Looking to lose weight? Don’t go it alone. Choosing a good weight loss program can drastically improve your chances of success when it comes to shedding excess body weight.
Carefully-designed weight loss programs combine both nutrition and psychology research to create a comprehensive approach that leverages healthy foods to help you lose weight, and useful strategies for sticking with the weight loss program for the long haul.
Despite the notoriously low success rate of people who attempt to lose weight, those who stick with a formal weight loss program fare far better than those who don’t. Here are the primary benefits of sticking to a weight loss program that our team identified in scientific research.
1. Weight loss programs can help jump-start your new diet
Compliance and success with losing weight on your own are shockingly low (1). Most people don’t lose much weight, and tend to gain it back within a few years. The good news? A formal weight loss program gives you a better shot at success (2,3).
2. Programs make weight loss easier than going it alone
Completion rates in weight loss program increases dramatically when you have the support and accountability of a program. One study showed that social support boosts weight loss success rates from 24% to 66% (4).
3. Weight loss programs make the biggest difference when it comes to long-term success
Almost any change in diet or exercise is enough to induce a short-term decrease in weight loss, but research shows keeping weight off is much harder (5).
Fortunately, the long-term benefits of a formal weight loss program can be up to 4% more total body mass lost of the long term (6).
4. Long-term weight loss appears to be more of a function of lifestyle choices than specific food choices
One study on a large group of people who have lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off for at least five years found that key weight maintenance behaviors include a consistent diet pattern, not skipping breakfast, and exercising at least an hour per day (7).
Not surprisingly, all of these components are incorporated into our top-rated weight loss programs.
5. Regardless of how it happens, the direct benefits of weight loss are numerous
Even relatively modest amounts of weight loss can result in positive health benefits: even if you lose less than 10% of your body weight, you can see a substantial improvement in blood sugar, blood cholesterol, and blood pressure (8).
6. Weight loss is more effective than exercise when it comes to shedding weight
Exercise has substantial health benefits, but its efficacy alone as a mechanism for weight loss is surprisingly poor.
For example, people improve their heart health better from doing a weight loss program than completing an aerobic exercise program (9).
7. Weight loss programs can help improve mental health
Research on hundreds of obese people in weight loss programs shows a significant correlation between weight loss and improvements in symptoms of depression (10).
Other research shows that even just ten pounds of weight loss from a weight loss program can dramatically improve symptoms of depression (11).
A whopping 72% of the people who had depression at baseline no longer met the clinical criteria for depression after the end of the study.
One advantage of a commercial weight loss program is that you mitigate your risk of side effects when compared with a diet cobbled together yourself. Compared to do-it-yourself dieting, commercial weight loss programs reduce the risk of problems like:
Poor micronutrient content. If you restrict your food intake too severely, you’ll be missing out on vital micronutrients or your macronutrient balance can get thrown off.
When you restrict your caloric intake, or cut out specific food groups, you do run the risk of having nutritional deficiencies, especially when it comes to micronutrients.
Missing key superfoods like omega-3 fatty acids. Cutting out fatty foods in a thrown-together diet could have the inadvertent effect of causing your omega-3 fatty acid intake to plummet, which could increase your long-term risk for cardiovascular disease (12).
Gastrointestinal problems from too little fiber. Cutting your overall dietary intake can cut your fiber intake too. Fiber helps maintain regular bowel movements and a healthy population of probiotic bacteria in your gut. Too little fiber and you’ll miss out on both of these benefits.
Fortunately, reputable weight loss programs have nutritionists on staff to ensure that the diets that they avoid these potential side effects.
Weight loss program benefits FAQ
Q: What are the best ways to lose weight fast?
A: To lose weight quickly, very low energy diets are the best way to accomplish this goal.
These “VLEDs,” as they are referred to in the scientific literature, can have caloric intakes as low as 800 Calories per day and have historically been disparaged as “crash diets,” but have substantial scientific backing.
One study found they were twice as effective as a standard behavioral intervention, even after one year of follow-up (13).
Q: How do you start a weight loss program?
A: Most weight loss programs make it extremely easy to sign up and begin.
Much research has focused on attrition during weight loss programs, but possibly the biggest barrier of them all is entry: no one knows how many people want to start a weight loss program, but don’t actually pull the trigger.
Major weight loss programs know this, though, so after just a minute or two of looking into a program, you’ll find a way to join an email newsletter, download an app, or chat with a weight loss advisor about the program.
Q: How do you stick with a weight loss program?
A: From scientific research, the following factors make the biggest difference for sticking with a weight loss program:
Self efficacy. The psychological principle of self efficacy is the degree to which you believe you can be successful: a more colloquial interpretation might be your level of optimism about your prospects for weight loss (14).
Believing that you won’t be successful at losing weight becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, so much so that specific psychological interventions to increase self-efficacy make a big difference with weight loss (15).
This probably explains why socially-based weight loss programs have so many adherents.
Getting friends to join you on a weight loss program, or meeting friends who are in a weight loss program already, can have a major influence on your degree of success.
Q: How much weight should you lose for health?
A: Many people think that you need to completely transform your body to get the health benefits of weight loss, but research shows that this isn’t the case. Losing as little as five percent percent of your body mass can lead to significant improvements in cardiovascular and metabolic health (18). Of course, more weight loss is better, but
Related: Our best weight loss program picks
For most people, trying to wing it with a do-it-yourself weight loss program isn’t going to work very well. For optimal results, you need a proven weight loss program with a track record of success.
The best weight loss programs incorporate solid nutritional science alongside best-practices from psychology that make the diet program both effective and easy to stick with.
Research consistently shows that well-constructed weight loss programs can have significantly better results than generic diet and exercise advice, so if you want to hit your weight loss goals, choosing a good weight loss program and sticking to it should be your number one task.