MyFitnessPal, a free smartphone app and website, garnered the highest satisfaction scores in a new Consumer Reports readers’ survey on commercial and do-it-yourself weight-loss programs — ranking better than even the top-rated Weight Watchers diet.
The new diet ratings, published in the February issue of the magazine and at www.ConsumerReports.org, found Weight Watchers is still the heavy favorite among commercial diets, with 40 percent of 9,376 readers rating it the best weight-loss plan of its kind. But readers gave the MyFitnessPal plan — a DIY program — even higher satisfaction scores.
“We felt that this new approach would get right to the heart of what people care about most when choosing a diet, which is the experience of others who have tried it,” said Nancy Metcalf, a senior program editor with Consumer Reports. “The good news is that you can pick a diet that reflects your personal needs and goals, and expect to lose weight on it if you stick to it.”
The results of the survey reflect the expanding variety of diets that Americans are using, from commercial plans to Web-based programs to those tied into a growing number of smartphone apps that allow users to track their progress.
“The rapid emergence of new apps to help dieters crunch numbers and stay on top of their calories and exercise regimens is clearly having an enormous impact that our new methodology was able to capture,” said Metcalf.
In 2011, the last time Consumer Reports rated diets, it based the scores on the results of clinical trials and nutritional analyses. But the survey tapped into the experience of Consumer Reports’ readers who rated 13 diets representing two categories, commercial plans DIY plans. Among the findings:
• In the commercial category, Weight Watchers got one of the top reader scores (74) for allowing a variety of foods and encouraging calorie awareness, exercise, and consumption of fruits and vegetables. It was 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, with users saying they shed more pounds on the low-calorie program than any other diet — 20-43 pounds for men and 14-40 pounds for women.
• Weight loss levels on other top-rated commercial diets included Jenny Craig (men lost 15-34 pounds; women 10-30), Nutrisystem (men 10-30; women 7-24), Weight Watchers (men 12-35; women 10-28).
• Of the 9 DIY plans, MyFitnessPal received a total satisfaction score of 83 and high marks for maintenance, calorie awareness, and food variety. It was followed by the Paleo Diet, based the “caveman” diet (80), the Mediterranean Diet (77), and SparkPeople (76), an app and website.
• Weight loss levels on the top-rated DIY plans included the Atkins Diet (men lost 15-30 pounds; women 8-25), Glycemic Index Diet (men 11- 29; women 10-27), low-carb diets other than Atkins (men 13-35; women 10-29), Mediterranean Diet (men 10-25; women 7-25), MyFitnessPal (men 10-30; women 4-18), Paleo Diet (men 10-32; women 6-20), Slim-Fast (men 10-25; women 5-22), South Beach Diet (men 11-27; women 8-23), SparkPeople (men 10-25; women 5-21).
Metcalf noted readers gave higher marks to those diets that allowed them to maintain weight loss through manageable lifestyle changes — not necessarily those that produced the greatest drop in pounds.
“We were fascinated by the results because satisfaction scores did not correlate well with actual weight loss,” said Metcalf. “You can lose on any diet plan if it works for you, but it seems that dieters balance weight loss against other factors such as the extent to which a diet is sustainable or easy to follow.”
Among the survey’s take-home messages:
Have realistic expectations. Dieters often overestimate how much weight they can realistically lose, not realizing that shedding as little as 5-10 percent of total weight can offer significant health benefits.
Track calories, activity. Monitoring your exercise, calories, and weight can boost your progress. Nearly nine in 10 MyFitnessPal users recorded what they ate; 68 percent of those on Weight Watchers did so.
Online benefits are limited. Two-thirds of Weight Watchers users attended group meetings, while the others followed the diet online. Meetings-goers had higher satisfaction scores, learned better self-control strategies, and shed more pounds than those who followed the diet online only.
Pick a diet that fits you. Some diets eliminate or severely limit some foods. But if this approach isn’t right for you, choose another that fits your lifestyle and learn to eat your favorite foods in moderation, without thinking of them as forbidden items.