The Internet is a powerful force in the world today -- we can do it all here. From shopping, to downloading music, to having sex - online, that is. Now the keyboard and mouse represent a whole other realm for cyber travelers... Dieting and weight loss.
Cyber travelers can now log on and follow a Web-based diet. What's more, figures from a study done at Brown University Medical School in November 1999 show that people who follow diet plans guided by the Internet, emails and message boards, lost more weight than those who followed more traditional dieting guidelines.
In 12 weeks, group two, the one with the added benefits, lost nine pounds whereas the other group lost three. "What we found -- the people who got the more intensive program, with weekly interaction with staff (on the Internet), did better," says Dr. Deborah Tate, one of the researchers involved in the study.
"This provides another vehicle to lose weight. ... If they have demands on their time and they're looking for another approach, this may be an option for them," Tate says. The study is ongoing and the participants' progress will be monitored up until November 2000.
Two such programs that have caught on to the pluses of an interactive diet are Cyberdiet.com and eDiets.com. Both plans cut out a dieter's weekly visit to a dietician or the drive to a weight loss support meeting, and there's no requirement that you buy their company's food because they don't make any - everything they recommend is found in your local grocery store. These diets end and begin in the privacy of your apartment, dorm room or home.
In order to sign up for either Web-based diet, you basically answer a bunch of questions including height, weight, eating habits and personality traits and they (Cyberdiet.com or eDiets.com) create a profile specifically catered to you. The profile suggests everything like what foods you should cook or buy or how many calories you're allowed.
The eDiets.com plan is based on what major health organizations like the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Institute say is a healthy diet -- 50 to 60 percent carbohydrates, about 20 percent fat and the rest, protein.
Donna DeCunzo, the registered dietician for eDiets.com, says the number one benefit of the site is its convenience. "It is easily accessible and it is totally personalized unlike the other programs," says DeCunzo. The "other programs" are their competitors Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, she says.
However, Maria Walls, the Senior Nutritionist at Weight Watchers International in Woodbury, New York says the weekly group meetings are what make the Weight Watchers diet such a success. She also points out that since the Web diets don't have "face to face" contact, it's difficult to trust whether a dieter is telling the truth about how much they weigh.
"They could be saying whatever they want to say. How do you really know? With us, they have to come in, weigh themselves and we know it's really happening," Walls says.
Both Web sites provide chat rooms, message boards and support groups. They also have discussion groups for college students. Cyberdiet.com calls theirs, "A Special Place for 20 Something's" and eDiets.com has a private one set up by a group of college-aged members. The latter site also allows you to join the diet plan with any number of "buddies" and interact with them on all levels.
Roxanne Moore, a registered dietician and a nutrition professor at Towson State University in Maryland, says when it comes to finding a healthy weight loss plan, she would rather students like those trust sources like the American Dietetic Association rather than online Web sites.
"As with anything on the Internet, you always have to be cautious. You don't know who is answering your questions," says Moore, who is also an ADA spokeswoman.
Both Cyberdiet.com and eDiets.com have bio pages detailing its licensed nutritionist's credentials, and as with most expert advice, it's not always free. For a 12-week plan, eDiets.com charges $70. Cyberdiet.com, on the other hand, does not charge any fees.
University of Miami nutrition professor Sheah Rarback weighs in, "If the site has a registered dietician, they're not just trying to make a buck," she says, Everyone has to define what works for them."