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Release Date: 01/02/2013

Consumer Reports Rates Diet Plans: MyFitnessPal, A Free App And Website, More Satisfying Than Weight Watchers

Paleo Diet Also Among Top Rated Diet Plans

CR Feb. 2013 CoverYONKERS, NY —MyFitnessPal, a free smart phone app and website, got one of the top satisfaction scores in Consumer Reports’ new diet Ratings published in the February issue of the magazine and online at www.ConsumerReports.org.  And while Weight Watchers is still the people’s choice, chosen by 4 out of 10 Consumer Reports’ readers, its scoring on satisfaction is not as impressive as MyFitnessPal.

This year, Consumer Reports taps its large readership to rate diets. In fact the survey of 9,376 readers is one of the largest ever done on specific diets.  “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, senior program editor, 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 broadening landscape of diets that subscribers reported using.  “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 Ratings on the results of clinical trials and a nutritional analysis.

The survey garnered enough responses to rate 13 diets representing two categories, commercial plans and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) plans.  In the commercial category, Weight Watchers got one of the top reader scores (74), 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.  In fact, dieters said they lost more weight on the low-calorie Medifast program than any other diet rated by Consumer Reports: a typical weight loss of 20 to 43 pounds for men and 14 to 40 pounds for women.   Weight Watchers received top scores for allowing a variety of foods and for encouraging calorie awareness, exercise, and consumption of fruits and vegetables.    

Of the 9 DIY plans, MyFitnessPal received an overall satisfaction score of 83 and top marks for maintenance, calorie awareness, and food variety.  The Paleo Diet, which instructs dieters to eat like a caveman, received an 80 score, followed by the Mediterranean Diet (77) and SparkPeople (76) which, like MyFitnessPal, is an app and website.   

“We were fascinated by the results because satisfaction scores did not correlate well with actual weight loss.   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,” said Metcalf.

The report notes that readers gave high marks to the diets that helped them maintain weight loss and that prescribed lifestyle changes that were easy to make.

Some takeaways from the report:

  • Keep expectations in check.  Medical consultants say that dieters often overestimate how much weight they can realistically lose, perhaps not realizing that dropping as little as 5 to 10 percent of starting weight can pay real health dividends. 

  • Tracking calories and physical activity helps.   Experts say keeping track of your exercise and calories is hugely helpful.  Eighty-seven percent of those who relied on MyFitnessPal said they used it to record what they ate, as did 81 percent of readers who used SparkPeople.  And 68 percent of those on Weight Watchers did so.  Weight Watchers paid-up members can find weight, food, and exercise trackers on its website and also through an app.  Not surprisingly, respondents gave those diets top marks for calorie awareness.

  • Get the most out of Weight Watchers.  A whopping 43 percent of respondents said they signed up for Weight Watchers and about two thirds of them said they attended Weight Watchers’ in-person group meetings. The others followed the diet online only.  Those readers who attended meetings had slightly higher overall satisfaction scores, and a much higher percentage who went to the meetings reported that Weight Watchers had taught them self-control strategies.  Plus, meeting-goers also shed more pounds than readers who followed the diet online.

  • Define your eating style.  Some diets on CR’s list are built around eliminating or severely restricting major categories of food. Those include the Atkins Diet, the Paleo Diet, the initial stages of the South Beach Diet, and the catchall category of generic “low-carb diet.”  Of those, the Paleo Diet was the best-liked, with reader satisfaction scores significantly higher than for the others. 

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