Simple weight loss plan all women and men can follow

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
weight loss plan for women and men

If you are a woman looking for a successful weight loss plan, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has come up with some simple, effective methods to accomplish your goals. Although the center’s main thrust is the elimination of cancer and related diseases as causes of human suffering and death, it also has a strong interest in an overall healthy lifestyle.

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Thus, researchers at the facility have come up with a simple strategy that any woman can follow to successfully lose weight. They published their findings online on July 13 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In summary, keep a food journal, do not skip meals, and avoid dining at restaurants for lunch. The details follow.

The center notes that Anne McTiernan, M.D., Ph.D. and colleagues conducted the first study to assess the impact of a wide range of self-monitoring and diet-related behaviors and meal patterns on weight change among overweight and obese postmenopausal women. Dr. McTiernan noted, “When it comes to weight loss, evidence from randomized, controlled trials comparing different diets finds that restricting total calories is more important than diet composition such as low-fat versus low-carbohydrate. Therefore, the specific aim of our study was to identify behaviors that supported the global goal of calorie reduction.”

The study group was comprised of 123 overweight-to-obese, sedentary, Seattle-area women, ages 50 to 75, who were randomly assigned to two arms of a controlled, randomized year-long dietary weight-loss intervention study: diet only and exercise plus diet. The women filled out a series of questionnaires to assess dietary intake, eating-related weight-control strategies, self-monitoring behaviors and meal patterns. They were also asked to complete a 120-item food-frequency questionnaire to assess dietary change from the beginning to the end of the study. At the end of the study, participants in both arms lost an average of 10% of their starting weight, which was the goal of the intervention.

Specific findings of the study on weight loss for women

  • Women who kept food journals consistently lost about six pounds more than those who did not
  • Women who reported skipping meals lost almost 8 fewer pounds than women who did not
  • Women who ate out for lunch at least weekly lost on average five fewer pounds than those who ate out less frequently (eating out often at all meal times was associated with less weight loss; however, the strongest association was observed with lunch).

“For individuals who are trying to lose weight, the number one piece of advice based on these study results would be to keep a food journal to help meet daily calorie goals. It is difficult to make changes to your diet when you are not paying close attention to what you are eating,” noted Dr. McTiernan, director of the Hutchinson Center’s Prevention Center and a member of its Public Health Sciences Division.

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The study participants were given the following tips for keeping a food journal:
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 any toppings or condiments
Be consistent: always carry your food diary with you or use a diet-tracking application on your smart phone

Dr. McTiernan explained, “While the study provided a printed booklet for the women to record their food and beverage consumption, a food journal doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Any notebook or pad of paper that is easily carried or an online program that can be accessed any time through a smart phone or tablet should work fine.” In addition to documenting every bit of food or liquid that passes one’s lips, another good weight-loss strategy is to eat at regular intervals and avoid skipping meals. “The mechanism is not completely clear, but we think that skipping meals or fasting might cause you to respond more favorably to high-calorie foods and therefore take in more calories overall,” she said. “We also think skipping meals might cluster together with other behaviors. For instance, the lack of time and effort spent on planning and preparing meals may lead a person to skip meals and/or eat out more.”

The authors noted that eating out frequently, another factor associated with less weight loss, may be a barrier for making healthful dietary choices. They wrote: “Eating in restaurants usually means less individual control over ingredients and cooking methods, as well as larger portion sizes.” Dr. McTiernan added, “We think our findings are promising because it shows that basic strategies such as maintaining food journals, eating out less often, and eating at regular intervals are simple tools that postmenopausal women – a group commonly at greater risk for weight gain – can use to help them lose weight successfully.”

The National Cancer Institute and the National Center for Research Resources funded the study, which involved collaborators at the NCI, the University of Washington and the University of Minnesota.

Take home message:
Although this study focused on overweight or obese postmenopausal women, the strategy is applicable to women of any age—and men as well.

Reference:
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

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