If you want to really succeed in losing weight you should never skip meals, you should avoid eating out, and ideally, you should keep a food journal, especially if you are an overweight or obese postmenopausal woman, researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center reported in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The authors added that eating out in restaurants during lunchtime especially, should be avoided.

The authors claim that theirs is the first study ever to focus on the impact of a wide list of self-monitoring options and diet-related behaviors, as well as eating patterns on body weight among obese and overweight postmenopausal females.

Anne McTiernan, M.D., Ph.D., team leader, said:

“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.”

Below are some of their findings:

  • Food journals – those who kept food journals, across all diets, lost approximately 6 pounds more than women who did not
  • Missing meals – the females who “skipped meals” lost much less weight than those who never missed meals, about 8 pounds less
  • Lunching out – women who went out for lunch at least once a week lost about 5 fewer pounds compared to those who lunched out less often. Eating out regularly for breakfast, lunch or supper was linked to less weight loss; however, the strongest association was with lunch.

McTiernan said:

“For individuals who are trying to lose weight, the No. 1 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.”

When keeping a food journal, the researchers advised those participating in the study to:

  • Be thorough – make sure the journal has details of food preparation, which toppings, condiments, sauces or gravy were used, etc.
  • Be truthful – make sure everything that is eaten is recorded, do not leave anything out
  • Accuracy – portion sizes, label details, need to be accurately entered
  • Consistency – the food journal (diary) must be with the dieter at all times; this is easier these days with some of the applications for smart phones

McTiernan said:

“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.”

For successful weight loss, the researchers found that eating at regular intervals is vital for effective and long-term weight loss. Skipping meals can be a diet’s kiss of death.

McTiernan explained:

“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.

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.”

Broccoli salad
At a restaurant we have less control over the ingredients that are added to our food

Eating out was found to undermine the overall success of weight loss efforts, when compared with rarely or never eating out, the authors wrote. Going out to restaurants may be an obstacle for making healthful food choices, they added.

When we are at a restaurant we have less control in what ingredients are used in preparing our meals, and which cooking methods are used. Even portion sizes are no longer under our control.

The study involved 123 women aged from 50 to 75 years. They were all overweight or obese and lived sedentary lifestyles. They were selected at random into two groups in this year-long dietary weight loss intervention study:

  • Exercise plus diet group
  • Diet only group

They completed questionnaires which asked them about their dietary intake, what eating-related weight-control strategies they used, meal patterns, and eating behaviors. In order to assess what changes occurred from the beginning to the end of the study, they completed a 120-item food-frequency questionnaire.

Participants in both groups weighed on average 10% less than they did at the start of the study – the aim of the intervention was also a 10% drop from starting weight.

McTiernan said:

“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.”

In an Abstract in the same journal, the authors believe their findings indicate that more focus should be placed on dietary self-monitoring, home cooking, and a regular eating routine for a more effective 12-month weight-loss regime among women over the age of 50 years.

Written by Christian Nordqvist