Look for:

  • A balanced approach to weight loss – one that addresses and emphasizes healthier eating habits, increased physical activity and behavioral strategies and modifications to promote lasting change.
  • A program whose staff have appropriate professional education, credentials and experience. This includes registered dietitians, personal trainers certified by professional organization such as the American College of Sports Medicine, and MDs and other health professionals with specialized training in bariatric medicine or weight management.
  • A plan personalized to your individual needs. This kind of tailored approach, Dr. Eisenson says, requires a thorough assessment of your current health status as well as a thoughtful evaluation of your needs, goals, resources and physical and emotional challenges. 
  • Flexibility. Extreme plans that severely restrict, eliminate or demonize food groups can sometimes help you lose weight quickly, but are difficult to impossible to maintain and can lead to regaining the weight, says Dr. Youdim.
  • A program that offers ongoing professional follow up and long-term support. Staff should also be able and willing to answer all your questions before you enroll and provide you with opportunities to talk with people who have gone through the program.

Avoid:

  • Programs that over-promise, says Dr. Eisenson. “While ALL weight-loss programs can provide some extraordinary success stories, it is important to understand what kind of results are typical. If a behaviorally based weight-loss program can consistently help people lose approximately 10 percent of body weight, they are doing well,” he says.
  • Programs dependent on what Dr. Eisenson calls “gimmicks.” This includes, he says, an emphasis on dietary supplements or oral or injectable weight-loss agents or medications. “These are often expensive, of very limited or unproven value and sometimes of questionable safety.” He notes that these caveats don’t include programs that feature balanced meal replacements, such as shakes and bars, which studies have shown are helpful short- and medium-term weight-loss tools.
  • Plans that promote extensive and expensive lab studies and other diagnostic testing, such as full body imaging scans to measure body fat, which can be determined adequately with simple, inexpensive methods, such as measuring waist circumference or calculating body mass index. If you’re not sure whether a test is appropriate, ask your doctor is there is scientific evidence to supports its use outside of research studies.
  • Programs that promise rapid weight loss without supervision by a health care professional who understands the potential health and safety concerns this can create. “A person may need to change the type or dosage of their medications, for example,” says Dr. Youdim. “You need to know that someone is evaluating these issues and is qualified to manage them.”