April Daniels Hussar, SELF magazine
What did you have for breakfast this morning? According to a new study, if you're watching your weight, you should write that answer down -- and then cancel your lunch date! But don't SKIP lunch!
The study, from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, focused on three key behaviors than can make -- or break -- your diet.
The findings: Keep a food journal, avoid going out for lunch too often and don't skip meals.
"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," study author Anne McTiernan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Hutchinson Center's Prevention Center and a member of its Public Health Sciences Division, says in a statement.
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Dr. McTiernan and her colleagues analyzed the data from a study involving 123 overweight-to-obese, sedentary women, who were assigned to two groups in a yearlong dietary weight-loss intervention. The researchers tracked the study participants' dietary intake, eating-related weight-control strategies, self-monitoring behaviors and meal patterns.
In the end, the researchers found that the women who went out to lunch at least once a week lost an average of five fewer pounds than women who ate out less than once a week. Going out for other meals was also associated with less weight loss, but lunch had the strongest association.
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Researchers also found that women who kept food journals consistently lost about six pounds more than those who didn't write down everything they ate and drank, and women who reported skipping meals lost almost eight fewer pounds than women who didn't skip meals.
"This study provides insight into the importance of healthy behaviors for weight loss," Angela Ginn, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells HealthySELF. "Individuals tend to focus only on the food," she adds, but your behaviors are just as important as what you're eating.
"Keeping a food journal is personal accountability," and that's why it works, says Ginn. In her statement, Dr. McTiernan says keeping a food journal would be her "number one piece of advice" for weight loss based on the study. "It is difficult to make changes to your diet when you are not paying close attention to what you are eating," the statement reads.
But what's the deal with lunch? "Eating in restaurants usually means less individual control over ingredients and cooking methods, as well as larger portion sizes," the study authors write.
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Ginn concurs: "Dining out for lunch is usually quick, conversational and can include excessive calories," she says. Distracted eating can increase your calorie consumption, she adds.
But what's a working girl to do? Pack your lunch! And when you do go out to eat, strategize ahead of time. "Being prepared is the key," says Ginn, who advises looking at the menu in advance to plan what you're going to order. "Aim for 400-500 calories total, and avoid skipping your prior meal," she adds. You can also ask your server to make the switch from fries to salad, skip the bread or chips, incorporate a broth-based soup into your order and consider splitting the meal with a friend.
According to Ginn, all of these strategies -- from food journaling to packing a lunch to not skipping meals -- work because they are a matter of personal accountability. "Diets are temporary, but a lifestyle change is permanent," she says. "Small changes are the key to behavior."
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April Daniels Hussar, SELF magazine