Diet Not Working? Try This

New study shows “restrained eating” beats dieting for weight loss.

May 11, 2009

To improve the way you eat, keep track of what you're eating.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—There are lots of things in this world that can pack on the pounds—stress, lack of exercise, the unhealthy food we shove down on our way home from work. And now you can add dieting to the list. A new study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association has found that postmenopausal women are less likely to lose weight on a diet than they would if they became “restrained eaters,” people who watch what they eat but don’t focus their efforts on a short-term diet program.


THE DETAILS: A total of 1,071 women (average age 60) participated in the study. They were asked survey questions about eating habits and how prone they were to lose control over how much they ate, as well as whether they were currently on a diet. The researchers then calculated each participant’s body-mass index (BMI), an indicator of obesity. As a whole, women who were on diets had higher BMIs than the restrained eaters. Women on diets were also more likely to lose control over what they ate. Their scores on that portion of the survey were, on average, 40 percent higher than the restrained nondieters.

WHAT IT MEANS: Slow and steady wins the weight-loss race, not 3-week binge cures that claim to melt away pounds in minutes. And even though the dieters in this study weighed more than the nondieters, it is possible to go on a diet and see your weight fall. You just have think of the diet as a way to learn long-term eating strategies. “When you approach dieting with the perspective that you’re making lifestyle changes, you’ll be more successful,” says Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, RD, PhD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association with a clinical practice in the Sacramento area.

Diet or no, here are a few ways to make healthy, long-term improvements in your eating habits:

• Keep a food journal. “The first thing people need to do is figure out where they need to make changes,” says Gazzaniga-Moloo. The best way to do that, she adds, is with a food journal. Write down everything you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat it, as well as how much physical activity you get. “For some people, they’re already eating a healthy diet. They just need to eat less, or maybe they just need to exercise more.”

• Be alert to the tricks of the trade. As we reported last week, the food industry employs a lot of tricks to get you to eat more, faster, namely by adding sugar, fat, and salt to even the most healthy-seeming foods to make them tastier and more desirable. Knowing those tricks, Gazzaniga-Moloo says, is one way to stick to a healthy lifestyle. “Be educated about how foods are made and what normal portion sizes are,” she says, and you’ll be less likely to overeat.

• Exercise! “With postmenopausal women, losing weight can be very difficult,” says Gazzaniga-Moloo. It may be hormones or genetics that make it hard for these women to lose weight, but, she says, the best way to beat the bulge is with physical activity. Finding an activity you like is key to making it part of a long-term change, she adds. “If you don’t know what you enjoy, try a little bit of lots of things to find something you’ll stick with.”

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