Nutrition

Choosing a Diet

UPDATED 01/09/2006 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 01/09/2006 at 01:00 AM EST

THE PLAN
Medifast
WHAT IT OFFERS
Rapid weight loss
HOW IT WORKS
The “5 & 1 Plan” consists of six small meals a day totalling fewer than 1,000 calories: five Medifast meals (such as soups or shakes with soy protein) and one meal of lean meat with salad and low-fat, low-carb dressing or vegetables.
ADVERTISED WEIGHT LOSS
2 to 5 lbs. a week
WHAT IT COSTS
$312.68 for a four-week variety pack of Medifast meals (ordered by phone, mail or online), plus an additional meal daily.
KEEP IN MIND
Says registered dietician Elisa Zied, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association: “ You don't learn how to eat real food, so you may struggle once you're off the diet.”

THE PLAN
NutriSystem
WHAT IT OFFERS
The convenience of prepackaged food
HOW IT WORKS
Clients choose from more than 100 prepackaged low-fat meals and desserts and receive online support, telephone counseling and classes.
ADVERTISED WEIGHT LOSS
About 2 lbs. a week
WHAT IT COSTS
$279.46 for a 28-day supply of breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. In addition, the plan recommends that meals be supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables, plus milk and/or yogurt.
KEEP IN MIND
“It's hard to sustain a reduced-calorie plan [1200 a day] long-term, and tough to have enough energy to get through the day, especially if you're exercising,” says Zied.

THE PLAN
Jenny Craig
WHAT IT OFFERS
Premeasured portions
HOW IT WORKS
The plan is based on Jenny's Cuisine, nutritionally balanced, portion-controlled meals. Included are personalized menus and consultations, activity plans and 24-hour online support.
ADVERTISED WEIGHT LOSS
1 to 2 lbs. a week
WHAT IT COSTS
A one-time sign-up fee ($199 for Jenny OnTrack, a six-month program; $399 for Jenny Rewards, one year), $12 to $16 a day for Jenny Cuisine, and the cost of fresh produce and dairy items.
KEEP IN MIND
“Over time, people may get bored with the meals and snacks,” says Zied.

THE PLAN
Weight Watchers
WHAT IT OFFERS
The chance to eat favorite foods
HOW IT WORKS
The Flex plan assigns points to virtually all foods; anything is allowed as long as points don't exceed the weekly allotment. Clients are also encouraged to attend meetings every week and seek online support.
ADVERTISED WEIGHT LOSS
1 lb. a week
WHAT IT COSTS
A one-time registration fee is about $15, the weekly fee averages $10.95, and clients buy their own food.
KEEP IN MIND
“Some may find it tedious to look up points for certain foods,” says Zied. “Too many choices may not be a good thing. It may actually be overwhelming.”

THE PLAN
South Beach Diet
WHAT IT OFFERS
A jump start on weight loss
HOW IT WORKS
Saturated fats are restricted; all carbs are eliminated for two weeks, then “good carbs” like whole grains and fruits are added in.
ADVERTISED WEIGHT LOSS
Up to 13 lbs. in the first two weeks

WHAT IT COSTS
The South Beach Diet book costs $24.95; dieters prepare recommended meals, which may include pricey ingredients such as high-quality cuts of meat, cheeses and fresh vegetables.
KEEP IN MIND
“It skimps on its recommendations for exercise,” says Zied, “leaving it up to the reader to create their own fitness plan.”

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