The Cleveland Clinic

Weight Loss:
Choosing a Weight-Loss Program

During any one year, over half of all Americans go on a diet to lose weight. For many people, it is difficult to lose more than a few pounds and few succeed in remaining at the reduced weight. The difficulty in losing weight and keeping it off leads many people to turn to a professional or commercial weight-loss program for help. When considering joining a weight-loss program, choose wisely.

Almost any of the commercial weight-loss programs can work, but only if they motivate you sufficiently to decrease the amount of calories you eat or increase the amount of calories you burn through physical activity each day (or both).

What Should I Look for in a Weight-Loss Program?

  • Make sure it is safe. Whether you create your own program or use a commercial one, make sure it is safe. A safe diet should include all of the recommended daily allowances (RDAs) for vitamins, minerals and protein. The weight-loss diet should be low in calories (energy) only, not in essential vitamins or minerals.
  • Slow steady weight-loss. The program should be directed toward slow, steady weight loss unless your doctor feels your health condition would benefit from more rapid weight loss. Expect to lose only about a pound a week after the first week or two. With many calorie-restricted diets, there is an initial rapid weight loss during the first 1 to 2 weeks, but this loss is largely fluid. The initial rapid loss of fluid also is regained rapidly when you return to a normal-calorie diet. Thus, a reasonable goal of weight loss should be expected.

When inquiring about a commercial weight-loss program, be sure you are provided with a detailed statement of fees and costs of additional items such as dietary supplements or foods. Other important questions to ask of any potential weight-loss program include:

  • Does the staff consist of qualified counselors and health professionals such as registered dietitians, doctors and exercise physiologists?
  • Are food choices flexible and suitable?
  • Are weight goals set by the client and the health professional?
  • What percentage of people complete the program?
  • What is the average weight loss among people who finish the program?
  • What percentage of people have problems or side effects? What are they?

If you plan to lose more than 15 to 20 pounds, have any health problems, or take medication on a regular basis, your doctor should evaluate you before you start a program. A doctor can assess your general health and medical conditions that might be affected by dieting and weight-loss.

Also, a doctor should be able to recommend appropriate programs and help you come up with a sensible weight-loss goal. If you plan to use a very-low-calorie diet, you definitely should be examined and monitored by a doctor.

What Else Should I Look for in a Weight-Loss Program?

Your program should include plans for weight maintenance after the weight-loss phase is over. It is of little benefit to lose a large amount of weight only to regain it.

Weight maintenance is the most difficult part of controlling weight and is not consistently implemented in weight-loss programs. The program you select should help you improve your dietary habits, increase your physical activity, and help you change other lifestyle habits that may have contributed to your weight gain in the past.

Being overweight is too often viewed as a temporary problem that can be treated for a few months with a strenuous diet. However, as most overweight people know, weight control must be considered a life-long effort. To be safe and effective, any weight-loss program must address the long-term approach or else the program is largely a waste of money and effort.

Reviewed by the Department of Nutrition Therapy at The Cleveland Clinic.


Edited by Charlotte Grayson, MD, WebMD, August 2004.

Portions of this page © The Cleveland Clinic 2000-2004


Last Editorial Review: 7/14/2005




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