'Keeping it simple is a key to weight loss,' McGill scientists say


Prof. Bärbel Knäuper leads study on how well dieters follow their own rules

Measured portions and persistence should matter most to dieters, according to new findings by McGill University researchers. Bärbel Knäuper, a professor in McGill's Department of Psychology, led a team of scientists who discovered that trying to follow a list of special rules or gimmicks is less effective than sticking to a long-term plan of calorie reduction and exercise.

Simply put, making up personal dieting rules like "Write down everything I've eaten" won't help drop pounds. The team's findings were published in the June edition of Appetite, an international research journal that reports on attitudes towards food and drink. The study was unique because it did not require participants to follow any special method of weight loss. Instead, it observed how well dieters followed rules that they had created on their own. Participants were 132 college women already in the course of dieting who were asked to write down the "rules" they had decided to follow, and then were invited back eight weeks later.

Women who focused only on reducing calories were the most successful, losing an average of 3.3 pounds over the course of the study. Another important finding in the study was that few dieters stuck to their own rules — when interviewed at the end of the study, only one-quarter of them were still following a rule they had set for themselves eight weeks before. Not surprisingly, those who were persistent in following their rules had the most success.

"The message to the average woman is that weight loss does not require sophisticated methods," explains Professor Knäuper. "Just exercising more and eating less is effective, but the key is to stick to this plan long term in order to see results rather than trying something new all the time."

One implication that comes from the study, says Knäuper, is that health messages should not only educate the public about effective dieting strategies but they should also stress the importance of long-term persistence as a key to weight loss. The researchers' article, "Self-set dieting rules," can be found online on the ScienceDirect website.

About Bärbel Knäuper
Bärbel Knäuper is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry. Her research interests focus on eating habits, sexual health and self-awareness.

About McGill University
McGill University is Canada's leading research-intensive university and has earned an international reputation for scholarly achievement and scientific discovery. Founded in 1821, McGill has 21 faculties and professional schools which offer more than 300 programs from the undergraduate to the doctoral level. McGill attracts renowned professors and researchers from around the world and top students from more than 150 countries, creating one of the most dynamic and diverse education environments in North America. There are approximately 23,000 undergraduate students and 7,000 graduate students. It is one of two Canadian members of the American Association of Universities. McGill's two campuses are located in Montreal, Canada.