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05-01-2018 | Obesity | News

Targeting habits may lead to sustained weight loss

medwireNews: Findings of a randomized trial suggest that challenging people’s habits can lead to sustained weight loss, even if the habits targeted have nothing to do with healthy eating.

The trial included two interventions, one of which was the “Do Something Different” (DSD) intervention, which helps people to break daily habits by asking them to do something different three or four times per week.

“What makes this intervention particularly novel is that these activities are not diet or exercise related,” say Gina Cleo (Bond University, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia) and co-researchers. The activities could include taking an alternative route to work, volunteering, or undertaking a creative activity.

All the 75 study participants were overweight or obese at baseline, with an average BMI of 34.5 kg/m2, but they were not given dietary or lifestyle advice. Yet during the 12-week intervention, participants assigned to the DSD group lost an average of 2.9 kg, compared with 0.4 kg among participants in the control group, who were assigned to a waiting list. And participants in the DSD group lost a further 1.7 kg over the 12 months after the intervention.

“[A]s an individual behaves from a heightened state of awareness, as opposed to mindlessly (habit), they are more likely to perform behaviors that align with their health and weight goals,” say the researchers, explaining why the DSD intervention resulted in weight loss despite not being specifically tailored to that purpose.

The amount of weight lost by the DSD group was not significantly different from that achieved by participants assigned to the “Ten Top Tips” (TTT) intervention, which is designed to help people form new healthy eating and activity habits that will facilitate weight loss. People in this group lost 3.3 kg during the intervention and also continued to lose weight over the subsequent 12 months – an average of 2.4 kg.

“These results are promising against the background of most weight-loss programs reporting weight regain post-intervention and failing to keep the weight off long term,” the team writes in the International Journal of Obesity.

During the intervention period, participants assigned to the active interventions received weekly phone calls from the research team to try to keep them accountable and engaged, as did those in the control group to maintain an equivalent level of contact. But only participants assigned to the habit-changing interventions reported significant improvements in wellbeing and openness to change, and those in the TTT group also had significant improvements in depression and anxiety, although the researchers stress that all these were secondary outcomes.

“Habit-based interventions have the potential to change how we think about weight management,” they conclude.

By Eleanor McDermid

medwireNews is an independent medical news service provided by Springer Healthcare. © 2018 Springer Healthcare part of the Springer Nature group

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