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,, 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, 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!

Filed under:  weightloss

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I found myself furiously nodding to your post! I have tried several of these online programmes and found that none of them had what I was looking for. My biggest beef with them is how unimaginative their menus and food suggestions are. My particular pet hate is their focus on underspiced "mock" ethnic dishes or "slimmed down" versions of classic comfort dishes which somehow manage to lose the "comfort" factor in the process. The community forums always have at least one vocal evangelist who professes about lethal potential of one food group or another and dismisses anyone who dares to disagree. Brrr...

"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!"

Sing it, sister.

That, and a group of people who weren't happy with their weight but didn't suffer from grand-mal Body Issues stretching back to childhood.

I have been in the industry for years and if you want to be successful on creating a healthy, lean actually should focus your attention inward....meaning what is "why" for motivating you to achieve the body and health that you want.

Most programs focus on meal plans, counting calories ect but if you do not address the mind then you won't get the results that you want. This is why the diet/weight industry fails. They simply don't address the mindset and I don't mean just writing down your goals it goes far beyond that.

There is always the next best diet and that's why many people will stop and start programs.

My advice, is you need to look within yourself and ask yourself why is it important to me to achieve the best body and health. When you get the answer and it moves you..then nothing will stand in your way, and you will find a way in which works for you.

Write down 100 reasons how it will empower all areas in your life.

If you work on the mind then the body will follow it's that simple.

My best on your journey to feeling and looking fabulous :)


Heather, this isn't personal, and the fact that we both love Maki's blog is, I think, testimony to a certain like-mindedness.

That said, I think "the industry" you mention is part of the problem. Actually, it is a different problem, one that wants to be seen as part of the original problem.

The fact that dieting has been reified, turned into an industry, and epoxied to psychological issues is a form of commercialization that I am just not down with.

There are plenty of people who look and feel fabulous but still want to lose a little weight, but the Industry insists that this can't be so; in order to want to lose weight, one must have a psychological disorder.

And this is a form of medicalization (like developing drugs to treat baldness and ugly toenails and then convincing people that they have an illness that requires treatment), designed not just to sell folks some stuff (books, products, plans) but also to assimilate them into the Borg of diet culture. Or maybe I should call it the roach motel of diet culture -- "Dieters check in, but they don't check out."

In case this comes across as TOO cynical and/or inflammatory, I have to point out that this is really just the academic/Bolshevik translation of Julia Child's view of dieting.

I dont see why people cant lose weight on their own. If they need someone to help them, then obviously they are going to put weight back on afterwards. Just like 'the biggest loser' contestants. If people want to lose weight, then exercise, and stop eating chips and chocolate every night. It amazes me when i go to the supermarket when i see people buying 5 blocks of chocolate, and 5 packets of doritos! Have some control people!

I found myself nodding a lot to your comments also. I do think that for many people, eating is an emotional issue (it is for me to some extent...I'm a stress snacker) and it can act rather like a drug, so in that sense I can sympathize with people for whom it becomes a major psychological issue. On the other hand sometimes the atmosphere on online weightloss sites felt very enabling, and that to me is very offputting.

Oh and another thing - it's amazing how many people in those programs hate cooking! Not only that, they seem to hate eating good food, period! They've gained so much weight by eating crap! That is so, so sad. Hey I know where some of my excess weight originated - Grand Cru Sauvage truffles, extra-aged Gruyere, eh... :) (OK I do eat junk too, but not all the time.)

Ania I agree with you totally about the blandness and unimaginativeness of many of the menus and recipes. I hardly ever followed the recipes I think. (The only recent 'light cooking' type of cookbook that really had some good recipes was a British cookbook called Cook Yourself Thin.) I also have a deep aversion to many artificial substitutes, e.g. Splenda or other artificial sweeteners. I think it's better if we can discover food that tastes good but is not a pale imitation of a high calorie favorite.

I read this post and I agree with you, Maki. To me, cooking and eating is something that boost up my writing-mood (I'm trying to be a writer here) and I enjoy good food as well as good books... That's why I'm a little overweight.

Anyway, I also agree that most diet sites doesn't include good diet foods, they only stated to replace sugar with artificial sweetener, reduce salt, use watery skim milk, replace white rice with red rice (in here, red rice is so high in fiber but so not tasty)... So yeah they taste really bland to me. Besides, I was raised in a family who appreciate good food (my grandma and mom used to own a catering company and a restaurant) and my excess weight doesn't come from junk food :p worse, me and my peers, all of us enjoy good food. I think it's because of our society; we're all chinese descent and most chinese-indonesians love cooking and eating good food.

As for diet motivation, I don't have any strong motivation, except for staying in a good shape. After all, I can't stand the aroma of freshly cooked white rice (our rice is very unique, sticky but not so short, and it has the fragrance of pandan leaves), the spicy-salty goodness of sambal bawang (chili sauce with garlic), our local specialty, and the smell of butter melting in a pan...

I agree with your take on the online diet sites. I find them frustrating and tend to get bored quickly. I do appreciate the forums sometimes--when I started a low carb plan it was very helpful to find answers to many of the questions that I had, but I was unable to stay committed to any one site or to track all my meals, nutritional info, etc.

Like you, I'm better off doing it on my own. I only refer to the online sites when I need a little guidance (such as "Is this ok to eat during phase one of this diet? type questions).

Also, (and this might seem a little mean)but I don't really like the kind of "cheerleading" that goes on among the members of the sites. I'm much more of a private dieter; I don't like to dwell on it. I think when I start to fixate it becomes much more difficult to stay on track.

Fantastic post. I recently found your site and have become a great fan. I'll keep coming back!