A new investigation into online weight-loss programs by CHOICE has found some alarmingly questionable advice on major dieting websites. In addition to containing nutritional inaccuracies, some of the programs were also guilty of unrealistic exercise regimes. A few, however, offered flexible plans to suit various lifestyles.
Weight loss picture from Shutterstock
To assess the effectiveness and accuracy of online weight-loss programs, CHOICE enrolled a "shadow shopper" into five major Australian online diet programs, including Ashy Bines, SureSlim, Weight Watchers and Michelle Bridges. The results were then analysed by an accredited dietician and accredited exercise physiologist.
CHOICE found that many of the plans involved restrictive diets with low calorie intake, intensive exercise and excessive payments which ultimately set the customer up to fail. The aforementioned Ashy Bines and SureSlim also went against the fundamental principles of eating a healthy, balanced diet according to CHOICE's researchers.
Some of the advice lacked scientific evidence and there were also a number of inaccuracies when it came to eating advice. A couple of the dubious claims uncovered include: "An apple a day blasts the fat away" and "start meals by eating a mouth of protein first".
The shadow shopper also felt that many of the food and exercise programs were needlessly overcomplicated, which would it difficult to maintain over an extended period of time.
"For the amount of money you’re spending on these programs, you'd be better off seeing your GP or an accredited dietician who can take into consideration your health, goals and personal needs," the consumer watchdog concluded.
"If you are adamant about using an online weight-loss program, do your research and keep in mind they can be overly restrictive."
In some good news, Michelle Bridges was found to offer a highly flexible program to suit various lifestyles, although the amount of exercise required would likely be considered unrealistic by some.
Weight Watchers also fared well. CHOICE's shadow shopper found the site's message boards, forums and weekly weigh-ins helpful and was also impressed by the ability to choose and track what she ate online. However, she noted that various phone apps enable dieters to track a similar point system for a much lower cost.
The CHOICE report concludes that while many of these programs can achieve crash-weightloss, the intensive amount of exercise and restrictive eating plans are not sustainable in the long term. Consequently, after completing the program many clients end up piling the weight back on.
"It’s more valuable to educate yourself about food and exercise and maintain a healthy diet and a manageable exercise regime," CHOICE warns.
If you're still keen to sign up for an online weight-loss program, there are several things CHOICE recommends you should look out for. This includes checking if the diets are based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADG), whether the program promotes all food groups/balanced eating and the amount of physical activity required (none is a bad sign, but so is too much).
Finally, you should also talk to your GP before embarking on an online program who may suggest more effective solutions such as face-to-face programs or an accredited practising dietician.