If you are looking for a weight loss program, you need to read this article. Choosing a safe and successful weight-loss program is essential for sustainable results.
More than 70 percent of U.S. adults are overweight or have obesity1 —and many of them try to lose the extra weight through various weight-loss programs. You will see them advertised in magazines, newspapers, internet, and they are also offered both in-person and online. But are they safe? And will they work for you?
In this article, you will learn about what makes a weight loss program safe and will give your lasting results. You’ll also learn how to talk with a health care professional about your weight.
Your healthcare professional may be able to help guide you to develop a healthy lifestyle to reach and maintain a healthy weight and improve your health. However, if you find it difficult to make the lifestyle changes, or the changes you have made are not helping you reach your goals – you may want to consider a weight loss program or other adjunct treatment options.
First Steps in choosing a safe and successful weight-loss program
Talking with a health care professional about your weight is an important first step. Sometimes, health care professionals may not address issues such as healthy eating, physical activity, and weight during general office visits. You may need to raise these issues yourself. If you feel uneasy talking about your weight, bring your questions with you and practice talking about your concerns before your office visit. Aim to work with your health care professional to improve your health.
Talking with your health care professional about your weight is an important first step.
What questions to ask your health care professional?
Before your visit with a health care professional, think about the following questions:
- What is a healthy weight or BMI for me?
- Will losing weight improve my general health, as well as specific health problems I have?
- Could any of my medical conditions or medications be causing weight gain or making it harder for me to lose weight?
- Are there any types or amounts of physical activity I should not do because of my health?
- What dietary approaches do you recommend I try or avoid?
- What can I do to change my eating habits to reach a healthy weight?
- How much and what type of physical activity should I do to reach my health goals?
- Should I see a weight loss specialist or join a weight loss program?
You can be better prepared for a visit with a health care professional if you
- write down all of your questions ahead of time
- record all of the medicines and dietary supplements you take or bring them with you
- write down the types of diets or programs you have tried in the past to lose weight
- bring a pen and paper, smartphone, or other mobile devices to read your questions and take notes
During your visit, a health care professional may
- review your medical conditions and current medications/supplements to see if they may be causing weight gain or affecting your ability to lose weight.
- ask about your current eating habits and physical activity routine
- calculate your body mass index (BMI) to assess your weight status
- may review your blood work results to assess your health risk
People who are overweight have a BMI between 25.0 and 29.9. People with obesity have a BMI of 30.0 or higher, and those with extreme obesity have a BMI of 40.0 or higher. You can use this online tool or chart to assess your weight status.
If your health care professional recommends losing weight, then you may want to ask for a referral to a weight-loss program or weight-loss specialist. If you decide to choose a weight-loss program on your own, review the following section to learn the steps to choosing a safe and successful weight loss program.
What should I look for in a weight-loss program?
To reach and stay at a healthy weight over the long term, you must focus on your overall health and lifestyle habits, not just on what you eat. Successful weight-loss programs should promote healthy behaviors that help you lose weight safely, that you can stick with every day, and that help you keep the weight off.
Safe and successful weight-loss programs should include
- behavioral treatment, also called lifestyle counseling, that can teach you how to develop and stick with healthier eating and physical activity habits—for example, keeping food and activity records or journals
- information about getting enough sleep, managing stress, and the benefits and drawbacks of weight-loss medicines
- ongoing feedback, monitoring, and support throughout the program, either in person, by phone, online, or through a combination of these approaches
- slow and steady weight-loss goals—usually 1 to 2 pounds per week (though weight loss may be faster at the start of a program)
- a plan for keeping the weight off, including goal setting, self-checks such as keeping a food journal, and counseling support
Some commercial weight-loss programs have all of these components for a safe and successful weight-loss program. Check for these features in any program you are thinking about trying.
At Valley Forge Weight Management Center, we emphasize healthy lifestyle habits. In fact, each participant gets free access to the course, “Healthy Lifestyle Skills for Weight Loss“, and counseling by bariatrician (board-certified physician with specialized training and certification in obesity medicine) at each visit and continually via in-app messaging. Each participant gets personalized support and guidance from a bariatrician (not a Bot or assistant). Your success is our success at Valley Forge Weight Management Center (VFWMC).
Participants can expect to lose a minimum of 10% of weight by six months. Some even lose that in three months.
Some aggressive diets, such as Keto or Very Low-Calorie Diet (VLCD), may help people lose a lot of weight quickly—for example, 15 pounds in a month—they may not help people keep the weight off long term. These diets also may have related health risks, the most common being dehydration, lethargy, kidney stone, gallstones, liver enzyme elevations, bad breath, and hair loss . The VLCD diets, if done under physician supervision who is trained in managing VLCD, can be beneficial in the short term. At VFWMC, the bariatrician can start you on a 3-month VLCD program, and you will see a drastic weight loss with that. The bariatrician will then slowly transition you to a healthy lifestyle to get long-term success. Call, SMS, or chat with us for any questions.
For people who are overweight or have obesity, experts recommend a beginning weight-loss goal of 5 to 10 percent of your starting weight within six months . If you weigh 200 pounds, that would amount to a loss of 10 pounds, which is 5 percent of starting weight, to 20 pounds, which is 10 percent of starting weight, in 6 months.
Changing your lifestyle isn’t easy, but adopting healthy habits that you don’t give up after a few weeks or months may help you maintain your weight loss. At VFWMC, we emphasize health habits. From day 1, you will receive personalized recommendations about healthy eating patterns and physical activity routines that you can keep. With ongoing accountability and support, you will eventually be able to adopt healthy habits to see lasting results. You can book an appointment with us online.
What to look for in an online weight loss program?
Many weight-loss programs are now being offered partly or completely online and through apps for mobile devices. Experts suggest that these weight-loss programs should provide the following:
- organized, weekly lessons, offered online or by podcast, and tailored to your personal goals
- support from a qualified staff person to meet your goals
- a plan to track your progress on changing your lifestyle habits, such as healthy eating and physical activity, using tools such as cellphones, activity counters, and online journals
- regular feedback on your goals, progress, and results provided by a counselor through email, phone, or text messages
- the option of social support from a group through bulletin boards, chat rooms, or online meetings
Whether a program is online or in person, you should get as much background as you can before you decide to join.
Many weight-loss programs are now being offered online and through apps for mobile devices.
Weight-loss programs to avoid
Avoid weight-loss programs that make any of the following promises:
- Lose weight without diet or exercise!
- Lose weight while eating as much as you want of all your favorite foods!
- Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!
- Lose weight in specific problem areas of your body!
Other warning signs to look out for include
- very small print, asterisks, and footnotes, which may make it easy to miss important information
- before-and-after photos that seem too good to be true
Recalibrate is our subscription-based, completely online weight loss program designed to re-calibrate your metabolism using evidence-based approaches to changing eating patterns, physical activity routines, and mindset. This program is created to help you not only lose weight but also to keep it off. You will receive
- An advanced smart body scale (body composition analyzer)
- 1:1 personalized counseling and support from a bariatrician (a board-certified physician with special training and certification in obesity medicine.)
- Guidance on creating healthy habits that last
- Access to course “Healthy Lifestyle Skills for Weight Loss” ($49.99 worth)
- All-in-one weight, activity, and food tracking mobile app
Our doctor will develop a program that is customized to you and may include a combination of appropriate prescription medications for weight loss and meal replacements as an adjunct to a healthy lifestyle plan to change habits and mindset for lasting results. Get Started with this program online.
What questions should I ask about a weight-loss program?
Before starting a weight loss program, you should inquire about the program’s features, safety, costs, and results. Find out if the program you’re interested in is based on current research about what works for reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. Inquire if the program emphasizes a healthy lifestyle or not.
Here are some other questions you may want to ask:
What does the program include?
- Am I expected to follow a specific meal plan?
- Am I encouraged to write down what I eat each day?
- Do I have to buy special meals or supplements? If so, what are the daily or weekly costs?
- Does the program offer healthy meal-plan suggestions that I could stick with?
- If the program requires special foods, can I make changes based on my likes, dislikes, and any food allergies I may have?
- Does the program include a physical activity plan?
- Does the program offer ways to help me be more physically active and stay motivated?
- Does the program offer one-on-one or group counseling to help me develop and stick with my healthier habits?
- Does the program include a trained coach or counselor, or physician to help me overcome roadblocks and stay on track?
- Does the program include a plan to help me keep off the weight I’ve lost?
- What does that program include? Will there be ongoing counseling support?
- How long is the actual weight-loss program?
- How long is the weight-loss maintenance program?
- Does the program require that I take any kind of medicine?
- Can I speak with a doctor or certified health professional if I need to?
- Can I change the program to meet my lifestyle, work schedule, and cultural needs?
- Will the program help me cope with such issues as stress or social eating, getting enough sleep, changes in work schedules, lack of motivation, and injury or illness?
- Is the program in person? Is there an online part to the program?
Find out if the program offers ways to help you be more physically active.
What kind of education or training do staff members have?
These questions are especially important if you are considering a medically supervised program that encourages quick weight loss (3 or more pounds a week for several weeks):
- Does a doctor or other certified health professional run or oversee the program?
- Does the program include specialists in nutrition, physical activity, behavior change, and weight loss?
- What type of certifications, education, experience, and training do staff members have? How long, on average, have most of the staff been working with the program?
Does the program or product carry any risks?
- Could the program cause health problems or be harmful to me in any way?
- Is there ongoing input and follow-up to ensure my safety while I’m in the program?
- Will the program’s doctor or staff work with my health care professional if needed—for example, to address how the program may affect an ongoing medical issue?
How much does the program cost?
- What is the total cost of the program, from beginning to end?
- Are there costs that are not included in that total, such as membership fees or fees for
- weekly visits
- food, meal replacements, supplements, or other products
- medical tests
- counseling sessions
- follow-up to maintain the weight I’ve lost
What results do people in the program typically achieve?
- How much weight does the average person lose?
- How long does the average person keep the weight off?
- Do you have written information on these and other program results?
- Are the results of the program published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal?
What if I need more help losing weight?
If a weight-loss program is not enough to help you reach a healthy weight, ask your health care professional about other types of weight-loss treatments. Prescription medicines to treat overweight and obesity, combined with healthy lifestyle changes, may help some people reach a healthy weight.
 Fryar CD, Carroll MD, and Ogden CL. Prevalence of overweight, obesity, and extreme obesity among adults aged 20 and over: United States, 1960–1962 through 2013–2014. National Center for Health Statistics. Health E-Stats. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/obesity_adult_13_14/obesity_adult_13_14.pdf External link. (PDF, 341 KB) Published July 2016. Accessed July 6, 2017.
 Jensen MD, Ryan DH, Apovian CM, et al. 2013 AHA/ACC/TOS guideline for the management of overweight and obesity in adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines and The Obesity Society. Circulation. 2014;129(25 Suppl 2):S102–S138. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2013/11/11/01.cir.0000437739.71477.ee External link. Accessed July 6, 2017.
 Muscogiuri, G., Barrea, L., Laudisio, D. et al. The management of very-low-calorie ketogenic diet in obesity outpatient clinic: a practical guide. J Transl Med 17, 356 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12967-019-2104-z