Is the most effective weight-loss strategy really that hard?

February 25, 2019

If you want lose weight, research shows, the single best predictor of success is monitoring and recording calorie and fat intake throughout the day -- to "write it when you bite it."

But dietary self-monitoring is widely viewed as so unpleasant and time-consuming, many would-be weight-losers can't muster the will power to do it.

New research to be published in the March issue of Obesity suggests that the reality of dietary self-monitoring may be far less disagreeable than the perception.

After six months of monitoring their dietary intake, the most successful participants in an online behavioral weight-loss program spent an average of just 14.6 minutes per day on the activity. Program participants recorded the calories and fat for all foods and beverages they consumed, as well as the portion sizes and the preparation methods.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Vermont and the University of South Carolina, is the first to quantify the amount of time that dietary self-monitoring actually takes for those who successfully lose weight.

"People hate it; they think it's onerous and awful, but the question we had was: How much time does dietary self-monitoring really take?" said Jean Harvey, chair of the Nutrition and Food Sciences Department at the University of Vermont and the lead author of the study. "The answer is, not very much."

Harvey and her colleagues looked at the dietary self-monitoring habits of 142 participants in an online behavioral weight control intervention. For 24 weeks, participants met weekly for an online group session led by a trained dietician.

Participants also logged their daily food intake online, in the process leaving behind a record of how much time they spent on the activity and how often they logged in - information the researchers mined for the new study.

Participants who lost 10 percent of their body weight - the most successful members of the cohort - spent an average of 23.2 minutes per day on self-monitoring in the first month of the program. By the sixth month, the time had dropped to 14.6 minutes.

Brief but frequent

What was most predictive of weight-loss success was not the time spent monitoring - those who took more time and included more detail did not have better outcomes - but the frequency of log-ins, confirming the conclusions of earlier studies.

"Those who self-monitored three or more time per day, and were consistent day after day, were the most successful," Harvey said. "It seems to be the act of self-monitoring itself that makes the difference - not the time spent or the details included."

Harvey attributes the decrease in time needed for self-monitoring to participants' increasing efficiency in recording data and to the web program's progressive ability to complete words and phrases automatically after just a few letters were entered.

The study's most important contribution, Harvey said, may be in helping prospective weight-losers set behavioral targets.

"We know people do better when they have the right expectations," Harvey said. "We've been able to tell them that they should exercise 200 minutes per week. But when we asked them to write down all their foods, we could never say how long it would take. Now we can."

With online dietary monitoring apps like LoseIt, Calorie King and My Fitness Pal widely available, Harvey hopes the study results motivate more people to adopt dietary self-monitoring as a weight-loss strategy.

"It's highly effective, and it's not as hard as people think," she said.

The stakes are high. The latest federal data show that nearly 40 percent of American adults were obese in 2015-16, up from 34 percent in 2007-08. Obesity is linked to chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidemia, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and cancer and accounts for 18 percent of deaths among Americans ages 40 to 85, according to a 2013 study.
-end-


University of Vermont

Related Obesity Articles from Brightsurf:

11 years of data add to the evidence for using testosterone therapy to treat obesity, including as an alternative to obesity surgery
New research covering 11 years of data presented at this year's European and International Congress on Obesity (ECOICO 2020) show that, in obese men suffering from hypogonadism (low testosterone), treatment with testosterone injections lowers their weight and improves a wide range of other metabolic parameters.

Overlap between immunology of COVID-19 and obesity could explain the increased risk of death in people living with obesity, and also older patients
Data presented in a special COVID-19 session at the European and International Congress on Obesity (ECOICO 2020) suggests that there are overlaps between the immunological disturbances found in both COVID-19 disease and patients with obesity, which could explain the increased disease severity and mortality risk faced by obese patients, and also elderly patients, who are infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 disease.

New obesity guideline: Address root causes as foundation of obesity management
besity management should focus on outcomes that patients consider to be important, not weight loss alone, and include a holistic approach that addresses the root causes of obesity, according to a new clinical practice guideline published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) http://www.cmaj.ca/lookup/doi/10.1503/cmaj.191707.

Changing the debate around obesity
The UK's National Health Service (NHS) needs to do more to address the ingrained stigma and discrimination faced by people with obesity, says a leading health psychologist.

Study links longer exposure to obesity and earlier development of obesity to increased risk of type 2 diabetes
Cumulative exposure to obesity could be at least as important as actually being obese in terms of risk of developing type 2 diabetes (T2D), concludes new research published in Diabetologia (the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes [EASD]).

How much do obesity and addictions overlap?
A large analysis of personality studies has found that people with obesity behave somewhat like people with addictions to alcohol or drugs.

Should obesity be recognized as a disease?
With obesity now affecting almost a third (29%) of the population in England, and expected to rise to 35% by 2030, should we now recognize it as a disease?

Is obesity associated with risk of pediatric MS?
A single-center study of 453 children in Germany with multiple sclerosis (MS) investigated the association of obesity with pediatric MS risk and with the response of first-line therapy in children with MS.

Women with obesity prior to conception are more likely to have children with obesity
A systematic review and meta-analysis identified significantly increased odds of child obesity when mothers have obesity before conception, according to a study published June 11, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS Medicine by Nicola Heslehurst of Newcastle University in the UK, and colleagues.

Obesity medicine association announces major updates to its adult obesity algorithm
The Obesity Medicine Association (OMA) announced the immediate availability of the 2019 OMA Adult Obesity Algorithm, with new information for clinicians including the relationship between Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes Mellitus, Dyslipidemia, and Cancer; information on investigational Anti-Obesity Pharmacotherapy; treatments for Lipodystrophy; and Pharmacokinetics and Obesity.

Read More: Obesity News and Obesity Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.