How to pick the right weight loss program?
Make sure it fits you like a glove.
Good weight loss programs really can help you achieve your weight loss and health goals – with permanent compliance. Now, before the enormous weight of the word “permanent” makes you stop reading, please do continue.
This is the paradigm shift we need to make – for successful, long-term weight loss, we need to start seeing diet and lifestyle change as a permanent change we want to make.
Good weight loss programs can help provide the education, structure, and mentoring to guide you through this process.
The trick: make sure the weight loss program you pick was developed for what you’re trying to do. If not, it’s not that either one of you is wrong or a failure, you are just wrong for each other.
Finding the Right Partner
Let’s start with a quick recap of our basic formula for how to lose weight from our conversation in “How to Lose Weight (again) and Keep it Off (really)” :
- Reduce caloric intake, and/or
- Increase physical activity
As mentioned in that article, this isn’t the part of weight loss that eludes us.
Despite knowing the importance of these two actions, individuals continue to “fail” in their attempts – not at losing weight – but in their attempts to keep it off. And this is the very reason why choosing the right weight loss program, from the start, is so very important.
If you pick a program that was never designed to meet your specific goals, you don’t stand a chance at the long-term results you desire (and deserve).
But this is the opportunity.
This time, rather than picking a program just because it worked for your neighbor or has the most followers on social media, you have the opportunity to take back the reins and chose the program that is right – for you.
So how do you make sure your next weight loss program is right for you?
Pick the one that matches your goals and lifestyle
Let’s start by first assuming you want to pick a program that is effective at taking weight off. Which way of reducing calories and/or increasing activity is most effective for weight loss? Research is consistent – you pick.
Researchers consistently show that weight loss programs (diets), regardless of the eating pattern (low-carb, high-fat, high-protein, intermittent fasting, meal replacements, etc.), can result in similar amounts of modest weight loss at 12 months. It doesn’t matter which method of reducing caloric intake you use, they are all similar in their ability to take weight off (with compliance) – you get to pick.
What differs significantly between programs is the guidance and tools provided for keeping the weight off. As you’ll read below, if your goal is to keep the weight off, you need to be sure and pick a program that shares that goal.
The same holds true with physical activity as with reducing calories, the activity that works best has little to do with the type and much more to do with which one you will do consistently. Walk, run, bike, bowl, ski – you pick.
The ratio of caloric reduction to activity to your current size is what determines your rate of weight loss.
All weight loss programs and obesity treatments – online, from the bookstore, from your hospital, or simply passed down through generations – share these two things (reduce calories and/or increase physical activity) as their backbone. No matter which one you pick, this will be integrated into it.
So why does picking a weight loss program (or picking yet another one) feel so overwhelming?
Though all weight loss programs share the same backbone, they all quickly become unique depending on what other considerations the program authors choose to prioritize.
For example, the priority could be rapid weight loss, gradual weight loss, restricting carbohydrates, restricting fat, prioritizing whole foods, prioritizing a specific health condition, or using supplements and meal replacements (and the list could go on).
Long-term programs that emphasize maintenance will also include differing priorities on how to approach ensuring nutritional adequacy and protecting mental wellbeing.
However, the net goal is the same: weight loss. Just the way you get there and the messaging you hear along the journey changes. This is the critical piece to understand.
You must enjoy this journey for long-term success.
Weight loss programs are a lot like cars
To try and help simplify this concept, think of one of the most basic forms of transportation – the car. All cars share the same backbone – wheels, a frame, and an engine.
But that is immediately the end of the similarities. Though they are all designed to transport you from here to there, they are also designed to meet your specific unique requirements for how it feels while you travel: cost-effectiveness, speed, reliability, jazzy features (just to name a few).
You pick a car based on how closely these key features match your needs and priorities.
Though it might feel like a stretch as you read this, picking an eating and healthy lifestyle pattern is really no different than choosing a car. Evaluate what your needs and priorities are for your health journey and then pick a program with key features that match.
Most likely, it probably took you a few tries to find the car that just fits you like a glove. One that reflects your personality, makes you feel comfortable, and is one you genuinely like being in.
And most likely, this is where you find yourself with your diet and lifestyle patterns. You just haven’t quite found the pattern that reflects your true personality, makes you feel comfortable, and one you genuinely like being in. The one that fits you like a glove.
Finding Comfortable – Deciphering Key Features of Weight Loss Programs
The fun features list you get to create
As mentioned, there are countless ways to lose weight.
The goal is not to prove one particular voice or way as right, rather, the goal is to find the way that resonates with you.
This is the one that is right – for you. The one that, even on the most challenging days, sets you up to the make the choices you want.
When you stay grounded in the commonality of all weight loss programs (reduced caloric intake and/or increased physical activity), it becomes easier to see the key features that each program chooses to prioritize.
This makes it much less overwhelming to find the one that best matches your needs and priorities.
5 Key Features of Weight Loss Programs to Consider
1. Goals and Learning Objectives of Program
What goal is the weight loss program designed to help you reach, and what does it teach?
- What is the expected rate of weight loss?
- Rapid weight loss?
- Slow, consistent long-term weight loss?
- What health goals are prioritized?
- Rapid weight loss without considerations to health?
- General health and prevention of disease?
- Treatment or nutritional therapy for a specific diagnosed health condition?
- What is the emphasis on teaching?
- Does it teach you and incorporate skill building activities? Or, does it provide lists for you to mimic?
- Does it teach you how to navigate situations on your own?
- Does it help you understand how to make choices that are right for you even if pulled by instant gratification or old reward patterns?
Gut Check: There are no right or wrong answer here. Each of these goals has merit depending on where you are on your own health journey. Weight loss programs designed to teach will require more engagement. If this isn’t where you are, be honest with yourself. If you are interested in a program designed to teach but are unsure of the commitment, reach out to them. Let them help you set expectations; this is their role if they prioritize long-term guidance.
How does the weight loss program guide you to reach goals; is it the right structure for you?
- All weight loss programs reduce caloric intake; how programs instruct you to do this is a significant way they differ; whether this reduction is obvious through calorie or point counting, restriction of food groups, or more subtle through natural “displacement” of calories (for example when whole foods replace calorie-dense packaged foods), you are reducing caloric intake.
- Finding the way to reduce intake that best fits your preferences, goals, and lifestyle is a huge consideration in determining which method will work for you.
- The main categories of reducing calories include calorie or point counting, balanced plate methods, exchange systems, meal replacements, and restriction of specific macronutrients or food groups.
- How are other lifestyle choices prioritized? Physical activity? Stress management and self-CARE?
Gut Check: Does the instruction of the weight loss program feel restrictive versus structured? Structure is good for providing guidance; feeling restrictive is a flag. Though all programs will require gentle challenging as you learn, if it feels restrictive, re-evaluate your pick.
What voice and perspective are woven throughout the content; does it resonate with you?
- Each weight loss program has an author – do you like how they tell the story?
- Do you like their voice and how they present the information?
- Are they a credible voice? What is their training?
- What is their food/health philosophy?
- Is their approach based on opinion and their own personal experience or is their approach research-based?
- Is nutritional adequacy protected? Are food groups excluded?
- Is mental wellbeing addressed?
- Are the impacts of stress addressed?
Gut Check: For your health journey to be both comfortable and effective you need to identify with the program author. Does spending time on their site or in their office make you feel inspired? People learn from images and language that resonate with them; be sure this is the case with your next weight loss program. Ask yourself if it is written by someone you would like to keep the conversation going with.
4. Tools Used
What tools are provided by the weight loss program; does this match what you want to use?
- Do you want to use your own foods?
- If so, is cooking prioritized by the author? Are you expected to use a provided list or can you use current foods in your kitchen?
- What is your commitment to organizing and planning for (potentially) increased time in the kitchen?
- Do you want to use supplements? Or meal replacements?
- Do you want to use lists restricting certain groups of foods (like carbohydrates) for decreased decision making?
- What about cognitive tools (for example: tools to help with thoughts, emotions, and cues and triggers of old patterns)?
- How are cognitive, emotional, and skills-building techniques addressed?
- Do you want these topics to be addressed?
Gut Check: This is a big consideration for the rate of weight loss and level of sustainability you can expect. We talked about the need to practice and “repeat” a change for long-term results in “How to Lose Weight (again) and Keep it Off (really)”. Can you see yourself using the tools of this program, comfortably, long-term? If no, be sure to set your expectation that the results will most likely be temporary when you stop using the program tools. This isn’t right or wrong, it just depends on where you are today and what your expectations are.
5. Level and Duration of Guidance
What level of support and mentoring do you need? What options are available for ongoing support?
- Level of guidance, is it:
- What is the duration of support?
- Pre-determined number of sessions?
- Pay-as-you-go single sessions?
- Continuation options for maintenance and continued learning?
Gut Check: A big hurdle you will likely face here is deciding between free and for-pay support. It can be hard to justify paying for help for those things (like how to eat and take care of ourselves) that “we are supposed to be born knowing how to do”. As with all of these considerations, only you know which best supports your goals. Do challenge yourself to try a different way if you haven’t maintained traction with your current method (like reading books). Maybe an online course, group meeting, or individual support could better push you in the new direction more aligned with your goals.
Final gut check
The weight loss program that is right for you is the one you can comfortably follow, long-term, allowing you to (finally) keep the weight off. It is the one that fits you like a glove.
What is the one step you can take now?
Complete the checklist above: Create your personalized list of key features that you need your next weight loss program to match – Goals and Learning Objectives, Structure, Voice, Tools Used, and Level of Guidance.
This doesn’t need to be a long project – jot down your top priority for each category and use that lens moving forward as you evaluate and consider different weight loss programs. Because the choice really is yours – you pick.