Whenever I am asked to recommend a commercial weight loss program, I have always spoken highly of Weight Watchers. The program is based on consuming readily available “real” food, group support, weekly weigh-ins and participation in ongoing exercise. Overall, it is a sound program. So I was very surprised when last month, the Jenny Craig program was rated as the best diet by Consumer Reports Health, beating out six other popular diets including Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem.
The plans were graded based on how well they adhered to the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines and on the results of published clinical studies that examined the diets’ short- and long-term weight loss and dropout rates. The Jenny Craig program combines counseling with a portion-controlled regimen of prepackaged foods that are supplemented with some home-prepared items. Being curious by nature and skeptical as a professional — or curious as a professional and skeptical by nature — I had to look into the reasons Jenny Craig came out on top.
So what makes a diet a good diet? The experts look at retention or adherence rates. How long does the plan keep a dieter’s attention? For any plan to be successful you have to stick with it. So what does Jenny Craig have that the other programs lack?
Consumer Reports ranked Jenny Craig as No. 1 because of its “remarkable level of adherence.” This was based on information gathered from a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that 92 percent of 331 women on the Jenny Craig program had stuck with the program for an entire 24-month study period. Remarkable!
The study, funded by Jenny Craig, provided participants with free program materials, including free-of-charge prepackaged prepared food as needed to achieve a meal plan. At the end of the study, in-person clinic visits showed that about 60 percent of the women who stayed in the program had lost and kept off at least 5 percent of their initial weight. However, no data were collected that showed the 92 percent of the participants who stayed in the program actually adhered to the Jenny Craig regimen.
If the women had to pay for the program it would have cost them about $6,600 over the two-year period. The question begs to be asked: If a person were paying out of pocket would she continue with this program for two years? And, would she continue if she were only achieving a 5 percent weight loss? A woman starts out the program weighing 240 pounds, loses 5 percent of her weight or 12 pounds over the two years – this would be a cost of $550.00 per pound.
So realistically, what would your retention be if you were to start Jenny Craig today and pay for the program yourself? About 10 years ago, Jenny Craig tracked more than 60,000 dieters who enrolled in the program during one 12-month period. They found that half of the those enrolled dropped out of the program within 10 weeks and at the end of one year only 6.6 percent were still in the program.
The seven diets that Consumer Reports rated were: Jenny Craig, Slim-Fast, Weight Watchers, Zone Diet, Atkins Diet, Ornish Diet and Nutrisystem. One of the reasons cited for Nutrisystem ranking last in the diet rankings is that no long-term studies on its effectiveness are available.
Consumers Reports prides itself on providing unbiased, accurate, evidence-based information. I think they missed the mark on this one. Interestingly, Weight Watchers has objected that the Jenny Craig trial was not a “real-life scenario,” and The New York Times faulted Consumer Reports for ignoring an earlier study. Nancy Metcalf from Consumer Reports still contends that no matter how they look at the numbers, Jenny Craig is still their winner. They do agree that the best diet for anyone is the one that can be followed for months or even years.
Success at weight loss is extremely difficult. The most successful candidates are usually those who do it on their own. To lose weight, you can’t cheat the first law of thermodynamics – you have to burn up more calories than you take in, no matter what kind of diet you are on.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.