,” says Scott Kahan, spokesperson for The Obesity Society.
“These two barriers to care ― no insurance for medical weight loss support and lack of initial diagnosis ― can negatively impact people with obesity or overweightas they seek support from those most adept, trained weight-loss professionals,” adds Kahan.
To determine whether your insurance covers weight loss programs, check with your company’s benefits director or call your insurance provider directly.
Which weight loss programs are for beginners?
If you are a beginner to weight loss diet programs, there are a few things you should know and accept from the start.
One is that, in a sense, all weight loss food programs are for beginners ― meaning that if a weight loss program is effective and works, you shouldn’t need to use another weight loss program in the future.
Looking at this another way, if you are very “experienced” with weight loss programs ― if you have been on several different programs without success ― either you have chosen the wrong weight loss programs in the past, or you are not following the programs properly.
So, if you are a beginner, it’s important to choose the best healthy weight loss program from the start. Specifically, you’ll want to examine the program’s features, safety, costs and results based on clinical trials.
For tips on evaluating weight loss diet programs, read our previous post, Everything You Need to Know about Weight Loss Programs ― Including Which Is Best for You.
Which weight loss programs are for type 2 diabetics?
For a review of weight loss programs for type 2 diabetes, click here.
Are there weight loss programs for busy moms?
There are lots of challenges for weight loss programs for busy moms, not the least of which is … moms are busy!
Busy moms don’t have time to spend hours planning out meals, counting calories or working their butts off in the gym.
So, the best program for busy moms is the easiest weight loss program.
On the surface, then, it would seem weight loss food programs that offer packaged meals and snacks would be perfect for busy moms, but if you’re a busy mom who also prepares most of the meals in your house, packaged foods present a problem: What do you feed your family?
Not only do you have to spend all that time (you’re busy ― you don’t have time!) preparing separate meals for your family, you also have to watch them eating the food you lovingly made while you eat food that came in a cardboard box.
For this reason, the best at home weight loss programs for busy moms are ones that offer food choices mom and the whole family can eat and enjoy.
We must point out here that children and minors should never follow a restricted-calorie diet or weight loss program unless one has been recommended by a doctor for medical reasons.
But there are plenty of at home weight loss programs such as The LOVIDIA Way that are based on nutritional balance and portion control ― in other words, sensible eating ― and since no foods are “off limits,” a family can still enjoy meals together.
Which are the best weight loss programs for athletes?
Athletes have to be especially cautious about weight loss programs.
An athlete’s body uses up huge amounts of energy. Strenuous exercise and training breaks down muscle, wears at joint tissue, and strains the heart and lungs. So, an athlete’s body needs calories and nutrients to feed muscles and fuel organ function and tissue repair.
Calories are the energy found in food. Your body burns calories for energy. Athletes have to be careful about weight loss programs that require them to drastically cut calories or eliminate certain foods from their diets to lose weight.
If an athlete isn’t getting enough calories or is missing key nutrients because of a restricted-calorie diet, she will feel weak, lack endurance, and be more prone to injury.
Therefore, the best weight loss programs for athletes are ones that stress balanced eating, with plenty of vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats.
What if I have more questions?
When in doubt, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider. Tell him or her you’re concerned about your weight and that you’re considering making a lifestyle change. Write down any questions or concerns you have and bring them with you to the appointment.
Bring literature from any weight loss plans you are considering so your physician can help you assess their safety and which program is likely to work best for you. This is especially true if you have a medical condition such as type 2 diabetes or take any medication that affects your weight.
Finally, you’ll find more information on weight loss programs in the related posts below: