What It Is
Designed to appeal to dieters who are attracted to the glamour of Hollywood, flashy commercials, and the promise of fast and easy weight loss, the LA Weight Loss Centers diet is a center-based plan offering personalized plans and counseling.
The diet consists of supermarket foods as well as the company's exclusive brand of nutritional supplements, bars, juices, and snacks. Menu plans, tips, recipes, monthly newsletters, and support from weekly weigh-ins and one-on-one meetings with counselors are all part of the program.
There are no points or calories to count. Instead, LA Weight Loss touts a sensible, long-term weight management plan focused on portion control and lifelong weight management. Clients fill out detailed questionnaires on everything from their eating habits to their emotional attachment to food. Counselors interview clients and prescribe a plan that is laid out in portions, not calories.
Dieters are encouraged to keep food diaries and visit centers for weigh-ins. They also get support from counselors who are not nutrition professionals but usually former clients trained by company dietitians, says Jennifer Boyer, RD, MS, LA Weight Loss Centers senior director of program development. Counselors have access to registered dietitians if needed.
Supplements, snacks, meal replacements, and bars are sold exclusively at centers and only available to clients. LA Weight Loss has been criticized by some for this aspect of the program because of what they say is the hard sell and manipulation of the counselors, who earn commission on the products they sell. All of the supplements, snacks, and bars are designed to go along with the menu plans and are optional. "Our counselors are trained to meet individual client needs and some clients need the products and others can succeed without them," Boyer says.
How much you'll spend on the program depends on your selection of food, supplements, and the setup/registration fee that varies by each franchised center. Most charge a weekly fee of $5-$8. This weekly fee along with the setup fee and cost of supplements can add up quickly and be very expensive.
Founded in 1989, the company split four years ago, and renamed some of its centers. The breakup allegedly occurred because the company had been the target of scrutiny and lawsuits for false claims and false advertising of fees. Today the company now known as LA Weight Loss Centers is entirely made up of franchised centers.
What You Can Eat
Dieters are urged to choose healthy foods but are allowed to eat most foods as long as portion sizes are controlled. Sodium is restricted to 2,100 milligrams daily, the same as the 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommendation. Sugar and sweet treats are excluded until the maintenance phase when they are gradually added back into the plan. Caffeine is allowed and so is one alcoholic beverage three times a week.
The LA Weight Loss Centers plan is in line with national recommendations of approximately 50%-55% carbohydrates, 25%-30% protein, and 20%-25% fat. Emphasis is on moderation and portion control.
Here's a sample meal plan for a 1,500-calorie diet:
- Breakfast: 3/4 cup corn flakes, 8 ounces skim milk, and 3/4 cup blueberries
- Lunch: 4 ounces tuna in water, 1 tablespoon light mayonnaise, 1 slice rye bread, 1 1/4 cup watermelon
- Snack: Lemon LA Lite (company product), 1 small banana and 8 ounces light yogurt
- Dinner: 4 ounces shrimp, 1 cup green beans and 1 tablespoon reduced-fat margarine
- Snack: Chocolate caramel LA Lite (company product) and 1/2 cup cottage cheese
No foods are banned. The menu plans are based on your designated calorie level with specific portions of recommended foods. "Our plan is very flexible -- allowing clients the ability to go out to eat, manage social events, and prepare their own food as long as they adhere to our recommended menu plans and balanced approach," Boyer says.
Counselors encourage clients to purchase the company's brand-name products, which are designed to help people stave off hunger and stick to the plan. Vitamins, minerals, and herbs are also available from the centers to supplement the diet plan.
How It Works
LA Weight Loss Centers menu plans range from a low of 1,200 calories to a high of 2,400 calories and are divided into three phases.
Phase one is for designated weight loss. Clients are assigned a calorie level based on the information from the questionnaire and their individual needs. During this phase, they see the counselor three times a week for guidance, support, education, coaching, and monitoring weight and food choices. "Counselors advise clients on three issues: menu and food choices; movement and how to help them be more active; and mindset," explains Boyer.
Phase two is a six-week stabilization period that clients advance to after they have met their weight loss goals. Calories are slowly increased during phase two in accordance with client progress as noted during the twice weekly counselor visits.
The last phase is maintenance. Clients are encouraged to check in with counselors once a week during maintenance and remain in the program for at least a year to help keep the lost weight from returning.
Counseling occurs only at the centers. There are no email or phone consultations nor are there any group meetings, online communities, or chat rooms. Some centers have walking clubs and occasionally offer group programs.
Exercise is encouraged although there are no specific exercises or individualized plans. "Most of our clients are not very physically active so our aim is to meet them where they are and build upon it to get them to be more active," says Boyer.
What the Experts Say
The foundation of the LA Weight Loss plan to eat a calorie- and portion-controlled diet with more fruits, vegetables, lean protein, as well as less fat, sugar, and salt is a healthful one overall and consistent with the recommendations of other health care organizations. You can lose weight if you follow the calorie-controlled plan and get regular exercise just like many of the company's clients who have been featured in magazine spreads, but you can do it without any special products or supplements.
American Dietetic Association spokesman Milton Stokes says buyer beware of pushy counselors trying to sell their products. "Anytime a company pushes products, a red flag goes up because there is no such thing as a magic pill or potion to help you lose weight. It is all about changing your lifestyle and behaviors, not about bars or supplements" he says. "There is very little clinical evidence that these supplements work," he adds.
Edee Hogan, a nutrition and culinary consultant in Washington, D.C., agrees. "You don't need to succumb to the hard sell, commission-driven sales of LA Weight Loss Centers brand products for effective and long-lasting weight loss," she says.
Even though LA Weight Loss plans contain the basic building blocks of a healthy diet some important components are missing, says Hogan. "The program is sound, but it is so strict that there is little room for splurges and the plan is incomplete -- there is not enough information on exercise and food."
Hogan says she would also like to see a more robust support system. She says support is essential for weight loss and seeing a non-credentialed counselor may not provide the kind of support that is often found in group settings or online communities.
Stokes, too, is concerned about advice doled out by counselors who may not have a strong background in nutrition. "To be sure the information is accurate, check with a registered dietitian who is credentialed," he says.
Because there are so many franchised centers, advice and plans may vary and so will results. Boyer does say that all franchisees are required to follow the same company menu plans.
Food for Thought
With the help and individual support of their counselors, the LA Weight Loss Centers plan appears to be a safe and effective way to lose weight and change your eating habits. Judging by the testimonials in the media (not just the company's web site), their plans have worked well for many women. The company, however, has undergone many changes and there have been numerous complaints about its practices, costs, and hard-sell tactics. This plan may be the perfect solution for you as long as you are not coerced into buying anything you don't need and you are informed of all expenses associated with the cost of the program.