Bond researchers discover healthy habits the key to ‘no-diet’ diet

April 30, 2018

Bond University researchers have shown the effectiveness of a weight-loss regime that keeps the kilos off for at least a year, without a punishing diet.

The researchers recruited 75 volunteers, aged 18-75, who were classified as overweight or obese and split them into three groups.

Lead researcher Dr Gina Cleo said the programs were based on habit change and not directly related to diet or exercise.

One program promoted breaking old habits, one promoted forming new habits and one group was a waitlist control.

The habit-breaking group was sent a text message with a different task to perform every day. These tasks were focused on breaking usual routines and included things like, ‘drive a different way to work today’, ‘listen to a new genre of music’ or ‘write a short story’.

The habit-forming group was asked to follow a well-known Ten Top Tips program which focused on healthy lifestyle changes.

The group was encouraged to build the tips into their daily routine, so they became second nature. 

After 12 weeks, participants in both interventions had lost an average of 3.1kg. After 12 months they had lost another 2.1kg each, reducing their total body weight by 5 per cent (~5.2kg).

They also reported eating more fruit and vegetables, feelings of wellbeing and a reduction in depression and anxiety.

Dr Cleo, of Bond University’s Centre for Research in Evidence-Based Practice (CREBP), said the results, were a great advancement in weight management because losing weight and then keeping it off was the greatest challenge.

“Most diets show no long-term effects,” Dr Cleo said.

“There’s a general trend of regaining about 50 percent in the first year and much of the rest in the following couple of years.

“Although I’m a dietitian, I wanted to take a different spin on things, so the programs did not prescribe specific diet plans or exercise regimens, they simply aimed to change small daily habits.”

Perhaps the best news for those struggling with weight was that there was “zero regulated diet or structured meal plans”.

“A lot of diets compromise your social life,” Dr Cleo said. “They can make it difficult to go out and enjoy a meal or drink.

“(By using Ten Top Tips) you can eat anything. But watch your portions and follow the tips.”

Dr Cleo said the success of the weight loss programs was down to subtly changing behaviour and creating new, positive habits.

“You are probably already doing most of the tips, but if you did all of them every day and made them habits rather than behaviours then it’s more likely that you will continue to lose weight.

“We conducted interviews with the participants six months after the program to gauge their experience compared with other weight loss programs and they reported preferring the habit-based programs over traditional lifestyle programs or diets.

“They were still doing some of the things that they were meant to do on the programs without even realising it.”

CREBP Director, Professor Paul Glasziou, said the study was a milestone in weight loss because it involved sustainable habit change, not diets.

“Weight loss diets are mostly yo-yos - loss then regain - whereas this ‘changing habits’ approach provides a steady long-term loss,” Prof Glasziou said.

“If this 'simple habits' approach was a pill, we'd be very rich.”

The research was published in the International Journal of Obesity. Contributing authors were Bond University’s Professor Paul Glasziou, Elaine Beller, Professor Liz Isenring, and Dr Rae Thomas.

Ten tips to lose weight and keep it off

  1. Keep to your meal routine
    Maintain consistent meal times whether you’re eating twice a day or five times a day.
  2. Go reduced fat 
    Enjoy small amounts of healthy fats from nuts, avocado and oily fish, instead of fast food and high-fat meats.
  3. Walk off the weight       
    Try to walk 10,000 steps a day. Take the stairs, walk up escalators and get off one bus stop earlier - it all adds up.
  4. Pack a healthy snack    
    If you do snack, go for healthy options like fresh fruit or a small handful of nuts. 
  5. Learn the labels
    Checking food labels helps you pick healthier options that are lower in calories, fat and sugar and higher in fibre. 
  6. Caution with your portions
    Don’t overload your plate unless it’s with vegetables and think twice before going back for seconds.
  7. Up on your feet              
    Whether you’re at work or at home, try to stand for ten minutes every hour.
  8. Think about your drinks 
    Alcohol, juice, fizzy drinks and energy drinks can be high in sugar and calories, so stick with no more than one small glass a day. 
  9. Focus on your food        
    Over-eating is all too easy while on the go or in front of the TV. Eating slowly is a surprisingly effective way to eat less. 
  10. Don’t forget your five a day       
    Having fruit or vegies at every meal makes it easier to get your five- a-day.