We are often asked about the best ways to lose weight. Naturally we recommend exercise; specifically weight training and interval-based cardio, in combination with a healthy eating plan. There’s lots of anecdotal evidence out there as to the additional things people can do to make weight loss more effective. This advice ranges from the sensible to the sublime, and in some cases these hints and tips can actually do more harm than good.
Recently we came across an article that had examined the most beneficial means of boosting weight loss. The article appeared in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, so had the advantage of being based on empirical research rather than anecdotal evidence. All participants followed a diet, or a diet and exercise plan, and the study examined a range of additional behaviours and their effects on weight loss.
The most beneficial way of boosting weight loss was to keep a food diary. As compared to those who did not, participants who used this practice lost an additional six pounds. A food diary allows you to record what you eat, helping to keep track of calories and making sure you stay within the daily guidelines. Equally important is the ability to record how you feel and what motivates you to eat. Understanding the emotional connection; the how and why you eat is key to losing weight.
The researchers gave the following tips for keeping a food diary:
- 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
In addition to documenting the foods you eat, the study showed that eating at regular intervals and avoiding skipping meals was an effective weight loss strategy. Those who reported skipping meals lost eight fewer pounds than those who ate at regular intervals. ‘The mechanism is not completely clear, but we think that skipping meals or fasting might cause you to respond more favourably to high-calorie foods and therefore take in more calories overall,’ explains lead researcher Anne McTiernan. ‘We also think skipping meals might cluster together with other behaviours. 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 third key recommendation was to avoid eating out at restaurants, especially at lunch time. Those who ate out for lunch at least weekly lost on average 5 fewer pounds than those who ate out less frequently. While regularly eating at restaurants will counter your weight loss efforts, eating out at lunch seems to have a greater effect than at breakfast or dinner. ‘Eating in restaurants usually means less individual control over ingredients and cooking methods, as well as larger portion sizes,’ explains McTiernan.
The results of the study are encouraging as the three simple recommendations; keeping a food diary, not skipping meals and avoid eating out less often, can enhance any weight loss efforts.