Different Types of Weight Loss Programs

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2023

Weight loss has become a priority for many people seeking to improve their health and overall well-being. Weight loss is especially important for those who have been diagnosed with obesity.1,2

Many of these programs are advertised on TV, the radio, and many social media platforms. With so many available weight loss programs, it can be challenging to know which 1 to choose.1,2

What is a weight loss program?

A weight loss program is a structured approach or plan designed to help people achieve their weight loss goals. It typically includes a combination of:1

  • Dietary guidelines
  • Calorie deficit
  • Exercise tips
  • Behavior changes
  • Support systems

Each program is different and has unique qualities. Some are clinical, meaning they are offered through a healthcare provider. Others are not. But the ultimate goal for most is to help people lose excess weight and improve their overall health and well-being.1,2

How effective are weight loss programs?

The effectiveness of each weight loss program varies from person to person. It depends on how the program is designed as well as:1,3

For instance, some programs may give you fast initial results but not long-term success. Others aim for slower, sustainable weight loss. Programs that focus on long-term lifestyle changes tend to offer more lasting results compared to short-term, restrictive approaches.1,4

Whichever program you choose, it will help to manage your expectations. Focus on improving your overall health rather than just the number on the scale.3

Types of weight loss programs

There are many types of weight loss programs you can choose from.

Community-based programs

Community-based weight loss programs can involve group meetings, educational sessions, and support networks. These programs foster a sense of community and shared experiences. They allow you to get guidance, encouragement, and accountability from others.5

Examples include:5

  • Community centers
  • Local support groups
  • Local YMCAs
  • Workplace wellness programs

Commercial programs

Commercial weight loss programs are more well known and widely available. They typically involve structured meal plans based on the number of calories you need to eat per day to lose weight. They offer meal replacements along with support from counselors or coaches. These programs often offer convenience and a comprehensive approach to weight loss. But they can be expensive.1,6

Examples of commercial weight loss programs include:1,6

  • Atkins®
  • Nutrisystem®
  • Weight Watchers®

Hospital-based programs

Hospital-based weight loss programs provide medical supervision and personalized care. They take a multidisciplinary approach, meaning they combine healthcare specialists, registered dietitians, psychologists, and exercise experts.7,8

These programs are suitable for those with underlying health conditions or those who need a more intensive weight loss approach. Talk with your doctor about which programs might be available in your community.7,8

Online and app-based programs

The rise of technology has led to lots of new online and app-based weight loss programs. These platforms provide convenience, flexibility, and accessibility. But you must have the discipline to stick with them. Some are free, and others are available with a 1-time or recurring fee. They offer things like:1,6

  • Calorie and macro trackers
  • Educational resources
  • Exercise tips
  • Forums and discussion boards
  • Progress tracking
  • Recipe ideas
  • Virtual support

Examples of online and app-based weight loss programs include:6

  • MyFitnessPal™
  • Noom®
  • Lose It!™
  • Whole30

Other things to know

Make sure that your weight loss program works with your lifestyle and goals. When choosing a weight loss program, here are some things to keep in mind.1,2,6

Is it safe and credible?

Before starting any weight loss program, make sure it is safe and credible. Look for evidence-based approaches, qualified professionals, and certifications. Research the program's reputation, testimonials, success stories, and customer reviews. Ask your healthcare team about whether the program matches up with your health goals and any existing medical conditions you may have.1,2,6

Is it sustainable?

Effective weight loss programs promote sustainable lifestyle changes rather than quick fixes. Look for programs that focus on nutrition education, behavior changes, and exercise.1,2,4,6

Avoid programs that rely solely on restrictive diets or supplements to lose weight. Steer clear of programs that make far-reaching claims or promises. If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. These may offer short-term results, but they are not sustainable in the long term.1,2,4,6

Is it flexible?

Weight loss programs cater to various preferences and lifestyles. Consider your personal preferences, dietary restrictions, and time constraints. Look for programs that offer flexibility and ways to adapt to your needs. A single approach will not work for everyone.1,2,6

Here are other questions to consider when choosing a weight loss program:1-4,6

  • What is the program's approach to weight loss? Is it focused on balanced nutrition, exercise, behavior changes, or a combination?
  • Are there any medical professionals involved in the program?
  • What is the program's success rate?
  • What kind of ongoing support is provided (counseling sessions, group meetings, or online communities)?
  • Are there any potential side effects or risks associated with the program?
  • How much does it cost? Are there any hidden fees or long-term commitments?

Not all weight loss programs are monitored by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Be cautious if a weight loss program promises rapid weight loss from taking certain supplements. Supplements are not regulated by the FDA the same way other drugs are. This means that no outside agency confirms the ingredients or suggested dose.5

Choose what works best for you

Choosing the right weight loss program is a personal decision. It should align with your individual needs, preferences, and health goals. Talk with your health team before starting any weight loss program to make sure it suits your needs. After all, the best diet is one you can stick with long-term.1,6

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