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Diet Culture101: Stop Counting Points! The Surprising Reason Point-Based Diets May Be Sabotaging You

We are entering part 4 of our series on Diet Culture.

If you’re just jumping in with us, go back and read the first three articles:

Diet Culture 101: You’re Impacted Even Without Dieting (part 1)

Diet Culture 101: Fad Diets + Medical Diets (part 2)

Diet Culture 101: Are Detox Programs or Cleanses Worth Your Money? (part 3)

This time we are going to explore various types of points and system-based programs. Chances are you have tried these programs or you have someone close to you who has tried them. In addition to the pros and cons of different diet and weight loss approaches, the questions we want to answer are:

  1. Are they healthy and helpful?
  2. Will I lose weight?
  3. Is there a better way for me as a unique individual?

Let’s talk about what these programs are and where they can benefit, make zero difference, or even harm you. It’s good to know what the pros and cons are because even when they promote weight loss, the method or the negative side effects of them may not fit within your overall goals.

System-Based Diet Programs

Systems-based diet programs are cookie-cutter programs, often made and created by large companies, for the purpose of weight loss. They market their programs to doctors and clients with dramatic stories of success with large amounts of weight loss in certain individuals, often within short time periods. Many of them offer community support, apps, diet pills or supplements, and other tools while a client pays to be part of the program.

Points-Based System Diets

This type of system allows you to have a personal choice in what you are going to consume while giving each food a “point” value. You are given a target point ceiling based on your body and goals so that you do not go over the points you are allotted each day. Many items are given a 0 points value which means you can consume as much of them as you want, other foods are given a specific point value. The goal is that you do not exceed your allotted daily points. There is typically a monthly or program fee.


-Personal choice of food allows individuals to choose foods that sound good to them, avoid allergies or sensitivities, and make choices when they need to grab a snack.

-Weight loss (not straight forward, will talk more on that below)

-Community aspect can be encouraging and helpful


-We feel this may contribute to disordered eating behaviors due to the constant tracking of what is being consumed. Individuals may either become obsessive about tracking points; even becoming perfectionistic about it. It may even result in feelings of anxiety, guilt or shame around whether or not you stuck to your points. This develops a problematic relationship with food. Conversely, one may become fatigued by all the tracking and quit altogether.

-Weight Gain (more on that below)

Meal-Based System

A meal-based system typically offers a specific eating plan or meal delivery service. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack meals are ordered and can be sent to you. There is typically a monthly or program fee. Some of these types of plans may include weight loss supplements, injections, etc. There are a few that also do a meal plan vs. sending actual meals.


-Convenience not having to plan meals or shop

-Portion controlled for you

-Weight Loss (more below)

-Somewhat personalized

-Easier for extremely busy people

-Some programs offer community support


-Choices of what you can eat are limited to the plan given or meal choices available to you.

-Sometimes extreme calorie restriction (depends on the program)

-Although some personalization exists, you may be limited on food preference or allergies/sensitivities depending on what’s available to you.

-Weight Gain (more below)

As you can see there are some pros and cons of these programs that we mentioned above, but let’s talk about the cons of system-based programs in general vs. working with a Certified Nutrition Specialist.

Cons of System-based Diet Plans

The biggest and most obvious problem for us is the lack of true personalization. They are doing SOME, meaning, they are taking into consideration your current body weight and your desired outcomes to help put you on a path to reach your goal. However, these programs are not designed to work with you 1-on-1 to customize your plan to you as an individual at a deeper level. People are unique with their own genetics, health history, family history and biochemistry. If you have certain medical conditions or metabolic imbalances, for instance, we may target specific therapeutic foods to support that. What may be lacking in these programs are things that contribute to why the weight gain existed in the first place such as:

-Poor habits

-Endocrine problems

-Sex Hormone Imbalances

-Nutrient depletion for optimal functioning of energy or metabolic systems such as the mitochondria or thyroid.

-Gut dysfunction

-Poor sleep

-HPA Axis Dysfunction

None of these things have anything to do with calorie intake, yet can contribute to poor health outcomes, including weight gain.

The second biggest problem is the focus on weight loss. What ends up happening is that individuals in these programs are looking to the scale to measure their success. Seemingly dieting and deprivation is the primary focus to get to weight loss rather than the main focus being to improve important markers of health such as optimal (not just within lab range) lab markers for inflammation, cardiovascular disease, proper endocrine function, etc. or things like improved sleep. We talk about the 5 pillars of health and…surprise…NONE of them are weight-driven.

In fact, most diets (95%) including these system-based programs have been studied over and over again in research and they often continually fail the test of sustainable weight loss. This is what we were referring to above when we talk about weight gain associated with these programs. Typically, by the 12-month mark, the original weight (if not more) returns. Most studies are done with groups for a period of 12 months or less. However, one study looked up to 5 years following a 12-week program and found the weight for those who did see sustainable weight loss at 12 months returned closer to the 5-year mark where results were no longer statistically significant. This can be a huge psychological burden bringing up feelings of failure. Research does show that working with a professional long-term has the best outcomes for not only weight, but important health markers related to chronic diseases. {3-6}

The next big problem is that the commercials and marketing tactics used to promote these programs often create unrealistic expectations for individuals. Even if they don’t mean to, participants can’t help but compare their slower results to the people in the commercial. Healthy, sustainable weight loss is actually much slower than you typically see in marketing materials.

What’s Missing from These Programs? Is There a Better Way?

While there are still “pros” that exist for these choices, we are huge believers in long-term coaching and personalized nutrition, teaching the WHY behind choices not just the HOW, and taking a deeper functional look at your unique self is so important!

Sure, we teach our clients all the best parts of the programs we’ve mentioned, but, also, investing in yourself over the longer term can reap huge, sustainable rewards. We often see huge “Ah Ha!” moments for people at the 18-month or even 2 to 3-year mark. We see the absolute best changes over time. In fact, we retain most of our clients 12+ months or longer because they enjoy working with us and they see incredible results and value over time. We are not the “hit it and quit it” type…not if you want sustainable changes.

When you’re given a list of things to eat or a pre-made meal, you may not be sure what was working, so when you move past the program you may not know how to eat in any given situation or how to put your own meals together. Additionally, constantly depriving yourself of things you love may help you lose weight in the short run, but we see people fall of the proverbial wagon all the time when dieting versus a personalized nutrition process that allows flexibility, teaches you how to make healthy choices in any given situation, and doesn’t focus heavily on weight, if at all. We want you to feel like your best self, but that often comes with far more habit or lifestyle change or personalized support than just food.

Any of these methods or programs are choices any consumer can make, but at the end of the day, you need all the information to make an informed choice on what the best route is for you. Our advice, first define your goals. Is weight loss REALLY the goal or is it long-term optimal health? Does this program or that program fit into how you see living the rest of your life? If you think talking to us may be the route you want to take, you can set up a free Discovery Call with us and we can help you define some goals and make the right choice for you.


Ahern, AL, Breeze, P, et al. Effectiveness and ost effectiveness of referral to a commercial open group behavior a weight management program and adults with overweight and obesity: five your follow up of the WRAP randomized controlled trial. The Lancet. October 2022

John’s Hopkins Medicine. Few Commercial Weight-Loss Programs Show Reliable Evidence of Effectiveness. Published: April 6, 2015. Accessed: April 25, 2023.

Memon AN, Gowda AS, Rallabhandi B, Bidika E, Fayyaz H, Salib M, Cancarevic I. Have Our Attempts to Curb Obesity Done More Harm Than Good? Cureus. 2020 Sep 6;12(9):e10275. doi: 10.7759/cureus.10275. PMID: 33042711; PMCID: PMC7538029.

Ge L, Sadeghirad B, Ball GDC, da Costa BR, Hitchcock CL, Svendrovski A, Kiflen R, Quadri K, Kwon HY, Karamouzian M, Adams-Webber T, Ahmed W, Damanhoury S, Zeraatkar D, Nikolakopoulou A, Tsuyuki RT, Tian J, Yang K, Guyatt GH, Johnston BC. Comparison of dietary macronutrient patterns of 14 popular named dietary programmes for weight and cardiovascular risk factor reduction in adults: systematic review and network meta-analysis of randomised trials. BMJ. 2020 Apr 1;369:m696. doi: 10.1136/bmj.m696. Erratum in: BMJ. 2020 Aug 5;370:m3095. PMID: 32238384; PMCID: PMC7190064.

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Autumn is the Founder and CEO of HopeWella Nutrition in Los Angeles, California. Featured in publications, podcasts and documentaries, such as Eat Play Diet, she is well-known in and around Southern California as a nutritional specialist in the areas if Digestive Health, Hormone Balance, Histamine Intolerance and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, Nutritional Genetics and Metabolic Health.

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