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How to Choose a Weight-loss Program

Choosing a weight-loss program may be a difficult task. You may not know what to look for in a weight-loss program or what questions to ask. This fact sheet can help you make an informed decision about joining a program.

A Responsible and Safe Weight-loss Program

Experts agree that the best way to reach a healthy weight is to follow a sensible eating plan and engage in regular physical activity. Weight-loss programs should encourage healthy behaviors that help you lose weight and that you can maintain over time. Safe and effective weight-loss programs should include:

  • Healthy eating plans that reduce calories but do not rule out specific foods or food groups
  • Drinking plenty of water.
  • Regular physical activity and/or exercise instruction
  • Tips on healthy behavior changes that also consider your cultural needs
  • Slow and steady weight loss of about ¾ to 2 pounds per week and not more than 3 pounds per week (weight loss may be faster at the start of a program)
  • Medical care if you are planning to lose weight by following a special formula diet, such as a very-low-calorie diet
  • A plan to keep the weight off after you have lost it

Ask Questions

Gather as much information as you can before deciding to join a program. Providers of weight-loss programs should be able to answer these questions:

  • What does the weight-loss program consist of?
  • What are the staff qualifications?
  • Does the product or program carry any risks?
  • How much does the program costs?
  • What results do participants typically have?

What does the weight-loss program consist of?

  • Does the program offer individual counseling and/or group classes?
  • Do you have to follow a specific meal plan or keep food records?
  • Do you have to purchase special food, drugs, or supplements?
  • Does the program encourage you to be physically active, follow a specific physical activity plan, or provide exercise instruction?
  • Does the program provide information on how to make positive and healthy behavior changes?
  • Is the program sensitive to your lifestyle and cultural needs?

What are the staff qualifications?

  • Who supervises the program?
  • What type of weight management training, experience, education, and certifications does the staff have?

Does the product or program carry any risks?

  • Are there risks related to following the program's eating or exercise plans?
  • Are there risks related to using recommended drugs or supplements?
  • Do participants talk with a medical professional?
  • Does a medical professional oversee the program?
  • Will the program providers work with your personal health care provider if you have a medical condition or are taking prescribed medications?

How much does the program cost?

  • What is the total cost of the program?
  • Are there recurring costs such as weekly attendance fees, costs of food and supplement purchases, etc?
  • Are there additional fees for a follow-up program or to re-enter the program for follow-up after you lose weight?
  • Are there additional fees for medical tests?

What results do participants typically have?

  • How much weight does an average participant lose and how long have they kept off all or part of their weight?
  • Can the program provide references?

NIH Publication No. 03-3700
April 2003

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