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American Heart Association Guidelines for Selecting a Weight Loss & Maintenance Program

1. Diet and nutrition: A food plan should be offered that takes into consideration a person's current eating habits and preferences.

2. Realistic goals for weight loss: A weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week is all that should be promised. Women should eat at least 1,200 calories per day; men should eat at least 1,500. Each program participant should work with a medical professional to determine their healthy weight.

3. Nutrition education: To lose weight effectively and maintain a lower weight, each person should embrace a lifetime of healthy eating habits. The participants should be actively involved with a medical professional in individualized meal planning.

4. Physical activity: Physical activities, such as walking, should be one of the highest priorities of the program. Most people should be urged to get 30-60 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week. Incorporating physical activity into a person's lifestyle makes it more likely that they will achieve and maintain a healthier weight.

5. Behavior modification: An individualized approach to weight loss support should be available to the participant. Support groups are especially useful.


Questions to Consider When Choosing a Commercial Weight Loss Program

1. Understand what the program offers - does it promise more than it can deliver? Is there written proof that the program works in the long term for weight maintenance? If it does not, chances are the person won't be able to maintain a healthy weight for an extended time. Ask for written proof of the program's effectiveness.

2. Does the program emphasize physical activity - and teach ways to become more physically active based on a person's preferences and health? If it does not, it also does not meet the AHA's standards.

3. Does the program screen people for health risks, such as diabetes or high blood pressure? It should.

4. Does the program offer easy access to prescription weight-loss drugs? It should not. Weight-loss drugs may be associated with serious risks, and should only be used under strict medical supervision by people 20 percent or more above their ideal weight.

5. Does the program suggest participants buy pre-packaged foods only available at the weight-loss center? These products may make a lot of money for the commercial programs but may not be the best way to teach participants healthy eating behaviors.

6. Does the program offer one-to-one consultation, with realistic weight-loss goals? It should. In addition, it should offer personalized food plans that take the person's food preferences and weight history into consideration.

7. What are the qualifications of the program personnel? Are they healthcare professionals? Or are they "motivational speakers" without formal medical training? If they are simply "motivational speakers," don't get involved with the program.

8. Is the program endorsed by a celebrity who looks good but lacks credentials? Lay people, such as actors and actresses without healthcare credentials, should receive appropriate training by registered dietitians, exercise leaders (certified by the American College of Sports Medicine) and behavioral scientists. They should also participate in documented continuing education and be monitored by healthcare professionals.


Popular and Ineffective Weight Loss Concepts

High Protein Diets: Popularized through books and celebrity endorsements. These diets emphasize animal protein, and while some of them encourage eating lean meats and keeping fat intake to no more than 30 percent of total calories, even these lower-fat versions may be too high in saturated fats to meet the American Heart Association's guidelines.

Food Combining: A very old bit of "food folklore," food combining diets surface every few years with a new twist. These diets maintain that eating foods in certain combination will help you burn fat more effectively, boost your metabolism, and in some cases "reduce mucus." Many food combining diets eliminate dairy products, making it difficult for people to get an adequate amount of calcium. Simply put, a calorie is a calorie, and eating foods in certain combinations or only at certain times of day has no scientific merit. "Reducing mucus" has questionable medical value.

Commercial Weight-Loss Programs That Sell Their Own Food Products: To be effective, a weight-loss program that emphasizes achieving and maintaining a healthy weight should help a person learn about proper nutrition - using readily available foods - and the importance of physical activity. Although a person may lose weight temporarily while eating pre-packaged meals, as soon as they stop eating the company's food, they may regain weight.

Liquid Diets: Liquid diets often don't encourage physical activity or other healthy behaviors, like how to maintain weight loss over a lifetime. For that reason, most users regain their weight soon afterward.

Juice Fasting and other "Cleansing" Diets: These diets and techniques are touted as "cleansing toxins from your body." The insides of our bodies are not "dirty," and for the most part these mysterious "toxins" are rarely identified. Although you might lose weight by drinking nothing but juice for three days, this eating plan is nutritionally unsound - it contains no protein, for example - and can promote excess fluid loss and diarrhea.

Celebrity Endorsed: Often, television and film celebrities endorse a diet or write a book about a diet. Many of these glamorous personalities are quite skilled at acting and promotion, but they often don't have any training or experience in nutrition or medicine. People should not be afraid to ask questions about a celebrity's credentials, which should be included in the book.



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