Choice Diets

Reporter: Helen Wellings

We see the advertisements and the celebrity testimonies, but there's nothing like hearing it from real people who've actually experienced diet clinics.

"Our shadow shoppers visited four different clinics each. It was surprising some of the advice that our shadow shoppers received", said Choice's Ingrid Just.

For the first time, what goes on inside diet clinics, what clients are told to do, how much they pay -- Choice has run the ruler over the major weight loss chains: Weight Watchers, Cohen's Lifestyle Clinic, Jenny Craig and Weight Control Doctor - with some hair-raising results.

"Some of the medical advice, some of the bizarre advice and some of the sales tactics that our shadow shoppers received, is of greatest concern", Ingrid said.

And signing up at diet clinics doesn't come cheap: up to $800 for a six month course and at some, fees $95 to $100 a month for each consultation.

"There is some concern that potentially sales consultants that have minimal medical training are making quite significant diagnosis", said GP, Dr Sam Hay, a Choice expert used in the study.

Dr Hay criticises Cohen's Lifestyle Clinic giving clients a blood assessment and told to eat according to blood type. "Blood tests are, can be, purely just a guideline and they need to be interpreted based on medical evidence", he said.

The Cohen Clinic argues Dr Cohen considers each client for suitability to the program.

Weight Control Doctor headed by Dr Sandra Cabot, author of top-selling book, "The Liver Cleansing Diet", gave medical advice proven to be incorrect. "One of our shadow shoppers was told that she had adrenal thyroid and hormonal problems. That shadow shopper went off to see her doctor quick smart and found through a blood test she had none of those things", Ingrid said.

Cohen's Lifestyle Clinic also pushed a rapid weight loss diet, actually discouraging exercise. "It's very risky making an outright statement that exercise doesn't help in weight loss. Weight loss is simple: it's energy in, versus energy out -- whatever you're putting in your body, as long as you put more out, you're going to lose weight. It's as simple as that", said personal trainer at Bondi PT, Luke Hines.

The Cohen Clinic told us overweight people can get hungry exercising because fat is not released. It claims all clients can lose 17 to 25 kg in 12 weeks, but Luke says exercise should be part of your regime. "If for maybe 4-5 times per week you go out there -- gone for a walk, taken the dog for a run, even played with the kids -- exercise doesn't have to feel like a chore, it doesn't mean the gym and it doesn't mean slogging it out. It just means moving, elevating your heart rate and being active", he said.

"Suggesting that somebody shouldn't eat fruit to lose weight is contradictory to what the Australian guidelines for healthy eating harness", said dietician, Melanie McGrice.

She is appalled at some clinics' lack of knowledge. "The protein bar that they're actually recommending has more carbohydrates in it than the piece of fruit does and so that really suggests to me that these consultants didn't actually have very much knowledge of nutrition", she said.

The Diet Clinic that came out on top for best advice and value was Jenny Craig.

"Don't be misled, don't just sign up for something you're not sure about, make sure you get it checked out by your GP or a dietician first", Melanie said.