With the ever expanding number of weight loss programs available today, it’s common to wonder, “Where do I start? How do I choose?” You can find  everything from fad diets that make fantastic claims and promises to long-time programs with proven track records, medical weight loss clinics, and online apps that help you learn to eat the right foods and maintain portion control. It can be difficult to know what options will work best for you, but the dilemma is not insurmountable. With a little upfront planning and research, you can determine what programs will set you up for success.

As you launch your search, take a moment to honestly assess what has caused you to gain weight and what kind of program you believe will help you achieve success both initially and over time. Are you a stress eater? Does a family member enable you to overeat? Have your hormone levels changed? Are you big on snacks? Do you tend to graze, or do you stick to eating meals at certain times of the day? Are you getting any real physical activity? Since it is easy to underestimate how much we eat and the amount of exercise we get, it’s a good idea to track these things for a couple of weeks using a free online tool. This will help you get a realistic picture of the changes to make and how to identify the ways you sabotage yourself so you can address them.

Next, begin looking closely at the weight loss programs you believe could work for you. At the top of your list should be programs that will help you change your eating behavior and relationship with food. This is essential for long-term success. Programs that demand adherence to a rigid diet or exercise plan can be challenging, though they are possible with dedication. You may feel that you need to jump start your weight loss with a program that includes medication or certain dietary restrictions for a period of time. Keep an open mind as you explore options and look for those that support realistic expectations and offer some flexibility.

Also consider any ancillary services that are offered and the overall guidance available with programs you are evaluating. Exercise tips and tracking physical exercise can be an important component, as well as access to a nutritionist and/or a weight loss coach and group support. Likewise, determine if you need a program with convenient pre-made foods to kickstart your weight loss, or if you want to begin by selecting nutritious foods at the grocery store and making your own meals. Or perhaps you are looking for a little of both. Sometimes extra flexibility in a program can help you achieve personal success.

Regardless of what weight loss program you are considering, always talk with your personal doctor first, even if it’s presented as a medical weight loss program. Your goal should be weight loss accomplished in a way that doesn’t pose a threat to your health and well-being.