Just read this article from U.S. News & World Report about effective weight loss websites. Speaking from experience, I've used both the Weight Watchers and SparkPeople sites and I emphatically agree that they can make a positive impact on weight loss or maintenance efforts.
According to the article, participants in a recent study that entered their meals and physical activity in online diaries at least once a month for roughly two years were more likely to lose weight—and keep it off—than others who did so less diligently. What I like about some of these weight-loss sites is that they're so interactive, providing everything from record-keeping tools, nutrition tips and recipes to message boards and support groups. Some are even personalized, tailoring meal plans and workouts to the individual.
So here are the five best ones, according to the article:
CalorieKing ($12 monthly, $85 for a year) - A food and exercise database linked to a personal diary converts meals and activities into calories so you can visualize if you're hitting your weight-loss goals. A drag-and-drop interface makes meal plans easy to create, even for the least technologically savvy. Guidance to successful meal planning is provided.
Nutrihand ($9.95 per month or free when you join with your nutritionist or dietitian) - It allows you and your counselor to work together online on meal plans, shopping lists, and fitness goals. You can print out reports to bring to your sessions. Diabetics who use insulin pumps can upload data from their glucometer on a private and secure network and chart or graph glucose levels, blood pressure, and other personal data to tweak pump settings and track health status.
SparkPeople (free) - The focus is on meeting simple goals: eat less, exercise more. Users can create meal plans based on calories and dietary restrictions, plan meals up to a week in advance, and save favorite meals to a daily log. Members exchange advice through forums, blogs, and message boards.
Vtrim ($695 for six months) - From the University of Vermont, Vtrim allows users to sign on for a six-month commitment consisting of 24 one-hour classes with approximately 20 other members guided by a Vtrim-certified "facilitator" trained in diet, nutrition, or weight management. Groups meet weekly in chat rooms to discuss specific habits geared towards healthy living. They utilize graphs, charts, body mass index, featured recipes, and other tools to help track calories. Although the price tag packs a hefty punch, Vtrim takes a sensible approach to dieting that focuses on changing behavior, not starvation.
WeightWatchers ($47.90 for the first month and $17.95 for each additional month, plus a $23.95 start-up fee) - Best known for its "points system," WeightWatchers bases its program on choosing healthy foods that satisfy hunger as long as possible. The site keeps track of food intake; provides recipes, meal ideas, and dining out tips; and creates personalized weekly progress charts. Signing up online won't allow you to attend local meetings, but it does allow you to access your plan from your cell phone.