May 10, 2011 -- Jenny Craig bested Slim Fast 3-2-1 and Weight Watchers in the latest battle in the diet wars. The new diet ratings, released by Consumer Reports Health, gave six popular diets a score based on their overall effect on weight loss, adherence, and how well they followed the 2010 U.S. dietary guidelines for Americans.
Jenny Craig, which combines personalized counseling with a portion-controlled regimen of pre-made foods and homemade side dishes, scored an 85. The Slim Fast 3-2-1 plan, which includes a bar or shake at breakfast and lunch and 500-calorie homemade dinner plus three snacks, received a score of 63. Weight Watchers scored a 57. The Zone, Ornish, and Atkins plans were also evaluated in the new report.
So how did Jenny Craig edge out the competition?
A study cited in the report showed that 92% of people on the Jenny Craig program stuck with it for two years, and they weighed about 8% less after two years on the Jenny Craig program.
“We should all consider Jenny Craig because it has shown results in clinical trials, but the best diet for you is the one that you can stay on,” says Nancy Metcalf, senior program editor at Consumer Reports Health in White Plains, N.Y.
When it comes to choosing a weight loss plan, it’s different strokes for different folks, she says.
Jenny Craig’s prepackaged meals “are not haute cuisine, but if you like the fact that you don’t have to cook, it may be for you,” she says.
People lost weight on all of the diets that were evaluated. “None of these diets are bad for you,” she says.
Support is an important part of the equation.
“Support is really helpful in making people stick to their diets, and this is one of the linchpins of the Jenny Craig plan,” Metcalf says. “You have to show up and be accountable to a counselor, and Weight Watchers from day one has said that the best results come from face-to-face meetings.”
Web-based counseling also helps, Metcalf says. “The more you are reminded, the better off you will be."
Choosing the Right Diet for You
“You need something you can do for the rest of your life,” says Dana Greene, MS, RD, a nutritionist in Brookline, Mass. “It’s all about adherence,” she says. “A diet or weight loss plan won’t work if you can’t stick to it.”
Sheah Rarback, RD, a nutritionist at the Miller School of Medicine of the University of Miami, agrees. “If you can’t control your portions, Jenny Craig may work,” she says. “The Ornish diet may be good for people who are more vegetarian-leaning.”
“[Choosing the right diet is] very individualized,” she says. “Portion control, physical activity, and support are key aspects.” Other considerations include taste and cost.
“People have to figure out what works for them,” says Marion Nestle, PhD, the Paulette Goddard Professor in the department of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University in New York City.
“Any diet will work if people stick to it, so you need to choose something that works for you,” she says.
“We were pleased to be rated as Consumer Reports' best-rated diet. This news confirms what we have always known: that Jenny Craig’s clinically proven, comprehensive approach to weight management works,” Patti Larchet, CEO of Jenny Craig in Carlsbad, Calif., says in an email to WebMD. “Jenny Craig’s personalized, food-body-mind approach paired with weekly one-on-one consultations helps clients create a healthy relationship with food and a balanced approach to living.”
Weight Watchers issued this statement: "With Weight Watchers, people learn to make smart choices -- including an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains -- all foods encouraged in the Weight Watchers program and advice recommended by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Although there are over 60 studies on Weight Watchers lifestyle approach, Consumer Reports did not include those in its analysis because we recently launched a major upgrade to our program. Clinical data on the new PointsPlus Program are in the process of being published."
Ornish Weighs In
“In evaluating weight loss diets, it’s important to consider health, not just weight loss,” Dean Ornish, MD, says in an email to WebMD. Ornish is founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. He’s also the author of the diet book The Spectrum.
“It’s hard to understand why Consumer Reports would rate a Slim Fast diet (based on powdered shakes and processed food bars) so highly,” he says.
Ornish says that the latest studies show that an Atkins diet increases heart disease and arterial clogging via nontraditional risk factors.
But according to the Consumer Reports Health report, several clinical studies have found that low-carbohydrate diets like the Atkins plan do not appear to increase heart disease risk factors.
But “if you have a diet-related disease like diabetes or have been diagnosed with heart disease, let your doctor know and tell him that you are considering a weight loss plan,” Metcalf says.
Ornish says, “Unlike the other diets analyzed, the diet and lifestyle program I recommend has been proven in randomized, controlled trials to reverse coronary heart disease without drugs or surgery."