The Two Mainstream Diet Plans That Actually Work, According to Science

04/15/2015 at 03:15 PM ET

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Diets really do work. Well, some popular weight loss programs actually live up to their promise, and help people drop a modest amount of weight—and keep it off for at least a year—according to a just-published review in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The researchers, led by Johns Hopkins University, looked at 45 studies that examined 11 commercial weight-loss programs. The most effective plans: Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers.

“Out of all the programs we examined, only Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig achieved a significant weight loss that was sustained for 12 months in multiple studies,” says study author Kimberly Gudzune, MD, MPH, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. (The study was funded by government grants, not by makers of the diet plans.)

After a year, people on Weight Watchers had lost 2.6% more body weight compared to a control group that received counseling, while those following Jenny Craig dropped 4.9% more than the control group. “Because your starting weight can affect the amount of pounds you lose, the medical community focuses on percentage of weight lost to even the playing field,” Dr. Gudzune says. “In the studies, this translated to an average weight loss at 12 months of at least 8 pounds for Weight Watchers participants and at least 15 pounds for Jenny Craig participants. Keep in mind that your expected weight loss with these programs may be higher or lower depending on your starting weight.”

The researchers weren’t surprised that the two programs were effective. Both include social support (like coaching), structure, and frequent contact and counseling sessions, which have long been known to help people lose weight, Dr. Gudzune says. (Jenny Craig also includes prepared meals.)

Nutrisystem also showed promise—it helped dieters lose 3.8% more weight at 3 months compared to controls—but Dr. Gudzune and her colleagues want to see how dieters are doing at the one-year mark. “Our goal is for people to lose weight and keep it off to help control blood pressure, prevent the development of diabetes, and improve cholesterol,” she says.

Meanwhile, the Atkins Diet showed mixed results. People had lost 6.8% more weight than the control group at the 6-month mark, but ultimately achieved just 0.1% to 2.9% greater weight loss at 12 months. Health Management Resources, OPTIFAST, and SlimFast—very-low-calorie meal replacement plans—showed swift weight loss in the first three months, but more research is needed to determine whether dieters can keep that weight off in the long run. And self-directed, internet-based programs like the Biggest Loser Club, eDiets, and LoseIt! were found to be no more effective than the control group.

Though Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig were clearly more successful than the other nine diets studied, they both have a potential drawback: Cost. Jenny Craig costs $570 a month, while Weight Watchers is $43 a month. The other programs studied aren’t cheap, either: they ranged in price from free to $682 a month.

Before you’re shocked, consider what’s included in the cost, says Dr.Gudzune. While Weight Watchers gives you the online platform and group sessions, you have to purchase your own food. On the other hand, Jenny Craig comes with counseling sessions and all the food you eat for the month. In this case, thinking about your usual monthly grocery budget can help you determine if the cost is worth it for you. Plus, some programs might be covered by health insurance, partially funded by employers, or eligible for flexible spending accounts. Now, don’t you feel good about getting with the program?

—Jessica Migala

Health.com

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Showing 26 comments

Jonas on

Hello friends figure fitness is vary important in this modern age. Many people stay tense about his/her fitness.It is a big challenge for us that we will try to heard to control our fitness but some people can few control and many of them people was failed to maintain their fitness. and i was fall in this fitness problem it was embarrassment for me any time and any where . I can’t control my diet it was out of control in my hand then my friend give me some suggestion about how to control diet then he give me one site name that was
http://bit.ly/1HxWHGA this taring site is really helpful for me is really worked now i am free for this disgusting matter just follow their instruction and now i am a happy man . Every of men or women can try this and it will be really helpful . Try it

Patricia Linda on

I agree with you. there are a lot of ways of weight loss problem. mainly its depend her habits. actually i was feeling tension then my friend suggest me that do not excited. then,i tried control my habit and i was succeed. if you want to follow my advice,you must be visit this sites.http://bit.ly/1CQf440

Flo on

Do the ELM diet. :: eat less , move more.

Karen on

Jenny Craig does not include all the food you eat. You still need to purchase milk, yogurt, salad ingredients, vegetables, and fruits for every day. I was successful with Jenny Craig, but I wanted to correct the error in the story.

Trish on

I have used weight watchers and it does indeed work, the only element I find missing is nutritional details.
I have been using the app Myfitnesspal.com which is great for understanding and learning the intricacies of nutrition, something that is important to me.
Coupled with exercise: weight and cardio works for me.

Kel on

Weight Watchers rocks because you learn how to eat forever, not eat prepackaged foods. I think thats why the majority dont work, people need to learn to change their way of eating, not just the location that they buy the boxes of food. They teach you life skills that work whether your at a restaurant, event, or home. Thats what makes the success.

Oranges on

Why is there no way to flag responses? Jonas and Patricia Linda are clearly spam or worse yet links to virus downloads.

I have a friend who lost 90 lbs on weight watchers. And she has kept it off for 2 + years now. Really it is not a diet though, you can’t go back to the way you used to eat ever. You need to change your eating habits permanently if you want to keep the weight off.

AdvoCare Tabie on

Guess no one has ever heard of AdvoCare!!

Danie on

No temporary diet will have long term results. I’ve been on the Banting “diet” for over two years, and it has now become my permanent lifestyle. I went down from 85kg to 70kg (mostly lost in the first 3 to 5 months) and have stayed at 70-73kg ever since. Yes if I go back to eating refined carbs and sugars I’d fully expect to pick up weight again, but the rewards so far mean I have extremely little temptation of ever doing that again.

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I tried everything to loose weight but nothing worked. I kept loosing and gaining the same 60lbs over and over again and eventually reached 240lbs! I then found a free, 12-step program for food addiction (www.foodaddicts.org) and have maintained a 120 weight loss for over 11 years. Even more, I no longer constantly crave food and my obsessions with my body and weight are gone. I am so grateful!

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