Shop Smart: Readers rate top diet plans

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MyFitnessPal, a free smartphone app and website, got one of the top satisfaction scores in Consumer Reports' diet Ratings. And while Weight Watchers is still the people's choice, chosen by 4 out of 10 Consumer Reports readers, its scoring on satisfaction is not as impressive as MyFitnessPal.

Consumer Reports tapped its large readership to rate diets -- the survey of 9,376 readers is one of the largest ever done on specific diets. The results reflect the broadening landscape of diets that subscribers reported using. In 2011, the last time Consumer Reports rated diets, it based the ratings on the results of clinical trials and a nutritional analysis.

The survey garnered enough responses to rate 13 diets representing two categories, commercial plans and do-it-yourself plans. In the commercial category, Weight Watchers received one of the top reader scores (74), followed by Medifast (70), Jenny Craig (66) and Nutrisystem (56).

In terms of initial weight loss, Medifast was the only commercial plan to receive an above-average rating. In fact, dieters said they lost more weight on the low-calorie Medifast program than any other diet rated by Consumer Reports: a typical weight loss of 20 to 43 pounds for men and 14 to 40 pounds for women. Weight Watchers received top scores for allowing a variety of foods and for encouraging calorie awareness, exercise and consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Of the nine do-it-yourself plans, MyFitnessPal received an overall satisfaction score of 83 and top marks for maintenance, calorie awareness and food variety. The Paleo Diet, which instructs dieters to eat like a caveman, received an 80 score, followed by the Mediterranean Diet (77) and SparkPeople (76), which, like MyFitnessPal, is an app and website.

Some takeaways from the report:

• Keep expectations in check. Medical consultants say dieters often overestimate how much weight they can realistically lose, perhaps not realizing that dropping as little as 5 to 10 percent of their starting weight can pay real health dividends.

• Experts say keeping track of your exercise and calories is hugely helpful. Eighty-seven percent of those who relied on MyFitnessPal said they used it to record what they ate, as did 81 percent of readers who used SparkPeople. And 68 percent of those on Weight Watchers did so. Weight Watchers members can find weight, food and exercise trackers on its website and also through an app. Not surprisingly, respondents gave those diets top marks for calorie awareness.

• A whopping 43 percent of respondents said they signed up for Weight Watchers and about two-thirds of them said they attended Weight Watchers' in-person group meetings, with the others following the diet online only. Those readers who attended meetings had slightly higher overall satisfaction scores, and a much higher percentage who went to the meetings reported that Weight Watchers had taught them self-control strategies. Plus, meeting-goers also shed more pounds than readers who followed the diet online.

• Some diets are built around eliminating or severely restricting major categories of food, including the Atkins Diet, Paleo Diet, the initial stages of the South Beach Diet and the catchall category of generic "low-carb diet." Of those, the Paleo Diet was the best-liked.

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Consumer Reports: consumerreports.org


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