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Obesity: Should I Use a Diet Plan to Lose Weight?

You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Obesity: Should I Use a Diet Plan to Lose Weight?

Get the facts

Your options

  • Use a diet plan to help you lose weight.
  • Get to a healthy weight by making small, long-term changes in your eating and exercise habits.

Key points to remember

  • You may already be at a healthy weight. If you are, you're better off forgetting about weight loss. Instead, learn healthy eating and activity habits that will help you stay at a healthy weight.
  • Diets almost never work, and they can cause many people to fall into an unhealthy cycle of losing and gaining weight.
  • Research shows that people who use a diet plan tend to lose more weight at first than people who try to lose weight on their own. But after they stop dieting, most people regain the weight they have lost, and sometimes more, no matter which method they use.
  • Not all diet plans are safe or effective. Some diets can even be bad for your health. It's wise to talk to your doctor before you start any weight-loss diet.
  • Lasting weight loss requires lifelong changes in your eating and exercise habits.
FAQs

Do you need to lose weight?

Many people want to lose weight. And there are many diet plans that claim to be the best way to help you do this. But before you consider whether to use a diet plan, find out if you really need to lose weight.

A healthy weight is the weight you reach when you're active and eating healthy foods. Many people who weigh a few extra pounds are still at a healthy weight.

If you practice healthy eating habits and are active enough to stay healthy, then a few extra pounds are not bad for your health unless you have other medical problems.

If you are thinking about losing weight, ask your doctor whether it's a good idea for you.

What are diet plans?

Some people lose weight on their own by eating fewer calories and getting active. Diet plans are any kind of structured program you might follow to help you lose weight. There are many different plans, including those in which:

  • You follow specific daily menus or you follow rules about what types of food to eat and what types to avoid. These diets often come from books, from the Internet, or from friends or family.
  • You buy meal replacements (for example, liquid "shakes") and follow the product's recommendations about what other food you should eat.
  • You buy prepared meals that are sent to your home.
  • You join a group—in person or on the Internet—and get support and information about how to eat healthy foods.

Ask your doctor about any diet plan you are thinking of using. You should also think about how well you'll be able to stay with that plan's rules about what and how much to eat.

How do diet plans work?

When diet plans work, it's because they restrict calories. Limiting calories by eating smaller portions—not limiting the types of food you eat—is what causes weight loss. Over the long term, diets that focus on limiting carbohydrate or fat will not lead to more weight loss than a healthy eating plan.

Lasting weight loss requires lifelong changes in your eating and exercise habits. If you go back to your old eating habits after you stop dieting, you are likely to regain all the weight you lost on the diet.

What are the benefits of following a diet plan?

Some people are more successful at losing weight when they have a structured plan to follow or when they can participate with a group of people.

A well-balanced diet plan that includes all the food groups may also be a good way to learn about good eating habits. Some plans can teach you about normal portion sizes. They may teach you the importance of eating a variety of healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, whole grains, and protein sources such as low-fat meats, beans, and lentils.

A good diet plan will also teach you the importance of eating regular meals, including breakfast. And it will teach you how to change your eating habits for good.

What are the risks of following a diet plan?

Not all diet plans are safe or effective. Some diet plans can even be bad for your health.

Many diets do not provide a healthy balance of the foods your body needs. Diets that severely restrict calories or that avoid certain types of food may not provide enough vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.

Most people who diet regain the weight they have lost, and sometimes more, after they stop following the diet plan. Diets can cause people to fall into an unhealthy cycle of losing and gaining weight. This is often called "yo-yo dieting." Yo-yo dieting may be harder on the body than just being overweight.

Just because a diet plan helps another person lose weight does not mean that it will work for you. It is very hard to stay on a diet that includes lots of big changes in your eating habits. If you can't stay on the diet, you may end up feeling discouraged and give up on trying to change your eating habits.

Compare your options

Compare

What is usually involved?









What are the benefits?









What are the risks and side effects?









Use a diet plan Use a diet plan
  • You follow a diet plan. The plan may tell you what foods and what portions to eat. Or the plan may give you guidelines to stay within a certain calorie, carbohydrate, or fat range each day. The plan may involve attending meetings or support groups.
  • People tend to lose more weight at first when they follow a plan.
  • Some people do better when they have a structured plan to follow.
  • A well-balanced diet plan can teach you about healthy eating habits.
  • You might be more successful at losing weight if you participate with a group of people.
  • Diets are hard to stay with and usually don't work over the long term.
  • Not all diet plans are safe or healthy.
  • If you are not successful at losing weight on a diet, you may give up on trying to change your eating habits.
  • Some diet programs cost money over and above what you pay for food.
Do not use a diet plan Do not use a diet plan
  • You gradually make permanent changes on your own to improve your eating habits.
  • You may choose to work with a doctor or a dietitian to help change your eating habits.
  • People tend to have more long-term success at losing weight when they make small changes over time instead of completely changing the way they eat all at once.
  • Some people do better when they make eating changes on their own.
  • Improving your eating habits—without using a diet—can be an effective way to improve your health, even if you don't lose weight.
  • You may not know how to get started with changing your eating habits on your own.
  • You may find that you need more support to make healthy eating changes.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about using a diet plan to lose weight

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

I want to lose weight, but I don't know very much about nutrition. I wouldn't know where to start with changing my eating habits. I think I need to follow a diet plan if I'm going to make this work.

Dennis, age 29

I've tried dieting to lose weight before. It always works at first, but as soon as I stop eating the "diet food," the weight comes right back. I'd rather make some small, healthy, permanent changes in the way I eat instead of doing a temporary diet.

Sue, age 45

I've tried to lose weight on my own. But it is too hard to plan what I should be eating. I want a diet plan that just tells me what I should eat.

Alana, age 36

I know that I need to lose some weight, but I just don't think a diet is right for me. My job requires that I travel a lot, which makes it hard to stay on a diet. I think I'll work with a dietitian instead to come up with a healthy eating plan that I can follow even when I'm on the road.

Roberto, age 60

What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to use a diet plan

Reasons not to use a diet plan

I don't think I can get to a healthy weight without the extra help that a diet plan might give me.

I think I could be successful in making healthy eating changes on my own.

More important
Equally important
More important

I've tried changing my eating habits on my own before, and it didn't work.

I've tried using a diet plan in the past, and I gained back the weight.

More important
Equally important
More important

I don't mind spending extra money on a diet plan.

I don't want to use a diet plan if it's going to cost money.

More important
Equally important
More important

I feel sure that I can continue to have healthy eating habits while following a diet plan.

I'm worried about choosing a diet plan that isn't healthy.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'd rather follow a diet plan that is already set up.

I would rather work with my doctor and a dietitian to make a personal healthy eating plan.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Using a diet plan

NOT using a diet plan

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1.

Are most people who lose weight on a diet able to keep the weight off after they stop dieting?

  • YesSorry, that's not right. At first, you may lose more weight using a diet plan. But most people regain the weight they lost, and sometimes more, after they stop dieting.
  • NoThat's right. At first, you may lose more weight using a diet plan. But most people regain the weight they lost, and sometimes more, after they stop dieting.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." At first, you may lose more weight using a diet plan. But most people regain the weight they lost, and sometimes more, after they stop dieting.
2.

Are all diet plans safe?

  • YesSorry, that's not right. Not all diet plans are safe or effective. Some diets can even be bad for your health. It's wise to talk to your doctor before you start any weight loss diet.
  • NoThat's right. Not all diet plans are safe or effective. Some diets can even be bad for your health. It's wise to talk to your doctor before you start any weight loss diet.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." Not all diet plans are safe or effective. Some diets can even be bad for your health.
3.

If you go back to your old habits after you stop dieting, are you likely to regain the weight you lost?

  • YesThat's right. Lasting weight loss requires long-term changes in your eating and exercise habits.
  • NoSorry, that's not right. Lasting weight loss requires long-term changes in your eating and exercise habits.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." Lasting weight loss requires long-term changes in your eating and exercise habits.

Decide what's next

1.

Do you understand the options available to you?

2.

Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3.

Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1.

How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure
3.

Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

Your Summary

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.

Your decision 

Next steps

Which way you're leaning

How sure you are

Your comments

Your knowledge of the facts 

Key concepts that you understood

Key concepts that may need review

Getting ready to act 

Patient choices

Credits

Credits
Author Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Obesity: Should I Use a Diet Plan to Lose Weight?

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
  1. Get the facts
  2. Compare your options
  3. What matters most to you?
  4. Where are you leaning now?
  5. What else do you need to make your decision?

1. Get the Facts

Your options

  • Use a diet plan to help you lose weight.
  • Get to a healthy weight by making small, long-term changes in your eating and exercise habits.

Key points to remember

  • You may already be at a healthy weight. If you are, you're better off forgetting about weight loss. Instead, learn healthy eating and activity habits that will help you stay at a healthy weight.
  • Diets almost never work, and they can cause many people to fall into an unhealthy cycle of losing and gaining weight.
  • Research shows that people who use a diet plan tend to lose more weight at first than people who try to lose weight on their own. But after they stop dieting, most people regain the weight they have lost, and sometimes more, no matter which method they use.
  • Not all diet plans are safe or effective. Some diets can even be bad for your health. It's wise to talk to your doctor before you start any weight-loss diet.
  • Lasting weight loss requires lifelong changes in your eating and exercise habits.
FAQs

Do you need to lose weight?

Many people want to lose weight. And there are many diet plans that claim to be the best way to help you do this. But before you consider whether to use a diet plan, find out if you really need to lose weight.

A healthy weight is the weight you reach when you're active and eating healthy foods. Many people who weigh a few extra pounds are still at a healthy weight.

If you practice healthy eating habits and are active enough to stay healthy, then a few extra pounds are not bad for your health unless you have other medical problems.

If you are thinking about losing weight, ask your doctor whether it's a good idea for you.

What are diet plans?

Some people lose weight on their own by eating fewer calories and getting active. Diet plans are any kind of structured program you might follow to help you lose weight. There are many different plans, including those in which:

  • You follow specific daily menus or you follow rules about what types of food to eat and what types to avoid. These diets often come from books, from the Internet, or from friends or family.
  • You buy meal replacements (for example, liquid "shakes") and follow the product's recommendations about what other food you should eat.
  • You buy prepared meals that are sent to your home.
  • You join a group—in person or on the Internet—and get support and information about how to eat healthy foods.

Ask your doctor about any diet plan you are thinking of using. You should also think about how well you'll be able to stay with that plan's rules about what and how much to eat.

How do diet plans work?

When diet plans work, it's because they restrict calories. Limiting calories by eating smaller portions—not limiting the types of food you eat—is what causes weight loss. Over the long term, diets that focus on limiting carbohydrate or fat will not lead to more weight loss than a healthy eating plan.

Lasting weight loss requires lifelong changes in your eating and exercise habits. If you go back to your old eating habits after you stop dieting, you are likely to regain all the weight you lost on the diet.

What are the benefits of following a diet plan?

Some people are more successful at losing weight when they have a structured plan to follow or when they can participate with a group of people.

A well-balanced diet plan that includes all the food groups may also be a good way to learn about good eating habits. Some plans can teach you about normal portion sizes. They may teach you the importance of eating a variety of healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, whole grains, and protein sources such as low-fat meats, beans, and lentils.

A good diet plan will also teach you the importance of eating regular meals, including breakfast. And it will teach you how to change your eating habits for good.

What are the risks of following a diet plan?

Not all diet plans are safe or effective. Some diet plans can even be bad for your health.

Many diets do not provide a healthy balance of the foods your body needs. Diets that severely restrict calories or that avoid certain types of food may not provide enough vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.

Most people who diet regain the weight they have lost, and sometimes more, after they stop following the diet plan. Diets can cause people to fall into an unhealthy cycle of losing and gaining weight. This is often called "yo-yo dieting." Yo-yo dieting may be harder on the body than just being overweight.

Just because a diet plan helps another person lose weight does not mean that it will work for you. It is very hard to stay on a diet that includes lots of big changes in your eating habits. If you can't stay on the diet, you may end up feeling discouraged and give up on trying to change your eating habits.

2. Compare your options

  Use a diet plan Do not use a diet plan
What is usually involved?
  • You follow a diet plan. The plan may tell you what foods and what portions to eat. Or the plan may give you guidelines to stay within a certain calorie, carbohydrate, or fat range each day. The plan may involve attending meetings or support groups.
  • You gradually make permanent changes on your own to improve your eating habits.
  • You may choose to work with a doctor or a dietitian to help change your eating habits.
What are the benefits?
  • People tend to lose more weight at first when they follow a plan.
  • Some people do better when they have a structured plan to follow.
  • A well-balanced diet plan can teach you about healthy eating habits.
  • You might be more successful at losing weight if you participate with a group of people.
  • People tend to have more long-term success at losing weight when they make small changes over time instead of completely changing the way they eat all at once.
  • Some people do better when they make eating changes on their own.
  • Improving your eating habits—without using a diet—can be an effective way to improve your health, even if you don't lose weight.
What are the risks and side effects?
  • Diets are hard to stay with and usually don't work over the long term.
  • Not all diet plans are safe or healthy.
  • If you are not successful at losing weight on a diet, you may give up on trying to change your eating habits.
  • Some diet programs cost money over and above what you pay for food.
  • You may not know how to get started with changing your eating habits on your own.
  • You may find that you need more support to make healthy eating changes.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about using a diet plan to lose weight

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

"I want to lose weight, but I don't know very much about nutrition. I wouldn't know where to start with changing my eating habits. I think I need to follow a diet plan if I'm going to make this work."

— Dennis, age 29

"I've tried dieting to lose weight before. It always works at first, but as soon as I stop eating the "diet food," the weight comes right back. I'd rather make some small, healthy, permanent changes in the way I eat instead of doing a temporary diet."

— Sue, age 45

"I've tried to lose weight on my own. But it is too hard to plan what I should be eating. I want a diet plan that just tells me what I should eat."

— Alana, age 36

"I know that I need to lose some weight, but I just don't think a diet is right for me. My job requires that I travel a lot, which makes it hard to stay on a diet. I think I'll work with a dietitian instead to come up with a healthy eating plan that I can follow even when I'm on the road."

— Roberto, age 60

3. What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to use a diet plan

Reasons not to use a diet plan

I don't think I can get to a healthy weight without the extra help that a diet plan might give me.

I think I could be successful in making healthy eating changes on my own.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I've tried changing my eating habits on my own before, and it didn't work.

I've tried using a diet plan in the past, and I gained back the weight.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I don't mind spending extra money on a diet plan.

I don't want to use a diet plan if it's going to cost money.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I feel sure that I can continue to have healthy eating habits while following a diet plan.

I'm worried about choosing a diet plan that isn't healthy.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I'd rather follow a diet plan that is already set up.

I would rather work with my doctor and a dietitian to make a personal healthy eating plan.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

   
             
More important
Equally important
More important

4. Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Using a diet plan

NOT using a diet plan

             
Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

5. What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1. Are most people who lose weight on a diet able to keep the weight off after they stop dieting?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm not sure
That's right. At first, you may lose more weight using a diet plan. But most people regain the weight they lost, and sometimes more, after they stop dieting.

2. Are all diet plans safe?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm not sure
That's right. Not all diet plans are safe or effective. Some diets can even be bad for your health. It's wise to talk to your doctor before you start any weight loss diet.

3. If you go back to your old habits after you stop dieting, are you likely to regain the weight you lost?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm not sure
That's right. Lasting weight loss requires long-term changes in your eating and exercise habits.

Decide what's next

1. Do you understand the options available to you?

2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

         
Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

  • I'm ready to take action.
  • I want to discuss the options with others.
  • I want to learn more about my options.

3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

 
Credits
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator

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