Virtual weight loss: Can you shed pounds online?

The latest virtual weight loss programs could make your computer an essential tool for getting slim. But can you really shed pounds online?

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woman laptop computer

Do virtual weight-loss programs really work?

Shedding unwanted pounds has never been easy, but help may just be a mouse click away, thanks to virtual weight-loss programs. Are these websites a new health saviour, or a flashy gimmick? Dr. David Macklin, a weight management expert at Weightcare in Toronto, believes they can be beneficial, “It’s a fantastic tool for monitoring food intake, for learning about calories,” says Macklin. “There’s a great community feel where you can interact with others regarding your successes and failures.”

He warns, however, that losing weight is a very complicated issue-one that’s often tied to lifelong behaviours-and recommends using these sites with a doctor’s guidance. “These websites can be a very effective addendum to a weight loss effort. One-on-one counselling with an accredited and trained professional provides what weight loss websites don’t-a personalized and credible path for an individual to both learn what their habits are, and be provided with skills and strategies to overcome their patterns and habits.” With Macklin’s advice in mind, here’s a look at some popular virtual weight loss programs.

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Membership: Free

Boasting over one million members, SparkPeople is an online weight-loss heavy hitter. Its busy website displays an overwhelming array of advice, articles and support. Guidance is gleaned from a team of fitness, nutrition and motivation experts, and the user-friendly food and exercise tracking system is supplemented by meal plans, as well as over 200,000 healthy recipes. For the workout mavens, there are over 50 different exercise videos. The key to the site’s success is its thriving community; peer groups tailored to individual needs offer encouragement alongside member-created blogs, message boards and success stories. Plus, you can visit SparkPeople on the go, via two iPhone apps. The downside? There’s a limited presence of Canadian products within the food database.

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Membership: Free and paid

Skipping the inspirational colour palate and interactive layout that other online weight loss programs covet, FitDay serves as a straightforward calorie tracker. A series of business-like graphs and pie charts depict how your daily intake of nutrients and calories stack up. With its narrow focus, Canadian food content is virtually absent from the database while iPhone apps, recipes, and workout information are nonexistent. There’s no apparent connection to fitness trainers or weight-loss experts, so members must seek support from within the discussion boards. For clients smitten with FitDay’s bare bones approach, an advanced program costs $66 per year. FitDay feels somewhat bland, but if you prefer a no-frills style to your weight loss, this site could work for you.

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calorie count

Calorie Count

Membership: Free

Brought to you by the folks, Calorie Count is an information powerhouse. Incorporating a database of 110,000 foods-including many Canadian favourites-and workouts created by certified trainers, this site is serious about weight loss. Simple to use, Calorie Count does the usual food and exercise tracking, and presents recipes, nutrition facts, free iPhone and Blackberry apps, as well as a video library chock-full of useful tips. Take a gander at Calorie Count’s unique activity expenditure feature to uncover how many calories are spent while not only exercising, but getting dressed, gardening and even while eating. The handy advice section allows users to email questions to its experts, while customized support groups exhibit inspiration through journals and blogs.

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daily plate

The Daily Plate

Membership: Free and paid

Lance Armstong’s Live Strong organization is the brains behind this free diet organizer. An uncomplicated site, The Daily Plate possesses an impressive 100,000 item food bank that houses many Canadian offerings. Unfortunately, exercise information is somewhat lacking and workout videos, along with how-to images, are nonexistent. It’s disappointing that the physical side of a healthy lifestyle is missing here, especially with Lance Armstrong’s involvement. If you’re Canadian, forget about the convenience of iPhone and Blackberry apps-they’re unavailable here. Need support? You’ll have to leave the Daily Plate and enter the main portal, unless you pay $45 per year for the “gold membership,” which unlocks priority guidance along with tracking charts.

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daily burn

Daily Burn

Membership: Free and paid

If you can’t find a product in the Daily Burn’s database, chances are it doesn’t exist. The intuitive search function easily identifies over 329,000 foods including a wide-selection of Canadian goods. Log meals and workouts, find new exercises and chat within the flourishing community. You can even sign up for an online “accountability partner” for encouragement. iPhone apps link to the program, but Canadian fans will want to stick with the regular Daily Burn app and pass on the FoodScanner spin-off, as it doesn’t recognize most Canadian bar codes. The free Daily Burn service provides plenty, but slaps a fee on its most desirable tools-meal planners, shopping lists, and interactive, personalized advice from trainers-that are only accessible after purchasing a pro account for $49.95 to $197.95 per year.

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