CHOICE: Online diet plans set you up to fail

CHOICE says many online diet plans can set you up to fail, with restrictive diets, intensive exercise and excessive payments.

A CHOICE shadow shop put five major online diet programs available in Australia to the test, then assessed the results with an accredited practising dietitian and accredited exercise physiologist.

Our shadow shopper felt she was set up to fail with some programs like Ashy Bines and SureSlim which had restrictive eating plans and low calorie intake. Both went against the fundamental principles of eating a healthy, balanced diet. Sureslim had questionable advice such as ‘an apple a day blasts the fat away’ or always ‘eating a mouth of protein first’, but none of this was based on scientific evidence while the Ashy Bines program contained a number of inaccuracies and eating advice also not based on evidence.

Our shadow shopper trialled Weight Watchers which she found to be flexible, allowing her to choose and track what she ate via the site. She noted an app would enable her to track a similar point system for a low cost, however the message boards, forums and weekly weigh-ins were helpful.

“For the amount of money you’re spending on these programs, you’d be better off seeing your GP or an accredited dietitian who can take into consideration your health, goals and personal needs. If you are adamant about using an online weight-loss program, do your research and keep in mind they can be overly restrictive,” says CHOICE journalist Kate Browne.

Our shadow shopper felt like the food and exercise was ‘overcomplicated’ by some programs with highly prescriptive and detailed eating plans and exercise regimes, which would be hard to maintain over an extended period of time.

Michelle Bridges fared the best in the trial with detailed and flexible eating plans, education sessions and exercise regimes that suited the home, gym and outdoors. The program provided a good support network for users, however Dr Kellie Bilinski, Accredited Pracitising Dietitian, had concerns about the amount of exercise required, stating it may be unrealistic for someone on their own and without the help of a personal trainer.

“Many online diet programs are designed to get you back eventually. There is an intensive amount of exercise and restrictive eating plans, which doesn’t set you up for a life change, but crash weightloss. This makes long-term healthy weight loss difficult.  It’s more valuable to educate yourself about food and exercise and maintain a healthy diet and a manageable exercise regime,” says Ms Browne.

CHOICE tips for weight-loss

  • Check if diets are based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADG)
  • Check that programs promote all food groups, balanced eating and encourage regular physical activity
  • Assess all program costs involved. Is there a registration fee? Do you have to pay for products to complement the program?
  • Talk to your GP before embarking on an online program. They can suggest options including face-to-face programs, or may refer you to an Accredited Practising Dietitian who can provide specific advice for your individual needs and lifestyle
  • Investigate websites that track your diet and exercise regime for free. Popular sites include:
For more information on CHOICE’s online weight-loss program review visit