Saturday morning thoughts no. 2: My take on online diet programs

I've had to close off comments on this post. Like other articles here that have 'diet' or 'weight loss' in the title, it was attracting spammers from the so-called diet industry.

Around this time last year I immersed myself in studying the subject of losing weight. I read a lot of related sites and blogs, bought a few books, and joined some online programs. Since you may be in that situation right now, still flushed with the determination to carry out your New Year's resolutions, here are some of my thoughts about online diet programs.

What an online diet program site has

An online weight loss program site usually has these components:

  • Some sort of diet/eating plan - this is usually the big hook they use to get you to join ("Our diet is revolutionary! Magic!") while always stating in the fine print next to the alluring Before and After photos that 'results are not typical').
  • Weight loss tracker/online scale. (Some also body track measurements, BMI, etc too)
  • A diet diary/food tracker
  • An exercise plan of some sort
  • Community features - usually just a forum; some have online chat too
  • Some feature advice from 'experts': nutritionists, trainers, sometimes even doctors. Some of it is interactive, e.g. you can ask questions directly on forums or via chat and get a real human answer. Most is just in the form of articles.

Read the fine print!

If you are thinking of joining any online weight loss program, make sure you read the fine print about minimum membership periods and cancellation policies. I would stick to programs that allow a decent trial period (say 10 days). For example, ediets.com, which is probably the best known online program out there, charges a hefty $25 cancellation fee if you cancel within 3 months.

Take diet review sites with a grain of salt

There are several sites out there that review various diet and weightloss programs. But, beware - most of them are affiliates of the various programs they discuss (check the link code) and may not always be objective. (Incidentally, ediets.com is offering a pretty generous signup bonus to affiliate sites if they can lure new members to join up in January. Given their cancellation fee policy I could not recommend them but a lot of site owners might be.)

Diet Blog has tons of diet reviews, without (as far as I can see) affiliate links. The site does have diet ads but there's a clear distinction between what's a review and what's an ad.

There really is no single magical formula

Consider this: Rodale, perhaps best known as the publisher of various health-oriented magazines like Prevention and Men's (and Women's) Health, operates the following online diet programs:

  • Biggest Loser Club
  • The Best Life Diet
  • The Sugar Solution Online
  • The Abs Diet Online
  • French Women Don't Get Fat
  • Flat Belly Diet (this is apparently the hot new diet at the moment)

Each program may have its merits, but if there was one magical formula that worked, wouldn't they only be running that one? They also publish a ton of other diet books besides (and they bombard you with emails promoting them too, if you allow it.)

Another company, Waterfront Media, operates a whole bunch of other ones such as the South Beach Diet, Cheat To Lose Diet, Sonoma Diet, Jillian Michaels, and more.

It's quite obviously a pretty big industry.

So if you're going to join an online program, I think you should do so for the other benefits besides that diet they trumpet as being your ultimate solution, such as the community aspects and access to 'experts'.

Free sites

If you just want online trackers, food diaries and communities, there are free (ad-supported) sites that might be all you need. You should definitely try those out before springing for a for-pay program. Some popular ones:

(Somwhat off-topic, but if you're a visually oriented person you might enjoying making 'models' of yourseif at various weights on My Virtual Model.)

My take

After fiddling around with a few of them, I came to the conclusion that online programs just weren't for me. I prefer to track my numbers on my own, offline. I use CalorieKing because they have an OS X version (FitDay only has a Windows version) with a plain paper journal to supplement it. So far my exercise routines have been simple - mainly walking around the hilly terrain in our neighborhood (hey this is Switzerland after all), and some exercise DVDs - so I haven't sought out much advice on it (I may eventually consult a personal trainer). And I know that peer support can be very helpful to a lot of people, but I just didn't find a group that I felt comfortable with.

Maybe if there was a group of somewhat cynical, food-obsessed people who love to cook, are somewhat geeky, and live inside their heads a lot, I'd fit right in!

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