Fixed-menu plans – A fixed-menu eating plan provides a list of all the foods you will eat. This kind of program can be easy to follow because the foods are selected for you. But, you get very few different food choices which may make it boring and hard to follow away from home.
In addition, these plans do not teach the food selection skills necessary for keeping weight off. If you start with a fixed-menu diet, you should switch eventually to a plan that helps you learn to make meal choices on your own, such as an exchange-type diet.
Exchange-type plans – An exchange-type diet is a meal plan with a set number of servings from each of several food groups. Within each group, foods are about equal in calories and can be interchanged as you wish. For example, the “starch” category could include one slice of bread or 1/2 cup of oatmeal; each is about equal in nutritional value and calories.
If your meal plan calls for two starch choices at breakfast, you could choose to eat two slices of bread, or one slice of bread and 1/2 cup of oatmeal. With the exchange-type plans, you have more day-to-day variety and you can easily follow it away from home. The most important advantage is that exchange-type plans teach the food selection skills you need to keep your weight off.
Prepackaged-meal plans – These eating plans require you to buy prepackaged meals. Such meals may help you learn appropriate portion sizes. However, they can be costly. Before beginning this type of program, find out whether you will need to buy the meals and how much the meals cost.
You should also find out whether the program will teach you how to select and prepare food, skills that are needed to sustain weight loss.
Formula programs – Formula diets are weight-loss plans that replace one or more meals with a liquid formula. Most formula diets are balanced programs containing a mix of protein, carbohydrate, and usually a small amount of fat.
Formula diets are usually sold as liquid or a powder to be mixed with liquid. Although these programs are easy to use and do promote short-term weight loss, most people regain the weight as soon as they stop using the formula. In addition, formula diets do not teach you how to make healthy food choices, a necessary skill for keeping your weight off.
Questionable programs – You should avoid any diet that suggests you eat a certain nutrient, food, or combination of foods to promote easy weight loss.
Some of these programs may work in the short term because they are low in calories. However, they are often not well balanced and may cause nutrient deficiencies. In addition, they do not teach eating habits that are important for long-term weight management.
Flexible diets. – Some programs or books suggest monitoring fat only, calories only, or a combination of the two, with the individual making the choice of both the type and amount of food eaten. This flexible type of approach works well for many people, and teaches them how to control what they eat.
One drawback of flexible diets is that some don’t consider the total diet. For example, programs that monitor fat only often allow people to take in unlimited amounts of excess calories from sugars, and therefore don’t lead to weight loss.