Lose weight your way

9,000 readers rate 13 diet plans and tools

Consumer Reports magazine: February 2013

Need to drop a few pounds—or more than a few? If so, there’s a lot of good news in our new survey of thousands of dieters and their experiences with 13 weight-loss programs.

We looked at four well-known commercial plans—Jenny Craig, Medifast, Nutrisystems, and Weight Watchers—and nine do-it-yourself plans such as the Atkins Diet, Slim Fast, adn the South Beach Diet. The survey, one of the largest ever to compare specific diets, allowed us to rate them based on people’s overall satisfaction with the programs. We also looked at the typical amount of weight our dieters said they lost.

The people we surveyed freely chose the diets they used and decided for themselves how long to stay on them. They had to rely on their own motivation or seek a boost from meetings or counseling, but they did not benefit from the frequent reminders, free food, and other methods often used to keep participants in clinical trials until the very end of a study. As a result, our Ratings provide a unique view of how the diets work in the real world.

Here are some highlights of our survey:

DIY rules. Our four highest scoring plans were of the do-it-yourself variety.

Apps score big. Two of the top four programs were free smart-phone apps and websites.

Satisfaction depends on more than pounds lost. Survey respondents gave higher marks to diets that helped them maintain their weight loss and prescribed lifestyle changes that were easy to make weight.

Significant weight loss is possible on all plans. The median loss among respondents who reported their before and after weight was about 18 pounds for men and 15 pounds for women. That was enough to move many of them from obese to overweight or from overweight to a healthy weight. And they did it on all 13 diets.

Overeating: Psychologists weigh in
The idea that negative emotions can trigger overeating is so embedded in our culture that it has spawned its own visual cliché: the heroine of the chick flick who has endured a romantic disappointment sitting in bed and spooning ice cream straight from the carton.

The cliché reflects a real problem. Respondents to our diet survey said they had less success keeping weight off if their diet plan didn’t address the emotional triggers to overeating.

It turns out that psychologists couldn’t agree more. As a companion to our survey of dieters, we worked with the American Psychological Association to survey 1,328 licensed psychologists on how they dealt with patients’ weight and weight-loss challenges in their practice. And they repeatedly identified emotional factors as not only an important factor in clients’ weight problems but also the major barrier to overcoming them.

Asked what they found helpful, seven of 10 psychologists who worked with patients on their weight problems identified these three strategies as “excellent” or “good”:

• Cognitive therapy, which helps people identify and correct dysfunctional thoughts that lead to unhelpful emotions and behaviors. For example, someone who eats a cookie at a party might blame it on a lack of willpower, conclude she’ll never get the weight off, then proceed to eat more cookies. Cognitive therapy would teach the person to think of the cookie as a one-time-only slip-up, because everybody makes mistakes.

• Problem-solving aimed at overcoming barriers to weight loss. A patient who says he’s too tired after work to go to the gym might consider, with the therapist’s help, alternatives such as a run or walk at lunchtime or working out in the morning or on weekends.

• Mindfulness training, an approach that trains people to allow negative thoughts and emotions to come and go without dwelling on them, and instead concentrate on living and enjoying the moment.

Many of the psychologists said they collaborated with other professionals to help clients with weight problems. Though primary-care physicians were the most common partner cited, the psychologists found that colleagues specializing in weight issues, nutritionists, and registered dietitians—were the most helpful in addressing weight issues.

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters!
Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Diet & Nutrition News


Cars Build & Buy Car Buying Service
Save thousands off MSRP with upfront dealer pricing information and a transparent car buying experience.

See your savings


Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more