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Digital Dieting—Going Online For Help with Healthy Eating


People have been using outside sources to help them control their eating for years. It’s no surprise that the Internet has now become part of the mix. It can be a good tool. There are sites that match the philosophies and personalities of different types of people. And maybe most appealing to many people is the option to remain anonymous. Going online can also save time, which is nice for people who find it difficult to attend meetings but want the support of a group.

If you’re thinking about using the Internet to help you get on track, here’s some advice and information.

What’s out there?
You can find a lot of different weight loss sites on the Web, but it’s a better idea to stick with the ones that have gained some respect from mainstream professionals. Here are a few:

Weight Watchers: For a well known program that has helped a great deal of people find weight loss success, go to The site has free features and features that you have to pay for. For no cost, you can find out about the “points values” that go with certain dishes or you can join the message boards. If you don’t want to attend meetings, which are a hallmark of the Weight Watchers program, you can pay $14.95 per month plus a $29.95 sign-up fee. This gives you the ability to create a journal where you record the food you eat every day, to access a recipe builder that shows you how many points there are in food you’re preparing and some other helpful features.

The Atkins Program: Almost everyone has heard of the low carbohydrate, high protein, higher fat Atkins diet (, which remains controversial. Some studies have shown that it’s helpful, others that it’s too high in fat to be healthy. Talk with your doctor before joining the program, because it’s not for everybody. 

The eDiets program: This program has a more holistic approach that promotes a healthy lifestyle and spiritual growth. You can register on the site and they’ll provide you with a meal plan that fits your preferences. You can also have a fitness program designed for you. You pay $5.00 per week for the first nine weeks, and $10.00 per month after that. Or you can pay $99.00 for the first year and $15.00 per month after that.

Dr. Phil. We can’t leave Dr. Phil out of a discussion about on-line weight watching. Daytime talk show host Dr. Phil McGraw has said that he’s made it his goal to help America beat the obesity crisis. He’s featuring 13 people on his television show and following them throughout the year as they attempt to lose weight for good. He’s also set up places on his Web site where people can start an online diary or post to message boards. There’s no fee for any of this, but there is heavy promotion of Dr. Phil’s weight loss book. Dr. Phil promotes the idea of finding out why you overeat, learning how to choose healthy foods in healthy portions, changing habits that sabotage your ability to lose weight, surrounding yourself with supportive people, etc.

Browser beware
Don’t assume you can go online and find a good diet site just anywhere. For example, if you do a search for “digital dieting,” one of the first Web sites you come to is called “” Plug in your height, weight and age, and they’ll set you up with a meal plan.

One woman, Suzanne, put in her height, weight and age information and then clicked on “My Meal Plan” to view a week’s worth of suggested meals. On the second day of her week, the recommendation was to have a ham and cheese sandwich for breakfast and lunch. That surely doesn’t seem like a meal plan with variety. Then Suzanne clicked on the option to change the meal, and she was offered some questionable alternatives, such as Rice Krispies Treats. It looked to her as if the site was more about encouraging users to eat certain brands of food than about eating well.

On the other hand, when she signed on at eDiets, she had many more options to choose from. The site asked her about her food preferences right away to find out whether she was a vegetarian, whether she wanted dairy products in her menus, whether she wanted a low sodium diet, whether she enjoyed cooking or preferred convenience foods, etc.

So you need to know there’s a wide variety in the quality of the sites. You also need to be aware that the diet sites that charge fees are there to promote their own programs and materials and to make money. They may also be interested in helping people lose weight and eat in a healthy way, but never forget that making money is part of the equation.

In November, results of a study that followed dieters for a year showed that whether participants were on the Atkins diet, Weight Watchers, the Zone or the Ornish diet, they all had fairly similar results. Those who followed the diets well for a year lost more weight than the people who didn’t. You can probably assume the same kind of outcome from a diet plan you join on the Web. You’ll get out of it what you put into it.

The New York Times, 13 February 2003.
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