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CHOICE gets the skinny on online weight-loss programs

CHOICE says many online diet plans can set you up to fail, with restrictive diets, intensive exercise and excessive payments.

11 October 2013

A CHOICE shadow shop put five major online diet programs available in Australia to the test, then assessed the results with an accredited practicing dietitian and accredited exercise physiologist. 
Our shadow shopper felt she was set up to fail with some programs like Ashy Bines and SureSlim which had restrictive eating plans and low calorie intake. Both went against the fundamental principles of eating a healthy, balanced diet. Sureslim had questionable advice such as ‘an apple a day blasts the fat away’ or always ‘eating a mouth of protein first’, but none of this was based on scientific evidence while the Ashy Bines program contained a number of inaccuracies and eating advice also not based on evidence.
Our shadow shopper trialled Weight watchers which she found to be flexible, allowing her to choose and track what she ate via the site. She noted an app would enable her to track a similar point system for a low cost, however the message boards, forums and weekly weigh-ins were helpful.
“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. If you are adamant about using an online weight-loss program, do your research and keep in mind they can be overly restrictive,” says CHOICE journalist Kate Browne.
Our shadow shopper felt like the food and exercise was ‘overcomplicated’ by some programs with highly prescriptive and detailed eating plans and exercise regimes, which would be hard to maintain over an extended period of time. 
Michelle Bridges fared the best in the trial with detailed and flexible eating plans, education sessions and exercise regimes that suited the home, gym and outdoors. The program provided a good support network for users, however Dr Kellie Bilinski, Accredited Pracitising Dietician, had concerns about the amount of exercise required, stating it may be unrealistic for someone on their own and without the help of a personal trainer.
“Many online diet programs are designed to get you back eventually. There is an intensive amount of exercise and restrictive eating plans, which doesn’t set you up for a life change, but crash weightloss. This makes long-term healthy weight loss difficult.  It’s more valuable to educate yourself about food and exercise and maintain a healthy diet and a manageable exercise regime,” says Ms Browne.
CHOICE tips for weight-loss
  • Check if diets are based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADG) 
  • Check that programs promote all food groups, balanced eating and encourage regular physical activity
  • Assess all program costs involved. Is there a registration fee? Do you have to pay for products to complement the program?
  • Talk to your GP before embarking on an online program. They can suggest options including face-to-face programs, or may refer you to an Accredited Practising Dietician who can provide specific advice for your individual needs and lifestyle
  • Investigate websites that track your diet and exercise regime for free. Popular sites include:
Google Hangout with CHOICE at October 10, 2:00 PM –watch the discussion between CHOICE journalist Kate Browne and Dr Kellie Bilinski, Accredited Pracitising Dietician. We'll be discussing the pros and cons of web-based weight loss programs, such as #WeightWatchers Online, #SureSlim , #AshyBinesBikiniBodyChallenge and #MichelleBridges #12BT with Dr Kellie Bilinksi, an Accredited Practising Dietician and media spokeperson for the Dieticians Association of Australia. This Google Hangout can be viewed afterwards at the same url.
If you've got any questions you want answered, please post them here on the event page, or use #askCHOICE.
Media contact – Kate Browne, 0422 515 566 
Ashy Bines Bikini Body Challenge
$538.40 for 12 weeks on the kick start plan
  • Diet limits processed foods yet relies heavily on supplements.
  • The ‘diet plan’ is simply a PDF of “Clean eating” guidelines.
  • Not in accordance with Australian Dietary guidelines.
  • Doesn’t take into account users’ personal goals, current weight or kilojoule requirement.
  • The Nutritionist listed in the eating guidelines isn’t a registered dietician but has a “diploma” in nutrition.
  • Poor support for customers, no phone contact and email queries went unanswered for more than 24 hrs.
Michelle Bridges 12-Week Body Transformation
$199 for 12-week plan
  • The best program under review.
  • Accommodates most lifestyles with detailed eating plans, shopping lists and an exercise regime that has options for home, gym or outdoors.
  • Prescriptive eating with low calorie intake.
  • Big emphasis on exercise which may be unrealistic for some. 
  • Great community support. 
$497 for six weeks
  • Diet plan is restrictive and goes against principles of a healthy balanced diet. 
  • Overcomplicated diet making it less likely people will be able to follow long-term
  • Lack of exercise guidance.
  • In two words – crash diet
Weight Watchers
$31.65 per month plus $41 registration fee (currently offered for free)
  • Points system excellent for flexibility (that said, you could use a points app for a lot less).
  • Good community support.
  • Physical component is lacking.
  • Program developed under supervision and advice of medical and nutritional experts.
The Biggest Loser Club
$39.95 per month for three months
  • Prescriptive eating plan which would be a challenge for some lifestyles.
  • Good support with weekly emails and weigh–in.
  • Recommended ‘dose’ of exercise for our shadow shopper was low.
  • Option to lose ‘six kilos in six weeks or your money back’ could result in a loss of fluid and muscle and is not recommended.

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