Diets are tricky. They’re often hard to stick to, have confusing guidelines and can be extremely time-consuming. Diet programs love to take advantage of this, and often promise fast, painless, and motivational plans that are supposed to help people lose weight fast and keep it off. But, do these programs actually work? Yes and no. While sticking to reputable diet programs will help you lose weight, there is little to no guarantee that you will keep the weight off in the long-run.

A reputable diet plan will work by encouraging the participant to cut down on unhealthy aspects like sugars and saturated fats and incorporate more foods high in proteins, fiber, vitamins, etc. Some programs like Jenny Craig accomplish this by having people eat foods that are part of a pre-made menu, while others such as Weight Watchers use a rewards program, in their case points, that measures a person’s intake for the day. These type of programs tend to work only when the person is on the program. Once the program is over, that’s when the weight returns. This is due to the change in diet. While some people continue onto healthier paths, many fall back into the unhealthy eating habits they had prior to the structured instant-results showing diet plan. Even those who do stick to healthier diets afterwards can wind up gaining weight back due to the body’s natural reaction to losing weight.

When losing weight, the body’s biological structure will react in an odd way. The metabolism, which converts calories into energy, can become slower when too much weight is lost at once. And the slower your metabolism, the harder it is to lose weight. While there is no guarantee this will happen to everyone or that the metabolism will remain slower, larger weight losses in short amounts of times do have this effect. Once a person stops a diet program, their metabolism tries to compensate for the weight loss, burning less calories, which makes the person gain weight faster. The best example of this is a study done on the contestants of a popular weight loss show, The Biggest Loser. When 14 of the 16 contestants were tracked by the National Institute of Health, it was found that 13 contestants gained back a significant amount of weight within 6 years, with 4 weighing more than their previous heaviest weights. While their cases were more extreme than most, health experts agree that this happens with many extreme weight-loss situations.

This doesn’t mean that weight loss is impossible, nor that every weight loss program is terrible. Many people lose weight and keep it off. The difference is that many of those people lose weight gradually. Gradual weight loss allows a person’s body to get used to its new body weight at a steady pace. And weight loss programs that prioritize making healthy decisions and losing weight at your own pace can be a good starting point. But, the best way to lose weight is to incorporate healthy foods into your normal diet while eating less foods high in fat, sugar, and salt. This, along with exercise and a good attitude, will get you farther than any diet plan could ever take you.