eDiets Under the Spotlight

Reviewed by Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

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Dietitian's Verdict | What's the Cost? | Comparison to WLR

What exactly is eDiets?

eDiets UK was an online slimming club that essentially offered users a variety of diet plans online.

eDiets started as an independent, a spin off from a venture that originated in the US. It then ran in partnership with Tesco, and now it no longer operates at all. You can find a diet plan for Tesco shoppers here.

The good news is that similar (and new) plans are available here at wlr along with tools that enable you to follow your own plan. Take a free trial if you'd like to give them a whirl. Keep reading for our dietitian's review of eDiets as was.

The Review

Once you become a member, you receive a personalised meal plan that’s based on the type of e diet you’d prefer to follow to help you lose weight or maintain it. You also have the option of receiving a personalised fitness plan.

There’s access to information to help you reach your goal, including success stories. As with most online diets, there are chat rooms and message boards allowing you to speak to other members. There’s also access to a team of nutrition experts via email.

How do I get started?

Before joining you have the option of receiving a free diet profile. For this, you enter details such as your weight, height, sex, age, your goals (eg to lose a lot or a little weight or to maintain it), your frame size (you’re told how to calculate this), your activity level, whether you’ve dieted before and what’s motivating you to lose weight (eg health concerns, a special occasion, a lack of confidence).

You then receive details of your current Body Mass Index (BMI), your goal BMI, your healthy weight range and a daily calorie allowance. Once you’ve received this, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to join.

Can I try eDiets free?

Unfortunately not! As a non-member you can view the types of diets available, see sample menus and read success stories.

However, there’s no trial period, with the result that you can’t actually have a go at using the programme to see whether it suits you. If you don’t like it, you’ll end up losing pounds – unfortunately, the ones from your purse rather than your waistline.

So how much does it cost?

eDiets promotes itself as costing just £2.99 a week.

However, when you first join, you have to commit to a minimum of 10 weeks and so need to fork out £29.90. Plus, it costs an extra 75p a week if you want a personalised fitness plan, adding an extra £7.50 to your 10-week initial fee.

The same goes if you want access to more recipes – these also cost an extra 75p per week (in other words an extra £7.50 for the 10 weeks).

A three-month basic e diet membership costs £41.85; a six-month membership £59.90 and a year’s memberships costs £79.90. Once the initial membership term is up, it costs £13.95 a month.

If you don’t get on with the programme, you can cancel within seven days. However, you’ll be charged a cancellation fee of £5.95.

What happens when I join?

Once you become a member, you choose the e diet you’d like to follow (there are 16 available plans) and then complete another questionnaire so that the plan can be personalised.

This involves including details of whether you are diabetic, breastfeeding, vegetarian or require a special diet such as a low salt or low sugar plan.

You can also choose to exclude certain foods from the plan such as beef, eggs, shellfish or bread and have the option of including up to 7 alcoholic drinks for the week.

Finally, you have the option of choosing whether you want meals that are primarily based on convenience foods, recipes or a combination of both, depending on how much time you like to spend preparing meals. You then receive your eDiets weekly meal plan.

How do the weekly meal plans work?

With the exception of the Totals Plan, you receive a seven-day plan every week based on the diet you’ve chosen to follow and any options you’ve taken to personalise it to suit your food preferences. Each day, you receive a breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack.

The menus are varied and appetising – plus you can easily swap a meal for a new one if you don’t like the look of it. You can also print off a weekly shopping list.

On the downside though, your daily calorie allowance is divided equally amongst the three main meals, with less for the snack. For example, with a 1,600 calorie daily allowance, each of the three main meals provide 480 calories and the snack provides 160 calories.

There’s no option to change this either. This means the plans are less likely to appeal to people who, for example, prefer six smaller meals a day or like to have a smaller, lower-calorie meal for breakfast and a larger, more calorific dinner.

There’s no opportunity to ‘bank’ or ‘save’ calories for a night out, the weekend or a special occasion, either.

What happens if you eat anything extra?

With the exception of the Totals Plan, all the other plans are prescriptive – in other words, they tell you exactly what to eat each day.

As a result, there’s no opportunity to ‘add in’ the extra biscuit you ate during a morning meeting or the fact you had a cheese sandwich at lunchtime instead of the recommended ham sandwich.

There are also problems when it comes to eating out. You have the opportunity to swap any of your meals for the option of ‘eating out’ but you don’t actually receive any ‘eating out’ options in return.

Quite simply, you’re left with the knowledge that your meal should provide a certain number of calories, for example, 480 calories if you’re allowed 1,600 calories a day.

The programme provides general information on healthy choices when eating out. However, there’s no guidance given on the calorie values of typical restaurant meals.

Ultimately, if you want to stick to the recommended 480 calories, you’d need to find another source that provides calorie information for meals out. (Take a WLR free trial.)

How does the Totals Plan differ?

The Totals Plan is more flexible and operates in a similar way to the Weight Watchers Points system. A Total value is given to individual foods depending on their calorie value and the type of food they are.

You are then given a certain number of Totals to eat each day, depending on your height, weight and sex – women should have at least 15 Totals and men, 19 Totals every day.

You can either choose a meal plan that is closest to your daily Totals requirements or you can choose to track the Totals of the foods you eat each day using something called the Nutrition Totaller.

This effectively calculates the Totals of individual foods, together with their calorie, carb, protein, fat, fibre and salt content.

The advantage of the Totals Plan is that it’s far more flexible and allows you to create your own daily menus. You can save between 1 and 4 Totals each day to use at the weekend or for special occasions but they must be used in the same week.

What About Fitness Plans?

To get your plan, you start by completing a questionnaire.

This asks questions to identify

  • your current level of fitness
  • whether you have any injuries (eg sciatica, broken bones, sprains and strains)
  • what your goals are (eg to lose weight, tone up, improve flexibility)
  • your current level of cardiovascular fitness (ie beginner, intermediate or advanced)
  • your degree of flexibility
  • your pulse rate
  • the days you want to exercise
  • any specific body parts you want to tone,
  • what toning equipment you have access to
  • which cardiovascular activities you prefer.

You then receive a fitness plan that’s based on the cardiovascular activities you like, the days of the week you’ve chosen to exercise and the length of time you should exercise for (including specific amounts of time for warming up, cooling down and stretching).

The toning exercises come with really good instructions and diagrams – although you will need dumbbells or some form of weights. You can also modify your fitness plan at anytime to account for any injuries you might have or to change your cardiovascular activities.

Unfortunately, there’s no indication given regarding the number of calories you’re burning through exercise – and you don’t get any extra calories added to your daily allowance to compensate for those you’ve used up in your workouts.

However, if you are following the Totals Plan, you can earn extra Totals by exercising. For example, 20 minutes of brisk walking earns you 1 extra Total, while an hour of aerobics adds 3 Totals. You can add up to 14 extra Totals per week.

Meanwhile, there doesn’t appear to be any advice given to recommend a variety of different cardiovascular exercises.

This means in theory if you are an advanced exerciser and you only opt for step aerobics as your cardiovascular workout, your plan would recommend doing this every single day.

What about weighing in?

Every week, you are reminded to ‘weigh in’ and record your weight. It’s that simple! Your weight loss is shown and plotted on a progress chart.

How much weight can I expect to lose?

eDiets restricts calories moderately and in line with health professional advice. As a result, you can expect to lose around 1-2lb a week.

Can anyone join?

There seem to be no restrictions, for example, for people who have suffered with eating disorders or anyone with a medical condition.

The site clearly states that the specific health plans such as the dairy-free or low-salt diets aren’t designed to treat medical conditions and shouldn’t be used to replace medical advice.

For a few of the specific plans, you are asked to provide details of any medical conditions you may have and are then told if the diet is inappropriate.

For example, if you opt for the Atkins plan, you are asked if you have a personal or family history of type 2 diabetes, kidney disease or kidney stones, gastrointestinal problems such as Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome, or if you’re taking diuretics.

If you confirm you’ve had any of the latter four conditions, the programme won’t let you follow the Atkins plan. However, you can still follow Atkins if you say you have a family or personal history of type 2 diabetes.

If you try and join eDiets when you are underweight, for example, if you have a BMI of 18 the programme will tell you your goal BMI (between 20-25) and give you a calorie allowance to help you gain weight.

How is my goal weight set?

Body Mass Index (BMI) is used for setting goal weights. To be at goal, you need to have a BMI within the range of 20-25. eDiets calculates your target BMI within this range and there’s no opportunity for you to change this target.

What happens when I’ve reached my goal?

Once you’ve reached your goal, you can use eDiets to maintain your weight by opting for weight maintenance rather than weight loss. You’ll then simply receive weekly menu plans with a higher calorie allowance to help you keep your weight steady.

How does eDiets compare to Weight Loss Resources?

They might both be online slimming clubs, but there are several differences in the way the two sites help you lose weight.

As well as diet plans Weight Loss Resources provides a food diary and calculated daily calorie allowance, and then lets members choose exactly what they want to eat and when they want to eat it.

In contrast, the majority of the different diet plans on eDiets provide prescriptive menus and so are far more rigid – ultimately on Monday morning, you’ll know what you should be eating the following Sunday.

There’s no degree of flexibility if you suddenly decide to go out for dinner or don’t fancy a chicken salad at lunchtime and instead want soup and a roll. Quite simply, you either follow the plan or you don’t!

The exception to this is the Totals Plan, which does allow you to put together your own meals and provides far more flexibility.

Like WLR, eDiets has a calorie counter in the form of the Nutrition Totaller, which provides information about the calorie content of foods as well as its Totals value. However, you need to have chosen the Totals Plan to get access to this.

Finally, there’s no real food diary to keep with eDiets. There are a few pages where you can write down what you’ve eaten and the mood you were in when you ate, but this isn’t interactive in anyway.

Dietitian’s verdict

eDiets is another useful tool designed to help people lose weight, but like all programmes it has its pros and cons.

In particular, with the exception of the Totals Plan, most of the diets offered by eDiets are very prescriptive – although you choose your diet plan and can change meals, fundamentally you simply eat exactly what is recommended for each meal.

This makes it very much like the type of plans you often see in magazines, books and newspapers.

Of course, this has advantages if you are new to dieting and need more guidance, if you like to be told exactly what to eat or if you don’t have much time to plan meals. However, it’s not so great if you enjoy creating your own menus.

Most of the plans also spread calories equally throughout the day, leaving no flexibility for people to have more snacks each day, or a smaller breakfast and larger lunch – and you can’t ‘bank’ or ‘save’ calories to allow for times when you might want to indulge a little.

It’s also not a great plan if you regularly eat out as the meal plans simply show a blank space, leaving you to decide what to eat to stick to your given calorie allowance for that meal.

The one exception is the Totals Plan, which gets round most of these problems. This Plan allows you to create your own meals, spread your Totals (and therefore your calories) throughout the day as you wish and can be adapted to add in any ‘extras’.

Meanwhile, unless you use the Nutrition Totaller, the calorie and fat values of individual foods aren’t shown, with the result that you don’t really learn what’s a high-calorie choice.

This may make it harder for people to maintain their weight loss when they stop using the programme and start putting meals together for themselves.

Nevertheless, most of the plans are based on healthy eating guidelines (with the exception of the Atkins plan) and so will certainly help people to eat more healthily and give them an insight into how they can put together healthy meals.

The exercise section is generally good and it’s a shame it’s an optional extra and not an integral part of the package.

However, it doesn’t appear to give any advice about the importance of doing a variety of different activities to prevent boredom and give your whole body a workout.

Plus, the lack of information about the number of calories burnt off by chosen cardiovascular activities may make it hard for some people to stay motivated.

In summary, eDiets is a good choice for perhaps a month to get you on the road to losing weight, particularly if you’ve never dieted before or initially like to be told what to eat.

But after this time, most people will probably be crying out for a little more flexibility, which is where the Totals Plan may be more beneficial.

But perhaps the biggest criticism of eDiets is that you don’t have the opportunity to try before you buy. Ultimately, you have to sign up for 10 weeks without being able to trial any of the diets to see whether they will actually suit you for this length of time.

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