Diets Do Work?

Does eating fewer calories help people keep extra weight off? Or does it just make people feel deprived, leading to a "boomerang" effect of more binge eating and weight gain down the road? A new study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion has examined these questions and found that cutting calories may actually be a good way for middle-aged women to keep the extra pounds at bay.

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The study followed 192 women for three years. The women had an average age of 40 and had not yet reached menopause; they also did not smoke and were not obese.

At the beginning and at the end of the study, the women underwent detailed physical exams, during which their weight and body fat were measured. They also spent a week at each end of the study weighing and recording every bite of food they ate.

At the end of three years, the researchers found that the women who had made an effort to cut back on their eating were 69% less likely to have gained much weight (more than 2.2 pounds), even if they did not exercise more than anyone else. On the other hand, women who did not practice restraint in their eating were more than twice as likely as the others to have gained at least 6.6 pounds.

The study also found that women who, over the course of the study, increased their “emotional eating” — or eating to cope with emotional states such as depression, anxiety, or boredom — gained more weight during that time.

The researchers concluded that women should “increase their dietary restraint over time or they will likely gain weight” and that they should “learn to control their food consumption during emotionally challenging situations.” The researchers recommended that people cut calories by recording what and how much they eat, putting less food on their plates, and increasing their consumption of vegetables and fruits.

You can read a press release about the study here and WebMD’s coverage of the story with some more statistics here.

Earlier this week, David Spero wrote about the importance of exercise, rather than diet, in keeping weight off once you’ve lost it (read more in his blog entry “Diets Don’t Work?”). Which do you think is more important? Have you tried to restrict calories as you’ve gotten older, and if so, have you had much success? Share your thoughts with a comment!

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