In today’s CRU, we highlighted a new study looking at whether using a phone app helped overweight people lose weight. In this study, overall the phone app did not make a difference for most people, but the few participants who actually used it did lose weight. Finding ways to help people lose weight successfully is important because excess body fatness now links to 9 cancers, including post-menopausal breast, endometrial and advanced prostate.
For me there are 3 important takeaways from this study – the questions is not whether apps work for weight loss – but what does it really take for successful and sustained weight loss.
1. Be ready to commit.
Wanting to lose weight is an important first step, but not enough. Start by developing your specific goal, identify the barriers, and understand that you will be working hard to make changes that will last. If you decide you aren’t ready for full commitment, you might choose one small change to improve health – like adding 5-10 minutes of walking to your day. That, by itself, won’t lead to weight loss, but that may help you be confident in your ability to begin to make changes.
2. Develop a plan that will work for you.
Start with those barriers that you identified. If you’re like many Americans you just don’t pay attention to what you’re eating day in and day out. In that case keeping a food diary of some sort will need to be part of your plan – whether pen and paper or a smartphone tracker. Also think about whether you do best with specific guidance for what and how much to eat or whether calorie counting or a similar system would work better. Choose a system that you like and can do every day – or at least most days.
3. Have explicit support.
There are so many ways to get support – friends or family, an online community, a health app, or a dietitian, health coach or other health professional. If you choose a person, let them know what you are doing. Be specific – tell them how they can help, whether it’s a daily phone call or text, help with meal or menu plans or doing some physical activity together. If it’s an online program or a health app, choose one that is easy to use and that does what you want it to do. And use it every day. For example, the person in the study who lost 29 pounds in 6 months, logged in to her phone app over 700 times – almost 4 times a day – and that’s commitment!
If you’re looking for a program to help you get started or to keep it up, you can join AICR’s 12-week New American Plate Challenge program. The next one starts January 26, 2015.