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Important Takeaways from Consumer Reports New Diet Ratings

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Approximately 45 million people attempt to lose weight each year using a variety of dieting approaches. Although most diet plans use the general weight loss formula of calories in versus calories out, exactly how they use and apply that formula can vary widely.

Some programs focus on varying ratios of macronutrients (carbs, fat and protein). Low-carb diets advocate eating fewer than the adult RDA of 130 grams of carbs per day, while high-protein diets say that the key to weight loss is eating more protein than the recommended 35 percent of total energy intake. Other programs focus on strict week-by-week eating plans or use a meal-replacement approach as a way to control consumed calories.

To help consumers choose the best diet plan, Consumer Reports started rating diets in 2005. This year's review, published in the magazine's June issue, has sparked some criticism. Who came out on top? And why all the controversy?

According to Consumer Reports, this year's diet ratings winner is Jenny Craig. Slim-Fast and Weight Watchers earned second and third place finishes, respectively. Jenny Craig combines pre-made food and counseling jumped to the scoring lead largely because of a 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that demonstrated a very high participant adherence rate of ninety-two percent. Oddly enough, this seemingly positive study has caused the most controversy. Critics say that the study was flawed and doesn't really reflect what would happen in the "real world" since study participants received free Jenny Craig food and services while real-world dieters would have to pay for those things out of their own pockets. It is interesting to note that popular Jenny Craig competitor Nutrisystem, which offers very similar plans and pre-made foods, wasn't even considered because they didn't have any documented weight-loss results from published clinical trials. (And no,'s free, medically-accepted weight loss program wasn't even considered either.)

Regardless of the Consumer Reports rating, these rankings do provide some key points applicable for everyone. Here are some basic principles to consider when selecting a weight management program.

  • Adhere to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Reputable weight management plans will include the basic dietary guideline principles of balancing calories with physical activity, emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy, lean protein and limitations on sodium and SoFAS.
  • Proper portion control is key. Whether you are relying on pre-portioned prepared foods or making your own food, the key is portion control. Learning correct portion sizes is tricky for most of us and tends to be one of the barriers to long-term weight management success. Winning weight management plans help you learn portion control lessons.
  • Weight management has to fit into your daily life. - It has often been said that people can do anything for a short period of time. Some diet plans in this review provide very strict regimens for a short time ensuing in great initial results. However, these strict regimens that may or may not include real food (or limit certain foods entirely) can quickly feel like an albatross around the neck causing you to completely walk away from the plan in favor of the next great weight loss promise. For best long-term success, eating and exercise plans have to fit with the rest of your life, for the rest of your life. Therefore, as is also said, the best plan for anyone is the one that leads to habits that will be followed for the long haul.
  • Support makes a difference. Whether you find support from an individual counselor, a group meeting or an online community, encouragement is a key to success. Not just support while you are working toward your goal but also encouragement once you have reached your goal since weight and health maintenance in itself is a whole new goal.
Finding the right approach to manage weight and health is a process of discovery. Different plans and approaches work for different people for different reasons and seasons of life. As the Consumer Reports diet review points out, successful plans are those that have a high level of adherence and that allow people to achieve weight loss and improved health. Better programs include a focus on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, teach portion control, fit with your day-to-day life, and provide support and encouragement. Some plans meet these principles at a high out-of-pocket cost. Others, like (named "best online weight loss community" by's consumer search, provide them FREE. The key is finding the right one for you, your life, and your goals.

What do you think about the Consumer Report ratings? What benefit do you see to paying for a program that offers key principles for success over one that is free?

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I have tried them all, but SparkPeople is far the best. Before I was dieting and now I am changing a lifestyle. With the others, the pounds came off quickly and then all (plus more) came back. Report
This explains the recent Jenny Craig commercials. From the blog, it looks like Consumer Reports just did a research review, no actual research, which produced misleading results. Although they reported sound guidelines, excluding programs that didn't have documented trials hurts those seeking real weight loss program information.

I looked at Jenny Craig and other programs before find SP, and couldn't get real nutritional information from the sites. Most of these foods are highly processed, and contain chemicals we just don't need to be putting into our bodies.

Weight Watchers didn't work for me, although I've seen it work for others. According to their plan, I could eat any balance of nutrients, as long as I kept within my points. Spark People helped me find balance in my calories, carbs, fat and protein, and I began losing weight immediately. And, 15 months later, I'm still doing it, telling me this is a lifestyle change. Report
I did the Jenny Craig plan several years ago. The food was expensive, the counselor was very young and inexperienced, but it worked. I lost weight and looked fabulous. That's the good news. The bad news is I didn't develop any inner resources, I was completely dependent on the Jenny meals for success. Once I stopped buying the meals and relied on myself, the weight came back just like that. Jenny Craig is a diet, and an expensive one at that, it is NOT a life style change. Report
I haven't tried Jenny Craig (and never plan to). But have been on WW. The problem with WW is that the program changes every cpl. yrs. Why? Like they say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" And I know many people are unhappy w/current program. As someone else said, they aren't counting fruits and vegs in the pt. system (at least the majority of them). Apples were once 2 pts. Now they're 0. What happened?

Anyway...I'm loving Spark! The site offers so much more info. for health, nutrition, wellness. And Spark people don't have any ulterior motive like the "normal" WL programs: "buy this from us or you won't make your goal". It's FREE! My favorite word, esp. in this economy. Long may Spark reign!

I haven't tried Jenny Craig (and never plan to). But have been on WW. The problem with WW is that the program changes every cpl. yrs. Why? Like they say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" And I know many people are unhappy w/current program. As someone else said, they aren't counting fruits and vegs in the pt. system (at least the majority of them). Apples were once 2 pts. Now they're 0. What happened?

Anyway...I'm loving Spark! The site offers so much more info. for health, nutrition, wellness. And Spark people don't have any ulterior motive like the "normal" WL programs: "buy this from us or you won't make your goal". It's FREE! My favorite word, esp. in this economy. Long may Spark reign!

Now why would I pay for something that I can get free with SparkPeople? And knowing people who've done Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, I've done better with SP! Report
I have a friend who used Jenny Craig & slimmed down very nicely--but her weight ballooned back up very quickly once she went off the program.

On the other hand, my son lost weight drinking NutriSystem shakes for lunch over a period of weeks. He doesn't buy the shakes anymore, but he weighs even less now, having gone vegan & just watching what he eats. His self-managed program was a lot more effective long term than Jenny Craig was for my friend. Report
I'm to frugal to ever waste money on expensive programs like Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem. I've tried WW and all the leader did was talk about HER life and problems while the obese people sat and listened. It wasn't for me. Report
I've tried Jenny Craig. It's horrible. The food is nasty, all processed & lots of sodium. You never really learn how to eat of anything about portion control.

Weight Watchers has changed so much over the years, and not always for the better. The current program does not count points for fruit, no mattor how much you eat. They say "eat in moderation" but lots of people need more guidelines than that. I gained weight on this program, and it does not have good guidelines for how you should distribute the daily points. Plenty of people eat garbage on WW and wonder why they can't lose. The leaders are not nutritionists, and only know the current program. Report
The best nutrition plan to follow is one which is a sustainable life-long plan based on solid nutritional goals and flexible according to changing needs over time or with life or health circumstances: the SP plan is IT! My RD sent me here after having set up nutritional guidelines for me; when I input my information, the SP plan was almost identical. In other words? Solid and sound!

Weight loss or -management plans that are for-a-fee or -cost have one basic problem: they need to keep people paying, so that they can continue their business 'as is'. This may explain why WW periodically does an overhaul of its methods. Now using (another) point system, WW once had a more logical (my opinion) method: setting a calorie range according to needs, and each range listed numbers of servings for food groups such as dairy, protein, vegetables. It made sense, and people did not have to count calories if they didn't want to do the numbers. Last year I tried the WW program to benefit from group support. The support? Fantastic. But I tracked by both WW method and the one that is used by SP and my dietician. What is important to me is that according to the WW method, I was on target. According to the SP/RD method? I fell seriously short on many nutrients. So... I stick with the method that is healthiest! SP and the RD!!

Consumer Reports cannot research EVERY plan out here. What we as consumers can do is analyze the products they do evaluate, comparing those that are close to products we use to those that are listed. This is when we have to look at the general perameters of the product rather than the details. SP offers solid lifestyle, which is head and shoulders above any 'program' based on gimmicks like frozen pre-measured meals or strangely calculated 'point' systems. Maybe it can't be compared because it's just too solid to be classified in the same column. Report
I have never used any of them except for Sparkpeople and met my goal in a few months. It works! I'm still tracking food and exercise to keep me honest with myself.
I have friends who have used WW and TOPS. WW seems to work well. TOPS not so much or at all. One friend has belonged to the latter for at least a decade and has made no progress because "it works if ya work it" which she doesn't do. They do all go out to eat together after the mtg at 9 PM. Hmmm...... Report
I echo what the others have said. I haven't tried any other diet programs, but I love SP's message and is why I have been with SP for so long. This is a wonderful site with excellent resources and encouraging healthy living, not just weight loss, and it ranks #1 in my book! Report
When you lose your weight by eating foods already prepared for you, you aren't learning anything and it isn't something you can continue on for the rest of your life. Report
I don't know if there is a accurate way to 'rank' different weight loss programs or even if its necessary. So much depends on the individual participant-Its more important to compare the different programs and see which one best suits your personal needs.
I read both the blog and the article it linked to. What I take away from it is that balance, moderation, portion control, and SUPPORT are key ingredients for success. I think we all recognize that for a weight losss effort to become a sustainable healthy way of living, we have to somewhere along the line take responsibility for our own health, for learning what balance of nutrients works best for the unique bodies we have and for acquiring the skills to provide our bodies what they need.
For those who can afford to have someone doing that figuring and food preparation for them, a personal chef or Jenny Craig may well be the way to go. For most of us, we need to learn to cook for ourselves. But when we do, we benefit doubly: by both our healthier weight and by the sense of accomplishment in learning how to best nourish our own bodies.
Thanks for the food for thought! Report
I haven't tried Jenny Craig or NutriSystem, because I'm NOT gonna eat out of a box for the rest of my life, and I'm not going to cook separately for the rest of my family. I've had success in the past with WeightWatchers, but SparkPeople gives me more information, more options, more support, more motivation, and at NO COST! I've recommended this site to a number of friends and family. I've never seen anything else that comes even close! Whatever I need to succeed, I can find it here. Report
The problem with things like Jenny Craig is can you really do it for life. If you're single maybe, but can you really cook for a family and then sit and eat a boxed meal forever. I know I couldn't! Report
SparkPeople focuses on transforming yourself by embracing a healthy lifestyle. Because SP is free, Sparkers can take the time they need to make real changes in their attitude toward food, exercise, and self-image without stressing about financial obligation. The supportive Spark community is available at whatever level the individual chooses. I've tried Weight Watchers (many times), Nutrisystems, Atkins, Curves and other programs. The weight I lost on those other programs always came back (plus some) when I quit participating in the program. I've stuck with SP close to a year now and my lifestyle has changed. In my mind, there's no contest. SparkPeople is the best resource out there! And it's free! Thank you SP! Report
I think they're really missing the boat by leaving out Sparkpeople. Very skewed. I wonder how many people can keep eating Jenny Craig for the rest of their lives? Report
SparkPeople is the only way for me! I have to say that I have not tried ANY of the other programs listed in the article because I knew up front it would not be realistic for me to be able to follow the different requirements outlined in their program for the rest of my life. Paying to join to lose weight would not motivate me, it would only make me quite quicker. I like to be able to educate myself with nutritional facts, not depend on prepared foods, and understand the different exercises my body needs to function well.

I appreciate the 24/7 support I have though my spark friends, teams and all the resources available to me to help me through times of success and failure.
Diets like Jenny Craig are not sustainable in my opinion based my personal experience. The criteria that Consumer Reports uses sounds flawed. But, as someone already mentioned, Consumer Reports recommendations are usually off base anyway. Report
I'm not impressed with these findings. Having experienced a good weight loss years ago with Nutri System's prepackaged plan, I know that it didn't last long. There wasn't much that carried over to REAL life eating. I lost almost as much ten years later with Weight Watchers and did retain most of the loss. Now I follow Weight Watchers but use the support and information available on Spark. I would use Spark exclusively if the food tracking was easier for me. That is a personal preference not a weakness of Spark. Report
I often take Consumer Reports ratings with a grain of salt simply because you never quite know what goes into the ratings. At the end of the day, they are opinions - perhaps "expert" opinions, but not something to take as Gospel.

That said, I'd also tend to be leery of any diet program that involves eating prepared foods (Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, etc.) I'm sure that they CAN provide results in the short term, but what happens when you reach your goal or stop purchasing their foods for whatever reason? Do these programs give you the tools to maintain your weight loss when you go back to eating "regular" food? I'd really wonder how much I can learn about real-life healthy lifestyle when I'm not "really" choosing and preparing my own food or facing everyday challenges... Report
I am a Spark person since August of 2010; so far I've lost 58 pounds, and I know I still have a way to go, but there is nothing like Spark.

My daughter works for Jenny Craig...she finds the system enables those who can't take the reins of their lives. They are told what to eat, how to pay for it. They have 24/7 counselors available (which is what my daugher does), and the members call and whine about how hard life is and how difficult it is to lose weight, but there is no re-teaching about nutrition, fitness, and all the other community benefits of SparkPeople. Once they step away from the structure of the program, and are on their own, they fall back into old habits, and regain the weight.

SparkPeople has it all. I wondered about that evaluation: not realistic at all.
P.S. my daughter is leaving Jenny Craig for other career possibilities. And I hope she recommends Spark to all her clients on her last day. Report
It does sound like the CR study was biased if the JC participants were provided with their meals gratis. I have considered NutriSystem in the past only because of the prepared meals - but can't afford to pay extra for a weight-loss plan. Also, I considered that having someone or something prepare my meals wasn't really being responsible for myself. WW also charges for their web-access plan. I was so happy to find SparkPeople. It's a success - CR study or not - because it's a great concept - and it works! Report
I think if you are a person who is motivated by money, it might help. That being said, I don't think financial investment is an effective motivator for weight loss. You need to be invested in yourself first. Money was never a motivator for me, and I tried weight watchers but find that the free sparkpeople site is much more effective. I prefer to weigh myself in private, and I would rather put that money towards fitness (gym memberships, fitness classes, and workout clothes!).
I think perhaps one benefit of paying for food and services is that you're more committed. However, I also agree that it's not realistic to assume that people who are getting their food free in a study would have the same compliance rate if they're paying for food.

I am currently using SparkPeople plus an eating plan and individual counseling provided by a nutritionist associated with the YMCA and with Penn State University. I am finding the two resources to be a powerful combination. I can email my Spark reports weekly to my nutritionist and she is finding it really helpful in providing me advice and assistance.

Weight Watchers has worked for me in the past, but since I have gained the weight back, it made sense to try something else.

I love ww and spark.......they have it all. Report
Over the years, I have tried many ways to lose weight. Some worked and others didn't. Weight Watchers worked for me when I was in my 40's, but recently it didn't work. SparkPeople and me are a great match. I will continue using this program for as long as it is available. Thank you for a program that fits in my budget and my lifestyle. Report
Well, hiring a personal chef and eating only what they made would work too.....but who can really do that? I agree that while Jenny Craig's premade meals might help lose weight, it is neither practical or realistic in the long term for many or most people. Besides, is it healthy? What additives, preservatives, sodium etc. are used?

The bottom line, we really need to be educated and learn self-discipline to be truly successful and to keep the weight off long term. Report
I thought I heard somewhere that Jenny Caig was one of the major sponsors of this study. Does anyone know? Either way, it seems to me that any diet where you do not learn how to prepare your own food would not work in the long run. But, I also do not believe in the dietary guidelines everyone is used to hearing from the gov't. I say this because everyone I know who tries to eat 'healthy' seems to complain about how they do everything right and the weight isnt coming off. Personally, I like something along the lines of the Mediterannean Diet. Report
I myself am a Weight Watchers member and do so because I need the support given at the meetings and the accountability of weekly weigh-ins. I started Weight Watchers 2 years ago and had lost 30 lbs the 1st year. Changes to my husbands job status put me at plateau for a year and then I gained 8 - 10 lbs back and started not attending the meetings or doing my weigh-ins every week. In January I decided to try and get back on track, however, things had changed with Weight Watchers and they incorporated the Points Plus program. So I had to relearn the points system. I struggled with the points system and was bouncing up and down in my weight with no real steady weight loss. A friend of mine referred me to, so I though I would take a chance and check it out. I like the fact of having actual numbers as guidelines. The Points Plus system is great as long as you are really aware of the Carbs, Protein, Fat you are consuming. I was hitting my points every day, but was stilling struggling with losing weight. When I was provided the actual numbers of what I should be taking in, I realized why I was struggling with losing weight. I was eating way too many carbs and not enough protein. It has been a discovery with food and what works for me. I still attend my Weight Watchers meeting but I also use Spark People for my tracking. I really needed to see the numbers of what I was taking in order to change how I was eating. Weight Watchers and Spark People teach people how to change your eating habits and fitness levels for life. That is why I enjoy doing both programs. They both teach us how to be Healthy for life. Report
I have used many of the programs listed, none of which taught me to live a healthy lifestyle. Spark people has done for me all that I had hoped for but did not know that I needed. Best of all, my lifestyle change is the primary goal and all else is following, weight loss included, and the kind that will last. The Spark does require a committment on your behalf, but when you are done looking for a quick fix that does not end up helping you to change permanently, The spark can help you relearn to live and live well. Report
I agree that while ready made meals can help you lose weight initially, they do not teach an individual how to stay healthy which is what most people want...long term success. Report
While the Jenny Craig program may work well, I don't think it is practical for the average person. One big factor of course is cost. Most of us can't afford it. Even if you can afford it, if you have a family are you going to provide one meal for them and something else for yourself over the long term? Providing ready-made meals does not teach a person to eat right over the long term and once they go back to eating "real food" they often gain back the weight. Programs like SparkPeople, TOPS, and other similar programs teach us to eat sensibly for a lifetime without having to provide special meals different than what the family is eating. That plus finding exercise we enjoy and will stick to is what will lead to a healthy lifestyle in my opinion. Report
Jenny Craig may be good but ultimately you will have to go it alone. Paying may motivate you to not throw your money away but what happens after? Month 4 with SparkPeople is almost in the books and I am still finding things on this site! My weight loss has been slow and steady. Once I reach goal I plan to continue checking in to connect with SP friends and to access all the great information! Report
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