Sizing up your weight clinic

Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers might offer you a solution to your dieting woes – but for a price. Check out your options to make sure you, not just your wallet, will be downsizing

We spend millions every year on the latest magic bullet for shedding pounds, and the number of weight-loss clinics hoping to cash in on our diet dreams continues to rise. More than 100 new locations for several of the top brand machines – including Weight Watchers – are slated to open their doors this year, in addition to the hundreds that already exist coast-to-coast. None are regulated by Health Canada, costs can vary wildly from one franchise to the next, and most fees aren’t covered by company health plans. To help you weigh your options, we asked registered dietitians Heather McColl of Vancouver and Elizabeth Frank of Lunenberg, N.S., to assess five of Canada’s most popular programs.

Jenny Craig

Signature dish Chicken fettuccine
The skinny At first, all meals and snacks consist of Jenny Craig portion-controlled prepackaged food (plus dairy and fresh fruit and vegetables); you’ll start eating more grocery-store food as you get closer to your goal weight (the lowest daily calorie intake is 1,200). You’ll also visit a Jenny Craig centre once a week for a one-on-one consultation. Counsellors receive a commission for Jenny Craig food sales. There are 34 locations in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto.

Pros Prepackaged food is a boon for the time-pressed; another plus, the personalized support. You pay as you go.
Cons A clinic that links commission to sales may not be in your best interest – you may spend more than necessary.

Celebrity shiller Kirstie Alley lost more than 60 pounds.

Sticker price $500 per month*

* All fees are approximate and can vary by province.

L A Weight Loss

Signature dish Sesame beef with pad Thai noodles
The skinny A low-calorie diet of about 1,400 calories per day – in the form of fruit, vegetables, lean meat, low-fat dairy and grains – paired with two L A Weight Loss nutritional bars, shakes, soups or drinks per day. You’ll drop in for one-on-one counselling sessions three times per week.

The company maintains that while its products speed up weight loss, they’re optional. The company would not say whether staffers receive commission for supplement and bar sales. There are 54 centres across Canada.

Pros The one-on-one consultations are ideal; you get to make the majority of your own food.
Cons You must pay for a year’s worth of counselling sessions up front or arrange monthly payments through a separate credit company, and you won’t get your money back if you quit.

Celebrity shillers None. Despite the name, there are no starlets shilling L A Weight Loss.

Sticker price $150 to $3,000 for 52 weeks; $160 per month for bars*

* All fees are approximate and can vary by province.

Herbal Magic Weight Loss & Nutrition Centres

Signature dish Roasted veggie kebabs with a grilled chicken breast
The skinny A low-calorie diet of about 1,100 to 1,500 calories per day – paired with herbal supplements that are supposed to accelerate fat breakdown and block some carbohydrate absorption. In the beginning, you’ll visit the centre daily, then switch to three times a week. Many counsellors receive commission based on the sale of products. There are more than 300 centres across Canada.

Pros Daily one-on-one consultations may keep you on track. Plus, learning how to prepare your own healthy food may help you keep the weight off long term. You pay as you go.
Cons The herbal cocktail may interfere with any prescription meds you’re taking (talk to your doctor) and its efficacy is inconclusive.

Celebrity shiller DJ Gord Stellick of Toronto’s Fan 590 lost 41 pounds on the plan.

Sticker price $300 per month*

* All fees are approximate and can vary by province.

Dr. Bernstein

Signature dish Grilled lemon chicken breast on a bed of greens
The skinny An extremely low-cal, low-carb, low-fat diet of 900 to 1,400 calories per day. You’ll visit a Dr. B clinic three times a week to weigh in, have a urine test (to confirm that you remain in ketosis – when your body burns its own fat for energy) and get vitamin B6 and B12 injections that are supposed to help break down fat. All clinics – there are 53 in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario – are staffed by registered nurses and doctors, none of whom receive commission.

Pros The promise of quick weight loss (a minimum of 10 pounds per month) can be motivating. Dr. B’s steep price tag may also encourage dieters to stay on course. You pay as you go.
Cons The skimpy calorie count may leave you feeling lethargic and lightheaded. There’s also no scientific evidence that shows vitamin B helps break down fat.

Celebrity shiller Former talk-show host Mike Bullard lost 30 pounds on Dr. Bernstein in 2000.

Sticker price $600 per month, plus a $315 registration fee*

* All fees are approximate and can vary by province.

Weight Watchers

Signature dish Shrimp scampi
The skinny Foods are assigned point values, and you must stick to a daily budget of 20 to 25 points (which works out to about 1,500 calories a day), but nothing’s off limits. Hate tracking points? Try the core plan, which eliminates counting but restricts your choices to good-for-you foods. You can choose to attend weekly group meetings or track your progress online. All meeting leaders have lost weight with WW, and none receive commission. There are thousands of locations across Canada.

Pros You can indulge once in a while, and the plan encourages exercise. You pay as you go.
Cons You may be tempted to blow your points on nutritionally void foods. You may have to weigh yourself in front of others.

Celebrity shiller Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, lost 50 pounds on WW in 1997.

Sticker price $60 per month, plus a $25 registration fee*

* All fees are approximate and can vary by province.

Choose your weight-loss clinic: Jenny Craig L A Weight Loss Herbal Magic Weight Loss & Nutrition Centres Dr. Bernstein Weight Watchers