Every New Year, people from around the world vow to improve their lives by setting resolutions.
Though well-intentioned, recent media reports suggest about 65 per cent of resolution-makers abandon their new habits within six weeks.
Though failure can be the most common outcome, one UBC Okanagan researcher says for those struggling with obesity, working to improve one’s health is a goal that shouldn’t be left behind.
Dr. Lesley Lutes is a Professor of Psychology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and Director of UBCO’s Centre for Obesity and Well-Being Research Excellence. She says no matter whether a person thinks they have failed, or what date the calendar says, today is the ideal time to make a change.
Dr. Lutes has dedicated much of her career to researching weight management strategies. In 2018, she and her colleagues from America’s University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, were awarded $1.7 million to study a comprehensive weight management program compared to do-it-yourself (DIY) dieting strategies. The research partially focused on using a new minimal monitoring system which is a part of the commercial Weight Watchers Freestyle program.
With the study now concluded, and preliminary results under review, Dr. Lutes discusses the study and shares advice on how to make a lasting change.
Do you have a sense of how significant the obesity problem is globally?
Since 1980, the prevalence of obesity has doubled in 73 countries and increased in many others. This is concerning because we know that an elevated body mass index is associated with numerous illnesses including cardiovascular disease and diabetes—and there are important linkages between obesity and cancer—which may ultimately translate into years of life lost.
Why did you decide to pursue this research?
We’ve long understood that self-monitoring is a key component to any weight-loss program, but it can also be very challenging to accomplish. We all have busy schedules. While food monitoring is a significant predictor of weight loss, traditional self-monitoring strategies are incredibly burdensome, requiring detailed food journals and measuring individual portions. Even when an effort is made to mitigate these burdens,engagement still inevitably decreases over time—almost going away altogether. And the consequence isweight regain over time.
We built this study on previous research published in 2020 where we found an approach that does not require self-monitoring of all foods and beverages produced significant weight loss and other physical and psychological improvements. That monitoring system is now a part of the Weight Watchers’ Freestyle program.
As more people are trying to improve their health and wellbeing, we wanted to compare this program to other weight management strategies and programs used by people, side by side, to help us understand which was more effective in real-world settings.
What is the Weight Watchers Freestyle program and what do your study results show in terms of its effectiveness?
Freestyle is a weight management program aimed at giving folks a little more flexibility in their monitoring. While it still uses Weight Watchers’ signature points system, it offers an expanded selection of zero points foods like vegetables, fruits and eggs—which means these foods can be consumed in addition to one’s daily point allotment without needing to be measured.
We found that among our sample of adults living with weight or obesity challenges, partial dietary monitoring, like the Freestyle program, resulted in greater weight loss compared to other DIY strategies. Greater weight loss for people in all three countries was recorded at both the three- and 12-month check-ins, which shows us there is more longevity in the program.
Why do you think partial dietary monitoring was more successful, and how can these results help people who are looking to embark on a healthier lifestyle?
Losing weight is hard, both physically and emotionally. I think any program that takes that into account and tries to support participants by providing them some flexibility is really helpful. It provides some sense of freedom in what can otherwise feel like a very strict one-size-fits-all approach where you either “succeed” or “fail.”
I’d also like to remind people that support matters. Change is hard, because life is hard. Be patient with yourself, take it one day at a time, and invest in people and things that are supporting you in improving your health and wellbeing.