The Best Weight Loss Program

Weight loss once again came in first place for New Year’s Resolutions, sharing its spot with “becoming a better person.” For a lot of us, becoming a better person starts with feeling better about ourselves. The start of a new year may be primetime to renew dedication to health and happiness, but periodic sprints of weight loss do not equate to wellness. That’s why the best diet is the one you can sustain for the rest of your life.

Weight Watchers, which not only champions a sustainable diet but has sustained itself for over fifty years, is a favorite amongst nutritionists. Its practical, flexible philosophy of saving and splurging SmartPoints boils down to balancing out food choices. You can get tips, tools, and motivation by attending the traditional weekly meetings, or get the same resources through its user-friendly app. Either way, research proves that Weight Watchers’ social element supports weight loss. At about $4 a week, OnlinePlus costs about half as much as Meetings+OnlinePlus, which runs around $8 (your fees vary depending on the length of your commitment).

We think Weight Watchers is great by any channel, but if you want to stick to an app — and can afford to pay as much as you would for WW’s in-person meetings — we’d point you to Noom.

A new player in the weight loss program space, Noom packs a lot of behavioral psychology into one sophisticated app. It aims to help you identify and break bad habits, and have some fun doing it. The powerful app echoes Weight Watchers’ successful community approach, but outleagues that program in terms of learning resources. While it’s the more expensive of our two favorite programs, it’s the richer when it comes to virtual experience — with personalized lessons, tasks, and support that made us look forward to opening up the app.

Both Weight Watchers and Noom provide lots of guidance. If you’re more of a self-starter — someone who just needs to be pointed in the right direction — The Mayo Clinic Diet provides pure resources. Picking up the entertaining, densely informative book is the only associated cost. You can also get the app for about half the cost of WW Mobile, but we didn’t find it as useful.

If you like the idea of an actually useful app, but aren’t interested in tons of interaction or paying a large membership fee, we suggest MyFitnessPal. There are lots of nearly identical apps on the market, but this one provides the easiest, quickest food tracking we experienced, plus advanced options like goal setting and nutrition analysis. For education and support, you’ll have to turn to outside sources.

Our Top Picks for the Best Weight Loss Program

Best Weight Loss Program
Weight Watchers
Weight Watchers
Weight Watcher’s time-tested weight loss philosophy doesn’t just translate to everyday life — it’s rooted in everyday life.

At the heart of its flexible system: SmartPoints. SmartPoints derive primarily from number of calories; sugar and saturated fat drive the number up, protein brings it down. Getting a feel for the number of points that different foods typically “cost” in order to stay on your daily “budget” is a great way to cultivate healthy decision-making: A fried chicken wing is 7 points, while 3 oz. of chicken breast without the skin is 2 points. A sugar-laden Coca-Cola is 9 points, but so is a dinner-sized serving of Moroccan chicken rice and potatoes. Some foods are zero points: fruits and vegetables, skinless chicken and turkey breast, seafood, eggs, nonfat yogurt. Being encouraged to eat certain items in this way helps to restructure your mindset around food.

Weight-Watchers-Comparison-1-for-Weight-Loss-Programs

You start to link up the cost of points with the cost of certain foods on your body, without any item every becoming taboo or strictly off-limits. Our tester found the point system both easy-to-use and eye-opening. “I can’t believe how many ‘healthy’ or at least innocuous foods are actually bad for you,” she remarked, noting how diet staples like granola bars took a big bite out of her daily allotment of points.

“Food that is not nutritious has more points than food that is. Weight Watchers has a system in place that really encourages you to eat more nutritious choices.”

The app supports this process with a clear dashboard and user-friendly food and fitness tracking. There’s a points system for exercise, too: Log everything from walking the dog to 90 minutes of cycling to earn points and hit your daily goal.

Weight-Watchers-Comparison-2-for-Weight-Loss-Programs

OnlinePlus provides tracking as well as community through WW Mobile’s clean and sophisticated Connect news feed, and it costs you just under $36 a month. If you like the idea of getting together IRL, Meetings+OnlinePlus costs about $77 a month. Our tester found the meetings genuinely nice, if a little cheesy. And if you need extra help, there’s a Personal Coaching option for about $107 a month. At every level of membership, you have access to a live coach via Expert Chat.


Best App-Based Weight Loss Program
Noom
Noom
Noom’s spendy but engaging app is predicated on behavioral psychology and our love of pushing buttons.

Noom revamps weight loss with an app that’s hands-down more interactive, motivating, and fun than any other we tried. It makes a game of learning about nutrition and staying on-target, and is designed to keep up your enthusiasm about the journey, knowing full well that enthusiasm fluctuates.

Noom-Comparison-for-Weight-Loss-Programs

Identifying and resolving typical weight loss hurdles — like flagging enthusiasm — is something Noom excels at. The initial questions that set up your profile, match you with a coach, and place you with a group, all intend to diagnose your learning style and what flavor of support you need. What kicks you into high gear, tough love or words of affirmation? How do you like to show support? How do you feel about goal setting?

Staying motivated, according to Noom, boils down to keeping your eyes on the prize. That’s why, in addition to setting up emergency plans in case you don’t open the app in a couple days (they’ll send you a text or even contact your SO), they also ask you to verbalize Your Big Picture (YBP).

Goal + Vision + Why = Your Big Picture

YBP breaks into three parts: The first is your Goal, or what you consider to be finish line of your weight loss journey. That could be hitting a certain weight, dropping a dress size, or completing a 5k without walk breaks. Your Vision is self-explanatory — it’s what weight loss success looks like to you, and all the good things that come along with it. The Why is where you derive motivation. And it isn’t just the first reason you think of.

You may say you want to lose weight to feel good about yourself. “Why?” Noom asks again. “It’s like peeling back the layers of an onion,” Noom explains, “And yes, tears might be involved too!” By the time our tester answered the third “Why?” she had indeed gone deep — even in the guise of a 40-year-old mom. The ultimate Why she came up with: “To enjoy life and bring joy to others.”

Noom helps you find and hold onto your Why while learning about other, smaller concepts that contribute to success. Self-awareness is big with Noom. The app offers short daily lessons that help you see and confront your own typical actions through introducing things like behavioral chains and triggers. If you can get past all the incessantly cheeky language (#noomerslovehashtags), it’s truly impressive how Noom deploys behavioral psychology to influence how you approach wellness.

The customized support and abundant resources come at a price. This varies based on the intensity of your weight loss goals; we paid $60 per month. (We made an account before purchasing and received a 50% off offer by email to incentivize our membership. Tease them in the same way and see if you get the same deal.) If you want to get a look at all these perks before you purchase, you can try Noom free for 14 days.


Best Standalone Diet
The Mayo Clinic Diet Book
The Mayo Clinic Diet
If you aren’t interested in acquiring yet another reason to be superglued to your phone, the Mayo Clinic Diet exist in its purest form between the covers of a book.

Where commercial weight loss programs go hands-on, the Mayo Clinic Diet goes streamlined. The vibrant, best-selling hardback (that looks a lot like a fun middle school health textbook) is the first resource for diet information, you can also employ the sleekly designed but minimalist app, plus a full website of tips, recipes, and workouts. Those patient enough to cycle through all of Mayo’s resources will find lots of solid health information.

Mayo Clinic Book for Weight Loss Programs

The plan is simple: Commit to two weeks of restricted dieting, then transfer to a sustainable regime. Phase one: Cut out restaurant food, added sugar, eating while watching TV, snacking on anything other than fruits and veggies, and limit meat and dairy. You’re also asked to add four healthy habits, simple tweaks like having a good breakfast every morning.

This intro phase — Lose It! — is designed to shock your body into weight loss. Mayo Clinic claims you’ll lose 6 to 10 pounds.

“There is a certain motivating power in initial success. We get a little bit of momentum built up. The critical issue becomes: How do you transition from that to something that’s sustainable?”

Dr. David KatzFounding Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center

While the American College of Sports Medicine warns that women who eat less than 1,300 calories a day and men who eat less than 1,800 risk slowing down their metabolism over time. But a rev-up stage that only lasts two weeks is approved by doctors and isn’t as difficult as it seems. Our tester found the Mayo Clinic day pretty satisfying, and still had enough energy to hit the gym.

But after two weeks, you’ll need to transfer into a more moderate phase of calorie reduction. The Mayo Clinic Diet calls this the Live It! Stage. These are the healthy eating habits that have no timeline and should last the rest of your life.

If you can keep up motivation and accountability without the assistance of an app or a like-minded community, the book should give you all necessary tools. While we weren’t floored by Mayo’s online offerings, the app does have one cool feature (if you can get it to work): Enable your camera to eyeball the correct size of any food item in comparison to a virtual baseball, hockey puck, set of dice.

Premium access to the app costs roughly $2 a week when you buy an entire year or $4 if you pay weekly. We didn’t feel the upgrade was worth even a couple bucks, but it does include a weight tracker, tons of recipes, and a meal planner.


Best No-Frills Tracking App
MyFitnessPal
MyFitnessPal
If you only want to pay for the basics, MyFitnessPal’s low-cost platform provides solid tools, but little personalization or community feeling.

If you want a cheap or free weight loss approach, it’s going to be largely self-guided. There are many apps out there that can provide the brass tacks, with similar tools and nearly identical user interfaces, but most are pale shadows of the more expensive, more holistic programs. The best we found: MyFitnessPal.

MyFitnessPal is free for basic use, which includes food and fitness tracking, browsing for new ideas in both, and getting insight into how your meal choices ladder up to whole-body health. Upgrade to Premium for $10 per month to lose the ads, access detailed breakdowns of daily nutrients, set daily goals, etc.

My-Fitness-Pal-Comparison-for-Weight-Loss-Programs

With an intuitive layout and a fast search, MyFitnessPal helps you to accomplish the essential tasks of weight loss with less effort.

The upgrade is a touch steeper than it is for other tracking app upgrades — most run $4–5 per month. But we found that those inexpensive alternatives were chaotically organized and slow to respond, elements that had us avoiding opening them at all. SparkPeople and Lose It! both came with lots of lag time and finicky search bars that made us hesitant to launch the apps, let alone log in three or more times a day.

Since consistent food logging is the heart and soul of most weight loss apps, and these simple ones in particular, you have to be willing to log on time after time. With MyFitnessPal’s strong performance, we were. With the two other options, not so much.

What about Nutrisystem?

If you dislike cooking, abhor making food choices, or simply want low-calorie options shipped to your door, Nutrisystem might slot into your life. But it can get expensive, and food selection and flavor are hit-or-miss. Mostly miss. “It’s enough substance to call it a meal, but the texture of every ingredient was lacking,” our tester reported without enthusiasm.

Nutrisystem-Comparison-for-Weight-Loss-Programs

Nutrisystem's tiny lunch portions are reminiscent of instant noodles.

Losing weight on autopilot is appealing. But in the age of meal-delivery services (Blue Apron happens to be Whole 30-approved) — is there really a market need for gimmicky Nutrisystem? Our taste buds tell us no. You could easily recreate its no-prep diet by stocking up on breakfast bars, Lean Cuisine lunches, and signing up with the likes of HelloFresh for fast, healthy dinners. (Rough calculations tell us this approach would be equal or less than the monthly price of Nutrisystem.)

Nutrisystem Breakfast Options for Weight Loss Programs

Its breakfast options are tastier, but no different than what you'd find at grocery store.

The efficacy of Nutrisystem boils down to portion control. A tiny tray of frozen tuna casserole doesn’t provide a lot of nutrients or satisfaction, but if that’s all you have for dinner, you’re keeping calorie count low. We entered in a couple Nutrisystem meals and found their point count to be mid-high, between 7 and 9. Ultimately, tiny amounts of not-wholesome foods doesn’t teach you to eat well.

Our Top 5 Diet Programs at a Glance

  • Weight Watchers: Rather than drawing hard lines for good and bad food, Weight Watchers encourages making sensible choices. Every food has a SmartPoints value, and you are allotted a certain number of SmartPoints per day. Get the most out of your budget by consuming healthy, low-point foods rather than indulgent, high-point foods.
  • Noom: To help you figure out how to prioritize or limit food items, Noom offers color coding. Green means go for it — “green” foods include veggies and grains, and these should make up a solid 30% of your diet. “Yellow” foods include lean meats and starches, and these can account for a touch more — 45%. “Red” foods (red meats and sweets) should appear less than both green and yellow, around 25%. When you log meals, the app lets you know how well you’re aligning with these proportions.
  • The Mayo Clinic Diet: Adopt five good habits, cut five bad habits, set your sights on an achieving an additional 5. In addition to these lifestyle recommendations (Eat breakfast. Don’t eat in front of the TV), Mayo Clinic suggests eating primarily vegetables and fruit, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and restricting fats and sweets.
  • MyFitnessPal: An app widely recommended by trainers and fitness enthusiasts, MyFitnessPal is great for tracking macros. Goal macros: 50% carbs, 30% fat, 20% protein. It further breaks these general guidelines into specific gram amounts that make it easy to see how some macros add up quick (carbs) and others don’t (protein — hitting 64 grams takes conscious effort!).
  • Nutrisystem: You’ve heard the ads: “I get to eat pasta, hamburgers, pizza, muffins!” The reason you can have all those favorite, beige-colored foods and still lose weight is not because they’ve cracked the code for healthy carbs. Instead, shelf-stable Nutrisystem meals come in very small portions.

A Day on Each Diet

Weight Watchers
Noom
Mayo Clinic
MyFitnessPal
Nutrisystem
Breakfast
Starbuck coffee with sugar, spinach and feta breakfast wrap
Banana, almond milk, hemp seed smoothie
Yogurt with mixed fruit
Peanut butter toast, apple, almond milk
Muffin, Soft-Boiled Egg, Blueberries
Lunch
Hummus and crackers, vegetable tikka masala, white rice
Hummus and pretzels, cherry tomatoes
Tuna pasta salad, an orange
Ham sandwich, side salad
Powdered mashed potato
Snack
Peach
Apple
Carrot and celery sticks
Peanut butter and celery
Dark chocolate and sea salt nut bar
Dinner
Flank Steak, asparagus and sugar snap peas, pineapple salsa
Chicken breast, arugula salad, cucumber, raspberry vinaigrette
Two slices of pizza, side salad
4 oz. Pork tenderloin, sweet potato
Penne bolognese, half a delicata squash
Total
30 points
1,200 calories
1,200 calories
1,500 calories
1,200 calories

Our Weight Loss Review: Summed Up

Weight Loss Program The Best
Weight Watchers
Best Weight Loss Program
Noom
Best App-Based Program
The Mayo Clinic Diet
Best Standalone Diet
MyFitnessPal
Best No-Frills Tracking App