Tips for weight-loss success

by Jennifer Bowden / 03 January, 2013
Decided to lose weight this year? Here are some tips to help you succeed.
Tips for weight-loss success

Many people will start 2013 with good intentions, often centred on losing weight. So, how to translate a weight-loss resolution into achieving a healthy weight? Three basic diet strategies were found to improve the chance of weight-loss success, according to a 2012 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A group of 123 postmenopausal overweight and obese women were randomly assigned to either a diet or a diet-plus-exercise weight-loss regime for a year. They completed multiple questionnaires about eating-related weight-control strategies, self-monitoring behaviours and meal patterns. Although both groups lost an average of 10% of their initial weight, researchers noted key behaviours were associated with greater weight loss.

For starters, women who kept food journals consistently lost more weight – about 2.7kg more. “It’s difficult to make changes to your diet when you aren’t paying close attention to what you’re eating,” said Anne McTiernan, principal investigator on the study. Hence McTiernan’s No 1 piece of weight-loss advice is to keep a food journal. They are also useful for looking at the overall health of your diet.

The best food journal is one you’ll actually use, and it need not be fancy. A pad and pen will suit some people, but others may prefer a program that can be accessed through a smartphone. (See “There’s an app for fat”, June 30, 2012, for more about MyFitness Pal’s free calorie counter and food diary app – a program rated highly by the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.)

Still, a food journal is only as good as the information entered into it. As the old computer-science adage says, garbage in, garbage out. The following tips, provided to the study participants, will help ensure your journal is accurate and therefore useful:

  • Be honest – record everything you eat.

  • Be accurate – measure portions, read labels.

  • Be complete – include details such as how the food was prepared, and the addition of toppings or condiments.

  • Be consistent – always carry your food diary or use a diet-tracking application on your smartphone.

Successful dieters also ate at regular intervals and didn’t skip meals; women who skipped meals lost 3.6 fewer kilograms. Said McTiernan, “The mechanism isn’t completely clear, but we think skipping meals or fasting might cause you to respond more favourably to high-calorie foods and therefore take in more calories overall.”

New research, presented at the 2012 Society for Neuroscience conference, appears to confirm this theory. British researchers compared magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of 21 people on two days, the first when participants hadn’t eaten anything in the morning and again when they’d eaten breakfast.

When the fasting participants were shown pictures of high-energy foods, their MRI scans revealed increased activity in the orbito frontal cortex region of the brain – an area associated with decisions about the pleasantness and reward-value of food. The researchers could then predict, based on the scans, which individuals would eat more high-energy foods at the subsequent lunch provided to participants.

So, fasting or missing meals appear to make people hungrier and to create a heightened desire to seek high-calorie food rewards and eat more overall.

Eating out frequently, particularly at lunchtime, was also associated with less weight loss. Those who regularly ate out lost 2.3 fewer kilograms. When you’re eating out, it’s hard to comprehend or control the amount of added fats and sugar in a meal. We also have no control over portion size – and the larger the portion, the more we inevitably eat.

To improve your chances of success, faithfully keep a food journal, avoid skipping meals and avoid eating out often in restaurants, especially at lunchtime. And consider joining a group-based weight-loss programme, too. A 2012 study in the journal Obesity found they produced better results than going it alone.

Email:, or write to “Nutrition”, c/o Listener, PO Box 90783, Victoria St West, Auckland 1142.
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