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Diet to Improve Health Not Weight

Aim For Better Health Not Just Weight Loss

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Diet to Improve Health Not Weight

Overweight dieters are best advised to eat and exercise for health reasons, not in order to lose weight, according to a new study published in the June 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Study of Chronic Dieters

In a two-year study of 78 obese women with chronic diet habits, researchers found that women who underwent a diet program that focused on self-acceptance and a healthy lifestyle (instead of weight reduction), exhibited long-term reductions in their cholesterol levels and blood pressure - even though the women did not actually lose weight.

By contrast, a control group - who followed a more regimented diet and exercise plan - did lose weight but regained most of it, and failed to sustain improvements in cholesterol lipids and blood pressure.

Focus on Health Not Weighing Scales

The study results confirm those from other diet studies: that significant weight loss is rarely sustained in the long term with conventional diet and exercise plans, where weight reduction is the only criteria.

Focusing on health improvements (eg. improved fitness) provides better diet motivation and health results. For example, research evidence exists to suggest that overweight people who are fit lower their risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and other weight-related diseases.

The Study

The aim of the study was to compare outcomes for 78 women; one group of whom spent 6 months on a standard diet and exercise plan, while another group followed a program called "health at every size."

Dieting Group

The first group followed a conventional calorie-controlled diet. Initially, these dieters lost an average of 12 pounds, but by the end of the two-year follow-up most of this weight had been regained. Most women in this group reported a reduction in self-esteem as a result of their diet efforts.

Non-Dieting Group

The second group were taught to switch their attention from weight reduction to body acceptance. The women were given advice on healthy food options, but they did not follow a specific diet plan. Instead, they were instructed to "listen to their body" and eat according to their feelings of hunger rather than external stimuli like the sight of a fast-food restaurant. The non-dieting group were also taught how to incorporate
regular physical activity into their daily lives instead of following specific exercise workouts. Women in this group failed to lose weight, but their cholesterol and
blood pressure fell, and they maintained these improvements to a greater extent than women in the dieting group did. Also, while women who dieted reported poorer self-esteem afterward, the non-dieters reported that their self-esteem had risen.


Given the disappointing long term results of diets and fitness plans that focus on weight loss, overweight individuals should be encouraged to focus on "better health" and make healthy adjustments to their daily life.

Though whether this approach (in the absence of weight loss) holds true for obese patients with co-morbid conditions, or those with severe clinical obesity (BMI > 40) is doubtful.

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