Popular diets and commercial weight loss programmes

Thousands of books, websites, videos, clubs, etc. provide advice on losing weight.

  • some consist mainly of advice on what to eat - known as diets
  • some market special food products or meal substitutes - known as meal replacement programmes
  • some include advice on how to achieve the dietary change - known as weight loss programmes

Weight loss programmes

Weight loss programmes are usually based on providing support to motivate people to stick to their chosen weight loss plan over the long term.

This can come in the form of regular meetings, self-help manuals, support groups, online guidance, newsletters, or regular contact of other kind. Most weight loss programmes also have their own diet recommendations.

Research has shown that this kind of support can help some people to lose weight and maintain the weight loss.

Weight Concern believes that weight loss programmes should give advice which is scientifically valid, that the programme leaders should be appropriately trained, that the dietary recommendations should be healthy, and that the organisation should not exploit people.


Diets range from the sensible to the crazy. As a rule of thumb, the crazier they are the more elaborate their theories. If they work at all, it is by keeping energy intake below energy expenditure.

Weight Concern believes the important differences between diets are:

  • Whether the dietary advice is healthy - if the diet is nutritionally well-balanced, no-one is likely to be harmed by it
  • Whether the dietary advice is easy to stick to - if the eating patterns proposed are sensible, people will be able to stick them for longer
  • Whether the diet includes good advice on maintaining weight loss - it is easier to lose weight than it is to keep the weight off when the diet is over. Any good diet should include advice on 'maintenance'

Weight Concern recommends that if you want to follow a diet, you should:

  • Monitor your weight and set a realistic, healthy target weight to aim for
  • Focus on gradual weight loss – aim for around 0.5 to 1kg (1 to 2lbs) per week
  • Focus on long-term lifestyle changes rather than a short-term quick fix
  • Make sure the diet is not radical or extreme – remember, if it was that easy to lose weight we'd have discovered the solution years ago!
  • Include some behaviour change techniques, such as keeping a food and activity diary, and plan how to cope with holidays and special occasions
  • Chose a diet that promotes a balanced healthy diet and doesn't encourage you to cut out entire groups of foods, for example, carbohydrates
  • Chose a diet that recommends regular activity and offers practical, safe advice about becoming more active
  • Chose a diet that offers some form of ongoing support, eg, weekly meetings, helplines, online support or access to professional advice if you come up against problems and that offers suggestions to help you to keep off any weight you lose.

Be very cautious of following any dietary advice that steers you away from a healthy diet, except with medical advice.

Own brand ready-meals

A number of retailers and supermarkets sell their own-brand calorie-counted ready meals.

Some of these ready-meals are better than others. Some are nutritionally high quality. Others are simply smaller versions of standard meals. You should check the labels carefully to see which is which.

Weight Concern recommends adding vegetables if you choose to eat ready-meals.

One of the advantages of these ready-meals is that they are quick and easy to prepare and the guesswork is taken out of how many calories you are serving.

Miracle foods and fad diets

Every now and then a miracle food or fad diet is announced that will help you lose weight effortlessly. They do not work.

Some are based on scientific evidence that has been misreported, distorted or used out of context. Others are simply silly and potentially dangerous.

Weight Concern will not give examples of this type of diet, because they do not need any more publicity.

Losing weight through eating healthily and being physically active will not only make it easier to maintain the weight loss, but will have additional benefits for your health. Other sections of this website give more detailed information on how to do this, and when you hear of the latest' diet revolution, remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't good and isn't true.

Meal replacement programmes

Meal replacement programmes have been around for a long time. They range from portion-controlled, calorie-counted ready-meals to very low calorie drinks to replace meals.

There is no doubt that some people find this an easier way to achieve a negative energy balance, but the return to normal eating without putting the weight back on can be very difficult.

Weight Concern believes that meal replacement programmes have a role to play but they do not suit everyone.

No-one should follow a very low calorie meal replacement programme without professional advice. Support for normal healthy eating after the end of the programme is important.