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“Advisers are not givers,” goes the Dutch proverb. We are wise to keep the adage in mind when considering the numberless websites and companies offering “free” weight loss advice. Promotions and special advertising often lie behind the façade of seemingly well-to-do websites on health, dieting and weight loss. These secret agendas can put a damper on our weight goals and sometimes pose a threat to our health if we are ill advised. The need to lose weight is great, but the need for trusted counsel is even greater.

We have reviewed a host of websites who at no charge dole out free advice and offer special “weight-loss tools,” including body mass index (BMI) calculators, low-fat, low-carb and virtually low-anything recipes, calorie counters, calendar programs and the like. Our conclusions about how to ferret out the best ones for your needs can be summarized into 5 basic rules.

Rule 1: Trust the pros. Treat your weight loss efforts and concerns as matters of health and seek those who are thus trained. Would your turn to anyone on the street for treatment of, say, a cough or abdominal pain? Of course not! We rely on the service of specially trained individuals for safe and effective treatment. Searching the internet for remedies to weight problems can be virtually a street encounter with anyone willing to give you advice.

Your best bet is to rely on those who have medically sanctioned materials. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you must be reading publications from physicians. Instead, look for articles written by real people with qualifications and places of work. In addition to MDs, many states issue certifications for those who are trained in nutrition and dieting. And make sure these people are practicing somewhere credible. Hospitals, clinics, universities and nonprofit organizations are the best.

Rule 2: Be wary of get-thin-quick advice. Akin to the get-rich-quick schemes are the equally deceiving get-thin-quick traps. Although they require no purchase or membership, speedy weight-loss advice is rarely healthy, sustainable, or even feasible. Dieters are often lured by testimonials and personal success stories that promise similar results to anyone who participates. Remember, to shed pounds, there really is no way around exercise, changes in eating habits and all-around focused work.

Rule 3: Don’t bite the bait. We have noted a multitude of websites that offer initial free advising, which includes chat groups, post forums, libraries of information, personal progress forms and much more. The trial period often lasts a generous time—sometimes indefinitely—but the catch comes when you are hooked, well into your diet program and desperate for more recipes and advice. We have seen websites that offer tantalizing recipes and diet columns, leaving out one or two key parts that are displayed to you only after purchasing a membership. If you do decide to purchase, be sure to get an assurance of what you are going to get before paying. Disappointment often looms around the “click here to pay” button.

Rule 4: Not all advertising is evil. We are often conditioned to think that a website with advertisements is cheap and unreliable. This is not always the case. Many websites rely on advertisers in order to cover the costs of web hosting, employee salaries, and technology. These legitimate sponsors make public information available at no cost to you. In exchange for their support, they often require a place or two to advertise. Don’t let a few advertisements eclipse what could be genuinely good advice from professionals. Think about it. Would you throw out copies of Newsweek or Time because of their advertisements? Read between the ads!

Of course, learn to distinguish when good information is presented with advertising and when questionable information is being advertised for a price. The latter puts you at risk.

Rule 5: Trust Big Brother. He taxes us. He detains our criminals. And he often has size problems of his own. But Big Brother, or federal and state government, is often a veritable source of safe and good advice for managing weight. State and federal governments have recognized that too many citizens are overweight and out of shape. Many have passed laws enacting agencies and services to help individuals with free, trusted and medically sanctioned advice. The wonderful part about Big Brother is that he’s accountable—well, at least more than most businesses.

Places to start You can jumpstart your weight-loss efforts by visiting these outstanding websites.

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