Impact Factor: New Year’s Resolutions

A new year is upon us, and like many others, I have a list of New Year’s Resolutions.  One of which I have already seemed to fail: consistently posting every two week starting at the beginning of January.  But this of course is not entirely my fault, how could I predict that I would be sick for most of January afterall.  I hope the rest of you are having better luck than me.

But of course, I did not only have one resolution, so I have several others that I must to continue to strive towards. In fact, it is common for people to make about three New Year’s resolutions, and about 38% of people, including myself, will have losing weight as one of their goals.  So as we embark on this New Year, it might be good to start with a discussion about how we can all increase our chances at achieving this common goal.  After all, a study (granted an older study) by Marlatt and Kaplan found that those with the resolution to lose weight in their study did not achieve their goal.

So how does one succeed at the goal of losing weight?  Wing and Hill identified three behaviours that increase the likelihood that a person succeeded at losing weight beyond just “eating better”.

  1. Increase exercise
  2. Eat a high carbohydrate low fat diet
  3. Monitor weight loss

Increase Exercise

According to the National Weight Control Registry in the United States, only 9% of those registered were able to lose weight without increasing their physical activity.  All of the other people that successfully lost weight (at least 10% of their body weight) and maintained that loss for at least a year increased their level activity.  To prevent weight gain, it was found that people need to increase their caloric expenditure by 11 kcal/kg of body weight.  To put this in perspective, it is recommended that people engage in 30 minutes of activity three times a week for a healthy lifestyle, but 11 kcal/kg would be approximately an hour and 20 minutes everyday! Successful weight loss people incorporated this activity into their lifestyle primarily through brisk walks (75%) and increasing their daily activity through lifestyle changes (such as taking the stairs).

This finding seems intuitively obvious as a large factor of weight loss is calories in versus calories out.  Of course that is not the only factor, but that is a matter for a different time.

High Carbohydrate Low Fat Diet

Let me begin by saying, please do not take this as an endorsement for the variety of unethical “low-fat” products clogging the supermarket.  Generally, those items are full of sugar and less healthy for you than the full fat options.  No, the people in the National Weight Control Registry reported lowering their fat intake by decreasing the amount of deep-fried food they ate.  Other successful strategies for reducing fat intake include: reduction of portion size; less snacking; and decreased consumption of french fries, dairy, sweets, and meat.

But why would a high carbohydrate diet be good?  After all, evil sugar is a carbohydrate.  Wing and Hill do not go in-depth into what kind of carbohydrates that the people reported eating, but their diet was likely high in complex carbohydrates (like fruits and veggies) and low in simple carbohydrates (like sugar and white flour).  Why do I assume that?  Despite what Atkins might have led a generation to think, there is a lot of support for carbohydrate based diets.  A benefit of high carbohydrate diets is that healthy complex carbohydrates contain a lot of dietary fibre (plant material that cannot be digested).  Although your body does not absorb the fibre, it does have many health benefits, including making you feel full. This has the effect of making the food less calorie dense, meaning you can eat more, but intake fewer calories.  Don’t believe me?  Compare how many oranges you can eat compared to how much orange juice you can drink. Then calculate the calories consumed by each.  I guarantee that you will feel fuller eating oranges than drinking the same amount of calories from juice.  The reason for this is all of the fibre in the orange will fill up your stomach and signal to your brain that you are full.  Thus, if you are trying to eat healthier, but are constantly feeling hungry, it could be because you are not eating enough fibre.

Monitor Weight Loss

 Before i can discuss how monitoring weight loss can help, it is important to note that to increase the ability to achieve a goal it should be something that is monitorable.  In other words, don’t choose a vague goal that you can’t really know if you are making progress towards achieving.  Something like “be healthier” is hard to monitor; whereas, a goal like “eat 3 or more portions of vegetables a day” is something you can track if you are accomplishing.  Going back to Marlatt & Kaplan’s study on new years resolutions, they found that there was a greater chance of general goals being broken than specific goals.  Self monitoring will give you feedback about your progress so you can adjust your approach as you go to ensure that you stay on track.  In a weight loss setting, monitoring your weight can give you feedback about whether your approach is working.  It can also act as a warning if you start to see your weight increase over time.  Of course, it is important to keep the number in perspective and look for patterns of changes, not daily fluctuations.  Having said that, those in the National Weight Control Registry who weight themselves often tended to lose more weight (18 kg versus 5 kg).

I hope this information helps me, you, someone, in the new year reach their goals.  Comment below if you would like to share any of your New Year’s goals, or if you have advice on how to succeed at reaching a goal.

Interesting Reads:

Marlatt, G. A., & Kaplan, B. E. (1972). Self-initiated attempts to change behavior: A study of New Year’s resolutions. Psychological Reports, 30(1), 123-131.

Wing, R. R., & Hill, J. O. (2001). Successful weight loss maintenance.Annual review of nutrition, 21(1), 323-341.

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