Choosing a Safe and Successful Weight-Loss Program

Choosing a weight-loss program may be a difficult task. You may not know what to look for in a weight-loss program or what questions to ask. This fact sheet can help you talk to your health care professional about weight loss and get the best information before choosing a program.

feet on a scale

Talk with Your Health Care Professional

You may want to talk with your doctor or other health care professional about controlling your weight before you decide on a weight-loss program. Even if you feel uncomfortable talking about your weight with your doctor, remember that he or she is there to help you improve your health. Here are some tips:

  • Tell your provider that you would like to talk about your weight. Share your concerns about any medical conditions you have or medicines you are taking.
  • Write down your questions in advance.
  • Bring pen and paper to take notes.
  • Bring a friend or family member along for support if this will make you feel more comfortable.
  • Make sure you understand what your health care provider is saying. Ask questions if there is something you do not understand.
  • Ask for other sources of information like brochures or websites.
  • If you want more support, ask for a referral to a registered dietitian, a support group, or a commercial weight-loss program.
  • Call your provider after your visit if you have more questions or need help.

Ask Questions

Find out as much as you can about your health needs before joining a weight-loss program. Here are some questions you might want to ask your health care provider:

About Your Weight

  • Do I need to lose weight? Or should I just avoid gaining more?
  • Is my weight affecting my health?
  • Could my excess weight be caused by a medical condition such as hypothyroidism or by a medicine I am taking? (Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone, a condition that can slow your metabolism-how your body creates and uses energy.)  

About Weight Loss

  • What should my weight-loss goal be?
  • How will losing weight help me?

About Nutrition and Physical Activity

  • How should I change my eating habits?
  • What kinds of physical activity can I do?
  • How much physical activity do I need?

About Treatment

  • Should I take weight-loss medicine?
  • What about weight-loss surgery?
  • Could a weight-loss program help me?

A Responsible and Safe Weight-Loss Program

If your health care provider tells you that you should lose weight and you want to find a weight-loss program to help you, look for one that is based on regular physical activity and an eating plan that is balanced, healthy, and easy to follow. Weight-loss programs should encourage healthy behaviors that help you lose weight and that you can stick with every day. Safe and effective weight-loss programs should include:

  • Healthy eating plans that reduce calories but do not forbid specific foods or food groups.
  • Tips to increase moderate-intensity physical activity.
  • Tips on healthy behavior changes that also keep your cultural needs in mind.
  • Slow and steady weight loss. Depending on your starting weight, experts recommend losing weight at a rate of 1/2 to 2 lbs per week. Weight loss may be faster at the start of a program.
  • Medical care if you are planning to lose weight by following a special formula diet, such as a very low-calorie diet.
  • A plan to keep the weight off after you have lost it.

Get Familiar with the Program

Gather as much information as you can before deciding to join a program. Professionals working for weight-loss programs should be able to answer the questions listed below.

What does the weight-loss program consist of?

  • Does the program offer one-on-one counseling or group classes?
  • Do you have to follow a specific meal plan or keep food records?
  • Do you have to purchase special food, drugs, or supplements?
  • Does the program help you be more physically active, follow a specific physical activity plan, or provide exercise instruction?
  • Does the program teach you to make positive and healthy behavior changes?
  • Is the program sensitive to your lifestyle and cultural needs?

What are the staff qualifications?

  • Who supervises the program?
  • What type of weight management training, experience, education, and certifications do the staff have?

Does the product or program carry any risks?

  • Could the program hurt you?
  • Could the recommended drugs or supplements harm your health?
  • Do participants talk with a doctor?
  • Does a doctor run the program?
  • Will the program's doctors work with your personal doctor if you have a medical condition such as high blood pressure or are taking prescribed drugs?

How much does the program cost?

  • What is the total cost of the program?
  • Are there other costs, such as weekly attendance fees, food and supplement purchases, etc.?
  • Are there fees for a follow-up program after you lose weight?
  • Are there other fees for medical tests?

What results do participants typically have?

  • How much weight does an average participant lose and how long does he or she keep the weight off?
  • Does the program offer publications or materials that describe what results participants typically have?

If you are interested in finding a weight-loss program near you, ask your health care provider for a referral or contact your local hospital.

By the Weight Control Information Network.
Public domain.

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